Who would have ever thought that an ordinary phone timer could be one of the best time management tools a parent might possess? A timer can be used to corral straggling children, motivate them to do almost any boring task and teach them the concept of time. The best part is that busy moms and dads can spend less time and energy getting their children to comply with directions, deadlines or tasks and more time enjoying their children…or their own life.

Getting children to move along happily and on cue from one activity to the next, without having to beg, cajole or heaven forbid yell, is quite an accomplishment. Having the help of a timer, be it on a watch, phone or even an old kitchen timer, makes that common, though often frustratingly difficult task, doable. Why is a timer so effective as an assistant time manager? Simply, because of the effect it has on children.

Timers Motivate

Children acquire a great deal of knowledge about the world through play. Play motivates them to learn and keeps them happy in the process. One of the easiest ways to teach almost anything to children is to add an element of fun, thereby turning work into play. It just so happens a timer is particularly good at this task. A rousing game of “Beat the Clock” can infuse laughter and fun into the drudgery of clean up, while getting that chore done in record time. A timer is a powerful motivator for “start” activities, like start cleaning up or start getting dressed. (As opposed to “stop” activities like stop hitting or stop yelling).

Best of all, beating the bell brings children great satisfaction, which is why it gets them moving – they truly can’t resist the challenge. You don’t need to offer a tangible prize (unless you want to) because the joy children feel in winning this little game is it’s own reward. So the next time you want to motivate your children to move a little faster or complete a boring task a little quicker, get out a timer. It’s fun for them and it’s satisfying for you, too, since you’ll be able to mange your time (not to mention your temper) much better!

Timers Create Boundaries

School-age children, up to pre-teens are concrete thinkers. This means they learn better and process information more efficiently if they can use their senses to manipulate an object or understand a concept. A timer turns the invisible passage of time into something more concrete, since either numbers or a ticking sound clearly delineates the passage of time. And what could denote the end of a time period more concretely than a loudly ringing bell?

When my children were younger, one of the best ways I established boundaries using a timer was to create special, individual time alone with each child. As any working mother knows, time is a precious commodity and in my house it was in short supply. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but one day when I had scheduled in some crying time for myself (everything in my life had to be scheduled, even bathroom time!), I realized my life had run away from me. My three children each had a time slot, which I mainly devoted to the doing and checking of homework. When I looked honestly at the situation I had created (which is what I forced myself to do during my scheduled cry) I could see no one was really happy. As a child psychotherapist, I was spending my days helping other people’s children and then returning home with little patience for my own. When I came home each night, I mechanically progressed from one child’s room to the next, devoting time to their homework, but not much time to our relationship. I was managing time perfectly for a family of robots…which is what I was turning us into!

I knew things had to change, but I also knew it would take some time to unwind my too-busy life and reset it on a more reasonable, enjoyable path. In the meantime, I got out my trusty timer and used it to carve out some personal, alone time with each child. (Okay, my oldest son was in high school by then and said he wanted personal, alone time with his girl friend, but not so much with me – go figure). My other two children were happy, even hungry, to have that time. We started with a half hour on the timer, though that was only a minimum, as we often played longer. During that time, I was 100% devoted to them – no phone calls, no multi-tasking, no sneaking out to do a quick chore i.e. throw wet clothes into the dryer. I just focused my undivided attention on my own children and did whatever they wanted to do. The timer marked our sacrosanct time together.

For my four year old daughter that meant mostly sitting by the side of her bathtub playing Barbie’s and Power Rangers or water coloring on the tiles with bath paints until her shriveled skin necessitated an end to those activities – at least in the bath. For my 10-year-old son, in the beginning it meant cutting up an apple, squeezing lemon juice on it and curling up together in his bed to read, talk and enjoy our crunchy snack. Later, we progressed to video games, basketball and hockey. He was good at all of them, I was good at none, but I had more fun than I thought, learning from him and of course, just being with him.

Eventually, my children didn’t need the timer to establish our one-on-one time because that time became a naturally integrated part of our live – especially after I slowed down my professional life a bit. However, the timer started me on the path to re-establishing and reinventing my relationship with my children by helping me manage our precious time and helping them trust that every ounce of that time belonged to them.

Timers Relay Information

How many times have you told your child:

“I’ll be there in five minutes”

“Wait a few minutes”

“Dinner will be ready in ten minutes”

How often has your time estimate actually been correct? My guess is many times those estimates were inaccurate. We don’t have to be precise all the time, but it throws off a child’s ability to estimate time when you say, “I’ll be ready to leave in five minutes,” and it really takes you twenty. I’m not going to suggest you set a timer whenever you mention time; however, using a timer occasionally is a good time management tool for everyone. If you need to get everyone out of the house on schedule, you might say something like, “We should leave here in five minutes. I’m going to set the timer and when the bell rings, we’ll all meet at the front door.” You’re less likely to be searching for stray children if everyone is summoned by the bell.

Along the same lines, I often used a timer to help my children transition smoothly from one activity to the next. Pulling children abruptly out of an activity, especially a fun one, never goes well. It’s more effective to signal ahead of time that a change is on the horizon and that’s where a timer can be really helpful. Instead of saying, “Get out of the pool. We’re leaving now.” and then cope with the outraged cries of protest, better to say, “I’m giving you a five minute warning. I’ll set the timer and when the alarm rings, you’ll need to get out of the pool and get ready to leave.” Children respond with less opposition when they’re notified of an impending change and have a few minutes to prepare for it.


Effective time management is one of the keys to survival for a busy mom and one of the most important, though often over-looked tools we have is the timer. It can turn almost any chore into a fun-filled game; it can signal that a special space and time have been set aside for a parent and child to bond; it can help moms and children manage time better, so there’s more time to have good times. If you’re ever looking for a way to shake up your dull routine and manage your time better, may I respectfully suggest the use of a timer.
















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