Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The timer as essential parenting tool

Bart’s show & tell this week was “something with numbers”. Without hesitation he decided to take a timer. Then, he forgot the timer at school for one whole night and I realized how much I needed it. I use a timer for so much of my parenting that I found myself reaching for it several times that night, only to find it missing.

The timer line-up:

He’s a clock, he’s an alarm, he tells the date and the temperature and he has a timer feature. It’s not that easy to set the timer, so our Bob is usually preset to 5 minutes. It’s nice to give your timer a name.

Sand timer
Ours is a 2-minute timer. Good for routine tasks. It's hard to cheat with the sand timer.

Watch timer
My watch has presets for 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 45 and 60 minutes. It’s easy to set and very portable.

Digital count-down timer
Mine is on the microwave. We used to have one on the stove too, but it broke. It was nice having two for times when I was baking AND needed to do some parenting.

Dial timer
Old fashioned, but very versatile and portable with a pleasing bell ring.

The many, many uses of the timer:

Time to go: A digital countdown timer is good for this application. Every morning, the kids need to start getting ready for the bus at 8:30 AM. Anywhere between 8:00 and 8:15 I’ll set the timer on the microwave to count down the minutes to 8:30. When the timer goes, whether I’m in the room or not, they know to put their dishes in the sink, brush their teeth and start putting on their outdoor gear. I’ll set it for other deadlines too, like going to dance lessons, leaving for Grandma’s etc.

Brushing teeth: We use the sand timer for teeth-brushing to make sure they brush long enough. Two minutes seems like a long time at first, but they get used to it and become better brushers.

Fair play: When you have two kids wanting the same toy/video game/computer, set the timer for 20-30 minutes and tell the other kid to do something else until it’s his turn. When it is his turn, reset the timer to do the switch again, if necessary. As soon as the timer is set, all fighting stops because now he can see his turn in the near future.

Finish your dinner: Sometimes one or more of the kids is squirrelly at dinner and has a hard time focussing on eating. While I don’t insist that they eat if they’re full, I usually know the difference between full and distracted. Once a reasonable amount of time has passed that they should have finished their meal, I set the timer for 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes the plate is cleared from the table; if I’m not satisfied with the progress made, they don’t get dessert. The looming timer deadline usually helps them focus.

Speed baths: The kids usually enjoy a leisurely bath with toys. However, some days I just need them to be in and out quickly. Here’s what I do: fill the tub (only about 3 inches of water), undress kid 1 while filling and set the timer for 5 minutes. Quickly wash hair, soap up, rinse and play splashing games until the timer goes. Drain tub. Dress kid 1 and undress kid 2 while tub is refilling. Reset timer for kid 2. Repeat for kid 3. Baths are done and all had fun in about 20 minutes total. The kids will now ask, “speed bath or regular bath tonight?”

Tidy up time: No kid likes to be shocked into TIDY UP TIME! I ease them into it by telling them I’m setting the timer for 10 minutes, at which time they need to tidy up. It works for GOING TO BED time too. The idea is to make the timer the bad guy, not you!

Homework break: Lisa likes to do her homework in small chunks. If she’s feeling weary, she’ll ask for a break, set Bob and take 5 minutes. She’ll come back feeling refreshed and ready to carry on. When she’s really getting tired, we’ll do 5 minutes on, 5 minutes off.

The audible: When a situation reaches the peak of frustration, we’ll use the audible timer. During training, you need to preface the technique with “I’m counting to three then you better do x OR ELSE y!” Once trained, all you need to say is “ONE!” and they snap into action.


bananafana said...

our dentist actually gave us a 2 minute timer for exactly that purpose. I'm going to have to try the timer for getting ready in the morning. getting dressed seems to take us hours

JMC said...

Timers are wonderful. I never quite understood the effectiveness of the counting, though, because there have been many times when I didn't state what the consequences would be if I got to three, and yet when I say, "ONE," I'll hear, "No! Don't count! I'm going to do what you said RIGHT NOW!" What do they think happens when I get to three? Torture? Really, I would be just as stumped as them: "THREE! What, still not listening? Um... okay... two more, up to five and THAT'S IT!" So while the counting works great (I rarely get past one), I don't understand why.

Chantal said...

I honestly never thought of all those uses for timers. They seem like a pretty useful tool. I think I might be implementing a few of those in our house!

Welcome to our World said...

I love this post!!! I cannot wait to use some of these as well. AND I love that our three year old is fairly well trained with the 1,2,3 thing however however I noticed I tried to us it on the the dogs the other day... This did not work well... DUH!

LoriD said...

JMC - me too! My fall back is usually sitting on the step or on their bed, but when we're out, I've got nothin'!

SLynnRo said...

That's impressive, seargeant! You run a tight ship. I'm going to get one of these for my husband. It would be so freaking useful.

LoriD said...

It does sound a little Captain Von Trapp, doesn't it?

Misty said...

This is awesome. I have never thought of using a timer for all of these occasions. You don't ever yell, do you. (Punctuation correct. It is a fact and not a question.)

This is like, total Parents Magazine material. Watch out! You will be the next Catherine!

Jess said...

Um, this post makes me feel equipped to be a parent. Seriously. Except we don't even OWN a timer. Oh well. Plenty of time to remedy that.

Banana said...

I Love these ideas. It lets the kids feel a sense of control over their day instead of just being nagged by mom and dad. This is officially bookmarked.

Nowheymama said...

Scott accidentally set the timer on my watch to go off at 10:12 am when he reset it. That is now "think of hubby" time. ;)

Family Adventure said...

Captain Von Trapp! LOL! Love it.


Kim/2 Kids said...

No mother can live without a timer! Now that my girls are a bit older I use it mostly for computer time or to remind them to do something.

John Esberg said...

These are excellent suggestions for parents. Personally, I like to use it to make sure I don't burn the dinner. Might I recommend a thermometer as an add on?