Parent: “Time to turn off the TV.” Child: “No, I want to see the next part.”
We often wish for magic solutions for challenges that present ongoing struggles, leaving us and our children feeling bad. These frustrating situations often fall into two categories, problems that occur either because we want children to stop or to start something in the time period we need.
The first type occurs when children protest when we ask them to stop any of a number of activities – watching TV, fighting over a toy, running through the house, playing a video game, getting out of the bathtub, playing loud music. The second category happens when children dawdle or refuse to start an activity, even after we’ve asked them, often more than once – cleaning up, getting dressed, starting homework, getting ready for bed, eating breakfast, doing a chore.
There actually is a miraculous solution to situations that involve this kind of ongoing discord. It’s called a timer.
A simple timer can seem magical because it can save us from an argument and create instant harmony. When children are fighting over a toy, we can simply say, “I’ll set the timer. Each of you gets to play with it for 10 minutes.” After the uninterrupted time playing, the child taking the turn hears the timer’s beep going off, an objective signal that her agreed-upon time is up. The beep sounds official, and parents (and teachers) are often amazed by how children respond with easy compliance.
The timer creates an air of fairness and helps children understand turn-taking. It can also signal the amount of time available for an activity when a child is dawdling. “We have one half-hour to eat breakfast, let’s set the timer.” “We need to get homework done before dinner. I’ll set the timer for 15 minutes.”
The real magic of the timer is its ability to prevent arguments and create harmony. We are blessed to live in an age when cell phones provide us with a built-in timer wherever we go.