The Magic Timer
Oh Magic Timer
I love you so
I set you,
And tick, tick, ding
It’s time to go.
The “magic timer” is a perfect tool for taking the negotiation out of daily transitions. It can provide a sense of discipline for an adult or child. And it can promote the comfort of a limited time frame for an activity. We use a kitchen timer, one minute sand timer or a smart phone alarm.
What are the many uses for this simple machine?
1. To move from play to another task. Instead of giving the five minute warning (which before first grade doesn’t hold much meaning), set your magic timer. “When the bell rings, we need to clean up and go.” The timer says so. Get into the habit and move smoothly through your transitions without arguing or negotiating.
2. To focus adult attention. Are your children indicating they need your attention? “Will you play with me, Momma?” my son asks every day he is home from school. And, I stop, full wash basket weighing down my arms while the phone rings and say, “Yes, in just a minute.” If I do make time for play, I can be distracted by my long to-do list. If I don’t get to engage in play, then my guilt reflex rears it’s ugly head. If I set the timer for fifteen minutes, I can settle down on the floor to play knowing that I can focus my attention on him fully for fifteen minutes, because I have chosen to. And when the timer goes off, I am on to my next task.
Conversely, you may be yearning for a moment to read a magazine article that looks so compelling. Set a reasonable amount of time. You know how long your child can go playing on her own. Stretch it a few minutes longer so you offer her some practice in self-control. But not too long that you frustrate her. “Mommy is setting the timer for fifteen minutes while I read this article that is important to me. When I am finished, I’ll come play.”
3. To share attention between siblings. Do you have siblings fighting for your attention? Maybe you do not notice until you get one alone and the noise seems to calm considerably. Sometimes siblings escalate their noise and energy level in order to gain the coveted attention of a parent. If you hear or feel the escalation, flip a coin to determine who goes first and set a timer for focused attention on one letting the other know that they are next. “If you let me fully focus on Ginny, then when it’s your turn Ginny will let me pay attention to you!”
4. To change the pace. Does it sometimes seem that when you need to go quickly, your children turn into snails? But when you are needing a slower pace, they speed up the tempo? The magic timer can slow your child down as she brushes her teeth for two whole minutes as recommended. We use the one minute sand timer and keep it by our toothpaste. It can also help your child beat his own time as he finishes his sometimes slow and arduous nightly math problems for homework.
6. To be right on time. Whenever our family travels, even if it’s a short overnight road trip to Grammy’s, stress is in the air as we try to pack and leave. The timer can assist all members of the family in getting ready on time. Set it several times for packing bags, loading the car, last minute bathroom breaks and snacks, and finally leaving. If all family members know their roles and responsibilities in getting ready (children can pack some of their own bags with some guidance), make it an enjoyable challenge as you each scurry to fulfill your own responsibilities in preparing.
Certainly this is not a problem solver for every situation. But as with any tool, it can become invaluable with particular challenges. Try this one out and see if it works for you.