Friday, December 3, 2010

Our most frequently-used parenting tool

Reflecting on my recent post about rules, I don't believe I have ever sounded more like my father than I did there. I should probably not complain about that, like I moan when someone says I'm getting to look just like my father. I'm grateful for the way my parents raised me (now) and appreciate their commitment to each other and to me.

We have a tool that unexpectedly takes center stage in our parenting: a kitchen timer. It's actually a series of timers, including the timer application on my phone. We happened into using timers to manage transitions when Charlie was little, and the tool has served us so well that we've never abandoned it.

When it's time to move from one thing to anoth
er, we warn the boys that it's going to be time to wrap it up, and we set the timer. When the timer goes off, they move from the one activity to the next. When they ask to use the computer or watch a DVD, we give them a set amount of time and set a timer. It works when we have to leave the playground or a friend's house, too. In fact, I used this tactic at a friend's house, and when the timer went off, Charlie popped up happily, said goodbye to his friends and got ready to leave. The other parent was blown away and asked "how did you do that?" I said, well, start six years ago and be consistent.

As I say, we happened into this and just found that it works. One of Charlie's childcare center teachers articulated why it works in a way we couldn't have: it makes the time and transition management definitive and takes it out of our hands. I have observed other parents giving their kids a time limit to leave a place and then lose track of time themselves or lose patience waiting. I find it difficult to actually know when three minutes have passed. The timer doesn't.

After getting frustrated with a bedtime routine that got longer and longer, we employed the timer there, too. At 8:00, the boys have to start getting ready for bed, and we set a 30-minute timer. When they're in their pajamas with brushed teeth, we read in mommy and daddy's bed until the timer beeps. If they get their stuff done quickly, we can have as much as 15 minutes to read. If they're slow, we only have a few minutes. After that, they get to read in their beds until 8:45, when the timer goes off again.

Kids do need a warning when the activity or location is going to shift, and the timer - while making transitions manageable for us - makes the transition predictable and manageable for the kids. They handle it so much better than they would if when we said 5 minutes, we meant 3-20 minutes, determined randomly case by case.

I know that it works now. I hope that it doesn't lead to painful analysis on a therapist's couch for the boys 20 years from now.


Anonymous said...

I was impressed when taking care of the boys that they set the timer too, or at least Charlie can. It was part of his routine to know that he only had so much time for the activity of reading before bed. I have to say they were the easiest kids I have ever taken care of through a bedtime routine. They went to bed and stayed there and then I was bored.

One of their proud aunts

Anonymous said...

Hello there,

Thanks for sharing this link - but unfortunately it seems to be not working? Does anybody here at have a mirror or another source?


jason h. said...

our parents used a timer for "eating vegetables" when we were little. it worked just fine for my brother and I, but my sister still gets panic attacks when she hears an egg timer. And she's 30.

so yeah. that therapist couch is a possibility.

then again, she always hated/dreaded it. i suspect the fact that your boys have grown to accept it will lead to a more positive, long-term result.

Lauren Jackson said...

Yes, we should expand our use of timers beyond screen time. Our parenting technique left from preschool years which still seems to work wonderfully is counting. Who would've guessed?

Anne H. said...

You've done a lot of things right because Charlie and Teddy, while totally normal boys, are well-behaved and responsive to adults. That's a great blessing for them as they grow up because they get positive reinforcement, which leads to more good behavior and more positive responses...