Why Timers Are My Sidekick


For some magical reason, our daughter obeys that sound more than my voice.

That may have sounded like it’s not in my favor but if you have been reading my posts, you can tell that I’m all for easy, tear-free, and no-fuss methods. Anything that can do those, I’m willing to test.

So when I heard that timers help ease transition from one activity to another, we gave it a try. As always, I was skeptical about it at first. How could toddlers and preschoolers possibly get it? Would the DING sound the timer makes automatically make them hand the toy over or leave the playground?

Umm, yes!

If we start them early, it can have super powers MIGHTIER than our repetitive Mommy commands of Time is up, Time to go home, or Time to brush!

It can save us from the guilt of being the antagonist of the day who ended their moment of fun. We will seldom see them make that “face” when they protest, “No! I still want to play!” We won’t have to shout “Time to eat” or “Time to leave” all the time. The timer is like a separate being who will nag them (with snooze options LOL) to drop their activity.

You can use an egg timer, a kitchen timer, a stopwatch, any visual timer online, whichever you prefer. In our case, I just use my phone’s alarm clock. I’m not a big fan of loud ticking sounds as it makes me feel pressured too. But for some, it’s an added positive rush. So if it doesn’t bother you nor your child, go. 🙂

Anyhoo, I am sharing this despite the numerous articles available with the hope that you will give it a shot when it actually comes from a mom you know. I think not many parents take advantage of this tried and tested tool because it doesn’t look so promising. Or maybe they’re not quite sure how to carry it out.

So to let you in on a good start, here’s a simple guide to make it work and keep it effective.

1) Always give a heads up.

Like us adults, when we’re too engrossed on the activity at hand, we would want a warning and know how much time we have left. So we often announce:

“Last 5 minutes and then we will eat lunch!”

“Ten more minutes to play and then it’s bedtime!”

Overtime, they’ll get a feel of how long 5 and 10 minutes are.

You would be surprised that sometimes (just some times), they are actually waiting for the timer to ring so they can stop. I say this because there were times when Mia gave the iPad back to me even before the timer rang. Apps, especially new ones, can be overwhelming for them too.

In the same way, when we’re at the park, she would say, “Let’s go home.” towards the last-minute of my timer because she was actually already tired from sliding and swinging and running around.

2) Repeat until it sinks in.

Last summer, I saw how preschool teachers used bells when they announce the end of playtime (returning of toys on the shelves) and the start of circle time (sitting on the floor to gather). Of course it didn’t immediately work on the first day. But after a few weeks of repetition, it became a routine for the kids. They then do what is expected of them at the sound of the bell even without instructions.

So be patient. 🙂

3) Be firm, consistent, and follow through (or it won’t work at all).

When it rings, implement it. With no hesitations. As if the timer is in command. And then, do the same thing on the next opportunity.

4) Make timers positive and not always negative.

We want them to associate the timer sound to the idea that something will end and another new thing will start. And not necessarily to end the things they love to do (playing) and start an activity they’re not very fond of (eating or going to bed).

You can use it to end time-outs or to call a short break while doing homeworks. You can also let them set you up on a timer once in a while, say if you just need 10 minutes to send an important email before you can play with them. When the timer rings (remember to be a good model, don’t ask for another 5 minutes LOL), you’ll hear cheers instead of resisting NOs.

5) Say the next exciting thing to do (whatever motivates your child).

“I’m excited to melt the teeth monsters away with your new magical toothpaste? How about you?”

“We’ll leave the park in 15 minutes. I wonder if you’d like to check out the ice cream shop around the corner.”

“There’s a surprise waiting for you in the car. But it’s hiding. Can you help me find it after you play? You got 10 more minutes.”

“Grandma prepared a yummy dessert for us. I can’t wait to taste it after dinner. You ready to pack away so we can eat?”

6) Be careful not to overuse.

It might totally lose its charm when you use it on every switch. Or your child might feel like a complete robot. (Timer na naman? Timer sa lahat?) Choose the ones you’re really having a hard time with. Ending playtime usually tops our list.

7) Decide ahead of time when you will give extensions.

If you give in often, you will defeat yourself. If you don’t give in at all, you’re a heartless parent. Just kiddin. This depends on how strict you are. You may actually skip this item in the initial stages of teaching obedience and compliance.

As for us, there are times the timer will catch Mia in the middle of a favorite video. When that happens, I normally say, “Okay you can finish that before you give the iPad back to me.” Say there’s just 2 or 3 minutes left before it ends.

On the other hand, if I’ve seen that she has already played the same video for the Nth time on one sitting, the timer is non-negotiable. Hand it over baby. 🙂

Another thing to consider is your child’s temperament. On days that our child isn’t very tired yet and she begs for more playtime on the mat before going to bed, I would say, “Okay, let’s sing one last song or do one last round of this game and then it would be time to sleep all right?” She would often agree.

This maybe against no.3 but there is a higher possibility that she wouldn’t cooperate on the next activity when she’s upset. So for the night routine to flow smoothly, I loosen my ropes a little to give us all a pleasant end.

It helps to plan and choose in advance which times you will bend.

8) Don’t forget to praise.

This is actually my child’s motivation. It probably wouldn’t work without it. She likes to please us and she loves to hear us say, “Wow.. You know when the time is up.. (with facial expressions of disbelief and admiration) You turn it off and give it back to me when you hear the timer? Very responsible. Thank you anak.”

Took this video of her yesterday. (Excuse the nose picking. We’ve been trying to figure out what’s causing her allergies.)

I can’t help but be proud! Hihihi. And I’m excited for you to watch your child do that too! That actually happens 90% of the time. The other 10%, of course, is objection to the max. Which is okay. They’re kids. They love to play. I just have to come up with more creative ideas every time she attempts to negotiate.

So there. I really hope this tool that I consider my sidekick (wink wink) works for you too. And if you’re already using it, I’m sure you would agree with me on how wonderful it is and how much it makes parenting easier.

I may have missed something, how else do you use timers? What other parenting tools have been useful to you?