Once upon a time, we were all little kids who didn’t understand what “five more minutes” meant. But people said it to us anyway. After a while, we mastered the idea of time and began to use it to organize our lives. But that short window of life, during which there are only two times — “now” and “not now” — in the mind of a child, is a challenge to navigate.
My parenting coach, Amy, uses one workaround in her strategies, called “When/Then”.
“When X, then Y” is a tool to use for discipline. When your dirty clothes are picked up, then I will read you a book. And it’s also a way to use sequencing instead of duration for a child who cannot grasp the passing of minutes. When we have finished dinner, then Grandma will arrive.
There is a frequently retold story in my family that my aunt and uncle lived their lives in units of “Dougs” when their son was a little boy and didn’t understand time. Doug was a cartoon character from the early 90s whose show lasted 15 minutes. They would tell my cousin that the length of a car ride was “about two Dougs” to mean 30 minutes.
Now there’s an app for that.
Time Timer puts a graphical timer on your phone or iPad that shows how time is elapsing. This seems so simple that it’s not even interesting, but the positive experiences I’ve heard from parents who use Time Timer to show kids “how much longer” tells me it’s worth sharing. Watch the video to get an idea of why it works.
The advice I found useful for dealing with kids getting distracted or dragging their feet on chores was to blame the clock as the bad guy instead of parents. For example, if a child uses up time dawdling or tantruming instead of getting ready for bed, there will be less time for books. (Assume lights out is at a certain time, so not getting into jammies and getting teeth brushed is cutting into storytime.)
Time Timer allows you to set the clock for any increment of time. Parents can announce that shoes should be put on before the clock is done measuring 15 mintues and any leftover time is “free time”. My kids are highly motivated by free time, although to me it is just a positive spin on “I don’t have anything planned for you right now and wish you would play independently.” FREE TIME!
Trying to keep screen-based devices out of your morning routine? Consider a dedicated Time Timer clock.