“Kids seem to have all the time in the world—but adults don’t. Even with an established routine, time is an abstract concept, especially to young children, so you can hardly expect them to share your sense of urgency. The solution: Get a timer. The bigger the numbers and the louder the ding, the better!” – Nanny Stella, Nickelodeon Parents Connect
If you use a timer, I know what you’re probably thinking, because I wrestled with it, too: “Why pick apart a tool that’s working for us when you could be offering constructive advice? What could possibly be wrong with using timers? They help us set limits and deal with transitions more gracefully, and our kids love them.”
On the surface, timers are fun, effective, and innocuous, and I would certainly never criticize parents for using them. But my belief is that timers can also wind up (no pun intended) getting in our way, undermining a parent’s ultimate goals. So I’m hoping you’ll hear me out (and feel free to disagree).
Finding our rhythm as competent leaders
Establishing ourselves as the confident, empathetic leaders our children need takes experience and plenty of practice. Setting limits and garnering cooperation are not anyone’s favorite aspects of parenting, nor do they come naturally to most of us. So the appeal of a device that can play the bad guy and say it’s time to stop playing outside on a warm summer evening is certainly understandable. But is it wise?
Personally and as a parent coach, I’ve noticed that the more we practice confronting head-on our children’s resistance to our limits, the more we get used to facing, accepting and acknowledging their displeasure. Over time, it gets easier, and we become more confident in our gentle leadership role. A timer in the mix to offset the “blame” is a crutch we don’t need and can inhibit our progress in this area.
Like my mentor Magda Gerber, I am not a fan of child care gimmicks of any kind, which is one reason (of many) that I avoid gadgets like walkers, jumpers or bumbos; nor do I use bribes, tricks, sticker-charts or even kiddie terminology like “time-out”, “use your words”, “big feelings” or “babywearing”.
This may seem extreme, but I want everything I say and do in regard to my child to remind me 24/7 that he or she is nothing less than a whole person. I need the path of our person-to-person relationship to remain clear. It’s hard enough to stay on track when there is such an astonishing lack of support in our society for respecting our youngest kids.
A reliable barometer for discerning whether a term or tactic is respectful is to ask ourselves if we would use it with an adult: Would we use a timer with anyone but a child or an egg? (DING!) “Time’s-up for lounging around, Sweetheart, come help with the dishes!”
Your time has expired
“Timers help give your kids a sense of time, and be more aware of the concept of time. This can only benefit them in the long run, not to mention help nip some of your daily battles in the bud now!” – Nanny Stella
Yes, a reasonable sense of time is important and good ‘in the long run’, but why the big rush to instill the concept at such an early age? I remember a concerned friend complaining that her child’s Kindergarten used timers to move the children from learning center to learning center every five minutes which, unsurprisingly, unnerved her child rather than teaching him anything (except that school is impossibly stressful).
I’m sure that would be my reaction, as well, even as an adult. I imagine hearing that tick, tick, tick sound in anticipation of a loud ding, and I get anxious. (Might also explain why I’m rattled by Jack-in-the-boxes.) And this distracting, panicky feeling would certainly kill the joy of any activity or train of thought I might be involved in. Perhaps timer-time is worse than no time at all.
One of the many mountains of things I treasure about young children is the total communion they have with time being relative. Kids lose themselves in time all the time and can inspire us to release ourselves from clocks, slow down and join them. Why hurry children to learn the meaning of time when ignorance is such bliss?
“How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss
(Photo by ciocci on Flickr)