Parenting 101: The Magic Timer

Parenting 101 is a series of posts that I have written to help out new parents by teaching them little tricks and tips to make this whole journey a bit easier.  They are not Earth shattering revelations, and they do not follow any certain parenting philosophy.  They are simply tips to make life with children a bit easier for everyone.

The Magic Timer is this miraculous invention, created by I couldn’t tell you who.  But, I CAN tell you that it works!  It works ridiculously well.  One thing that really helps children to make transitions is a predictable event.  Some things come with their own event to make the transition easier – Mommy arrives at the babysitter’s, it is time to get ready to go home.  Some things do not – what signals that it is time to stop playing at the park, or in the bathtub, or that it is time to let our brother have a turn with the cool toy?  This is where the Magic Timer comes to the rescue!

What is this Magic Timer, you say?  Where can you get one?  Does it cost $19.99 plus shipping?  Heck no!  The Magic Timer can be any timer you have available!  A kitchen timer will work – even the one attached to your stove or microwave if the kids can hear it from where they are.  If you don’t have one of these, there are apps for your smart phone or programs for your computer that will work.  A wrist or pocket watch with an alarm will work.  A stop watch isn’t ideal, because it doesn’t usually ding, but it can work in a pinch if that is all you have.

How do you use it?  When you are about ready to make a big transition with your child that you know the child is not going to make easily, you whip out your timer and follow these three easy steps!

1. Say, “We are having so much fun at the playground, but we are going to have to leave in about 3 minutes, so I can start cooking dinner.  I’ll set the timer for 3 minutes!”  You set your handy timer, and the countdown begins.

2. If you know this is a particularly tough transition for your child, give a few more reminders as the timer counts down.  “Ok, we have one more minute before the timer goes off!  Hurry and go down the slide again as fast as you can!”

3. When the timer goes off, draw the child’s attention to the timer before you turn it off.  Then, ask them to wrap up their activity in a way that works for them, and highlight what you are going to do next.  “The timer is going off!  It’s time to come down from the playground!  Do you want to slide down the slide, or walk down the steps?”  When the child has chosen and followed through, because it is still fun to go down the slide or the steps or what have you, then move on to the highlighting.  “We are going to go inside and make some dinner!  Are you hungry?  I’m hungry.  We’ll have some yummy green peas!  While I make some rice, you can stir your pans on the floor!”  Whatever gets your kid excited about what you are doing, this is what you need to be highlighting.  Talk about it together the entire way into the house.  Don’t look back.

The magic timer works really well for a number of different transitions.  We use it nightly for bedtime.  There is an alarm on my phone that goes off when it is time to get ready for bed.  No matter what we are doing when that alarm goes off, my kids know that the time is nigh.  If we are eating dinner still, they finish up, clean up their spots, go potty, and head upstairs.  If we finished dinner an hour ago and they are crafting or playing, they know when the alarm goes off it is time to clean up, go potty, and head upstairs.  No muss, fuss, or arguing.

We use it for long car trips, so the kids know when we will be stopping.  I’ve set it to help them wait for dinner to be done, or Daddy to get home, or when I’ll be ready to do a requested activity with them.  I’ve set it to help mediate a toy sharing issue.  I’ve set it for leaving activities or friends’ houses.  The Magic Timer is just a great tool that kids can count on.  It can’t be argued with – Mom didn’t say you had to get out of the tub, the timer just went off so bath time is over!  It is predictable – once the timer is set, it always goes off.  It is a definitive – time to make dinner is very slippery for a child who can’t tell time yet, but knowing that the timer is going to go off lets the child get comfortable with the situation knowing that there will be a definite signal when it is time to go.

Does it work every time?  Well, sadly, as in all things parenting, it isn’t going to work every single time.  The initial use of the timer is something that will need to be worked at.  The younger the child, the less they will grasp the concept of the timer at first.  In my experience, children do catch on pretty quickly to the timer, even at a young age.  But, the first time it goes off, they will need to be shown exactly what is going on, and instructed (gently) in exactly what it is that is expected of them in response to the timer.  But keep your patience up, keep the Magic Timer a positive experience, and in very little time it will be one of the best tools in your parenting toolbox.


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