Accomplishing Tasks with Timers

behavior parenting timers May 09, 2019

It's a typical morning.

You're rushing around trying to find shoes, hair ties, the car keys, and your child's school folder.

Your nine year-old is frantically throwing clothes on, brushing hair, and grabbing a granola bar to snack on in the car because, let's face it, there was NO time to sit down and have breakfast. 

It's a similar story for after school.

Your child comes home, throws her stuff everywhere, grabs a snack, and sits down to watch some cartoons. She needs to be doing her homework and studying her vocab words but when she attempts, she's easily distracted by what you're doing, what's on TV, what's going on outside, etc.

It SHOULD only take her 40 minutes TOPS to get everything done. By the time she gets up, goes to the bathroom, sits back down, grabs a glass of water, sits down again, then needs a snack, and then has to tell you what happened today, it's been an hour and fifteen minutes and the homework is STILL not done. 

This is the struggle that you and your child face every day. Sure, summer is better since there's less obligation on your child and less structure in the house, but you know there has to be a better way, an easier way, to make these times of day run smoother.  

One simple strategy that could help and WORK WONDERS is a timer. 

You've got plenty lying around: on your phone, on the stove, on your watch, etc. 

Since your child has a hard time getting started and quickly finishing a task, using a timer that is visible to your child and that makes a noise when the time is up is definitely a strategy that you should try. 

To use a timer, there are four things that need to happen: 

1. Provide the verbal expectation: Tell your child what the expectation is for whatever task you want your child to complete and will use the timer for. For example, you could say,

"Suzy, let's knock out these vocab words. I'm going to set the timer for ten minutes for you to study your vocab words. Once the timer goes off, you're all done with studying. Ready? Go!"

Here, the timer helps Suzy stay on task and get the job done without any interruptions. 

2. Set the timer: This is pretty self-explanatory. Set the timer for whatever time you indicated to your child.

The important thing here is to make sure that your child can see the timer (so she knows how much time is left) and for the timer to make a noise when the time is up. Your child needs to hear that ring since that's the sound she's waiting for and working towards.

One word to the wise: kids are really sneaky and sometimes they will change the timer without you looking. Watch out! 

3. Provide reminders: Throughout the time period that the timer is in place, remind your child about the expectation that you established and that status of where she's out within that time. You could say, 

"Suzy, you're doing a great job studying! You're more than half way done! Only four minutes left. Keep it up!" 

This way, your child stays motivated and on-task! 

4. Complete the task once the timer goes off: Once the timer goes off, the child needs to finish up the task. For timers to be effective, the expectations that you outlined need to be followed and the child needs to be done with the task. 

What's really great about using timers to help your child accomplish tasks is that you become less of the "bad guy" when tasks need to be completed. Suddenly, the timer is what is in control and is directing your child's behavior, not your nagging. 

Want some practice? Try using the timer on yourself and see what you can accomplish in ten minutes! It's the perfect opportunity to go through that stack of mail. 


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