Looking back over the last ten years, one piece of equipment keeps showing up – the TIMER. Timers have been essential in our house. There are all sorts of timers – free ones on the computer or your microwave. Timers that come as a function on a watch or a cell phone. iPhones have special timer applications. There are visual timers, timers that buzz/flash/beep, timers that sing. (Here’s a whole page of reminder clocks.) We’ve used timers for all sorts of things – like on Halloween night we set the countdown for 30 minutes and let the kids eat all the candy they wanted.
That is NOT a recommended use. Here are five ways to use a timer that I do recommend.
Setting a Deadline – This is probably the most negative of the ways to use a timer, so let’s get it out of the way first. Use a timer to specify a time that a task must be completed. You can give deadline for a chore or a part of an assignment to be done. “You must be finished emptying the dishwasher in fifteen minutes.” Or “You have ten minutes to write those three sentences.” If needed, add some teeth and give a consequence if a chore is not completed in the specified time. “Whatever toys are left on the floor in ten minutes will be taken away.”
Setting a Limit – FlyLady (of flylady.com, one of my favorites!) says that you can do anything for 15 minutes. She’s talking about house cleaning, and she’s right. Anybody can stand to mop for fifteen minutes, although for me it is hard! Your timer can be used to point out that the end of a dreaded task or activity is near.
For example, if your child dreads math, set the timer for ten minutes, and tell him when the timer goes off, he can have a break. Set the timer for ten minutes, and tell your kids that you’re all going to work as hard as you can to clean out the car.
Put a timer beside a child who is in time out, so they can watch the end of their ‘sentence’ approach. Give a child ‘five more minutes’ of bedtime reading, after which light are out. Limit screen time with the free online-stopwatch.com. My mom used to use a kitchen timer for my piano practice. Use a timer to help kids take turn with the Wii or the computer.
When Ron was two, he used to have a melt down every time my husband left for work. While his emotion was real, he needed to learn to get it out and get it over with. Thirty minutes of a screaming two year old is really too much… Finally, I told Ron he was allowed to cry for ten minutes in what we called our tantrum chair, which was in our living room away from the family. After that, his tantrum had to stop. And it did – especially because he had no audience. (One of my favorite stories is “The Tantrum Chairs”, which tells about how my husband and I almost burned our legs off trying to impress a preschool teacher. It’s a really funny tale of my housekeeping, parenting, and cleaning – um – ‘skills’. You can read it here.)
Stay on Task Reminder – When our guys were young, they fought over our Triple Tell Timer, which they could program to beep, vibrate, and/or flash at various intervals. The Triple Tell basically took the place of me nagging them to stay on task.
Challenges – Tell your kids to do as many math problems as they can before time is up. Challenge kids to estimate the amount of time they spend on a task – teaching them to budget their time better. Calculate words read per minute. Keep a record of ‘best time’ for reading, math, or spelling, and have kids try to beat their personal best while keeping comprehension and accuracy up.
To Do Reminders – There are timers – especially watches – that have reminder functions on them. They can remind you of appointments or when it’s time to head to soccer practice. They can be programmed to give reminders to take (or dispense) medication.
My favorite? One of my sons left his cell phone near where I was cooking the other day. At 3:00 it buzzed, and I instinctively looked down to see what the screen said. My son had set himself a reminder: “PRAY.”
A good reminder for us all.
PS The Triple Tell Timer makes a great gift or stocking stuffer. Grab yours today!