Do you wish transitions with your toddler or preschooler were easier? Getting your sleepy little one up and dressed, socks and shoes on, jacket, lunch and snack packed can feel like an obstacle course, complete with quicksand and camouflaged traps. After a long day at work, getting your daughter from school to home to dinner, from bath to bed, is equally daunting.
It’s completely normal for toddlers to resist changing activities. Young children don’t understand time yet; to them, things happen before, now, or later. No matter how many heads-ups or warnings you give (ten more minutes!), your child may experience every transition as an unpleasant surprise. A meltdown often results.
What’s the solution? The old-fashioned kitchen timer. We’re not talking about a fancy digital timer, with multiple blinking lights and LED numbers your child may recognize but not comprehend. We’re talking about the clunky, six-dollar mechanical timer you see hanging on a rack in the baking section of your grocery store. The rotating dial helps your child visualize time. As the minutes for any activity click-click-click down, it is clear that change is coming. Make it a game to try to beat the little ding!
Timers work well for all kinds of mini-transitions. If your son has practiced putting on his own socks and shoes, and you know he can do it in four minutes, set the timer.
Heather, a mom of young twins plus one older child, says she uses a timer for “everything – how long for bath time, getting dressed time, play time. Even with my older son, we time, say, fifteen minutes for homework, ten-minute break, more homework, and so forth.” The best thing about using a timer, she says, is the objectivity. “When it rings, we’re done!”
Timers are especially helpful at the end of the day. Establishing a ritual of ditching the coats, backpacks, and your own electronics, and setting a timer for ten minutes of face to face playtime, shows your child that she or he is your top priority. Read a book, cuddle, play with a plush animal. Make eye-to-eye contact, and connect.
One mother of four says, “Using the timer, each of my daughters knows she’s had some individual time with me every day. Kids hate arbitrariness, and they compete for attention. The timer keeps things ‘fair’ even if it’s just a few minutes.” She compares Timer Time to the steam valve on a kettle – a short investment in each child individually prevents meltdowns later. Plus, she says, “I get more done faster if I invest a few minutes with each child first than I do trying to fix dinner and have four completely different conversations at the same moment.”
Dawdling and begging for “one more minute” exasperates all parents. Using a rotary timer to show how soon “change is coming” ultimately empowers your child to manage transitions better.
About the Author
Elizabeth is a writer and mother of three grown children who attended an average of six schools each due to career-related family relocations both inside and outside of the United States. She taught English in Malaysia and India, and continues to help a number of community organizations by volunteering with Rotary International. She and her husband divide their time between Texas and Washington.