In Praise of the Timer

In Praise of the Timer

Timer F 2 w grayToday I’m revealing the parenting and organizational tool that helps my family function. Although Bryan and I rely on consequences, firm boundaries, and plain old love and humor to keep life with four young kids smooth and manageable, the most tangible weapon in our arsenal is time. I’m referring to both the abstract idea of time and the specific use of a timer.

Time is practically a third parent in our household. It’s a ruler whose authority nobody questions. When the timer goes off, time is up. Not because I said so or Daddy said so, but because the timer said so. Yes, Bryan and I set the timer. But for our kids, the timer and the magical measure it represents seems to exist above and beyond the person punching in the numbers. The kids accept that we, their parents, did not choose how many minutes constitute an hour nor how many hours add up to a day.

The kids also understand that there are two types of time: the one that moves too quickly (iPad time) and the kind that never ends (waiting for a play date to arrive for time outs to end). In both cases, there’s no point complaining to Mom and Dad. The timer is in charge.

Though the potential stress of time ticking away would not work for every type of child nor for every age, we have successfully employed it so far with three out of our four kids without any problems beyond the expected moans and groans of, as I mentioned, having too much time to wait or not enough time to use depending on the situation. Our fourth is too young to comprehend all of this, but he sure gets excited when the timer beeps and the action begins.


Our older two kids (nine and seven) must get in the car at 7:45 a.m. on weekdays. Last year the mornings were hurried and unpleasant as Bryan and I spent the forty minutes the kids were awake badgering them to move along. This year, Bryan, who does the elementary school drive (I do the preschool routine an hour later), punches ten minutes into the oven timer at 7:30 then disappears to the bedroom to get himself dressed. When the timer goes off at 7:40, the kids know they have five minutes to quickly finish eating, brush their hair and teeth, and get their coats on and shoes tied. The timer also gives me the same warning that I only have five more minutes to finish packing their lunches.

Before the timer goes off, we’re moving slowly, chatting, and not frantically worrying about the tasks left to complete like we did last year. After the timer goes off, we’re all business. It’s do what you have to do to get out the door, come get your hugs and kisses, then say goodbye.


The other area of our lives improved by the timer is the kids’ screen time. They each get thirty minutes once their chores and homework are completed, but everyone begins at different times. Also, there are plenty of incidents when one of the kids has earned extra screen time for one reason or another. I rely on the timers on the microwave and oven to keep track of where we are in each person’s thirty minutes. When the timer goes off, I usually hear a shocked, “What?” from the living room or den, but other than me calling out the name of the child whose time is up, I don’t have to argue about what happens next. We agreed on thirty minutes. Thirty minutes have passed. Better find something else to do. Period.


A timer controls my screen time as well. Our WiFi plugs into an outlet timer instead of directly into the wall. The timer turns off our home’s wireless connection at midnight and keeps it off until 7:00 a.m. I do this to force myself into bed at a reasonable time and to make sure that my almost two hours of work every morning consists of writing, not clicking around the internet. I’m not exaggerating when I say that reorganizing my time this way has changed my entire life for the better.

Do other parents use timers? In what areas other than mornings and managing screen time have you found them useful? 


Illustration by Christine Juneau

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