The Timer

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The timer is a wonderful tool for you to use with your children from babyhood on up through childhood. Here are some examples of how you can use the timer in your home:

When you are working to have independent playtime with your child, the timer can be a great help. Set the timer for whatever length of time you are aiming for. Keep in mind that if your child is resistant to independent play, you probably want to keep this length less than 5 minutes at first.

Leave the timer in the room with your child. Tell your child to have fun and play and you will be back once the timer goes off. Your child will soon learn that the timer, not her crying, is what decides when independent playtime is over.

As your child can play happily for five minutes, increase the time slowly. This is very effective. I have often suggested this to moms and they come back with positive reports.

This is the same concept. Setting a timer lets your child realize that a certain amount of time needs to pass before he can move on to the next task. In this case, your child knows that he must sit in time out until the timer goes off. Him whining and crying will not get him out; the timer going off decides.

I do have a word of caution here. You don’t want your child to think that all he has to do is go sit in a room by himself for a few minutes and then he can go on his way. If your child starts to view time out as something that is no big deal, try to find another method of punishment that will be effective for him. The timer can act as your minimum, but you don’t want your child to perceive that the timer rules you. Mom always decides.

You can use the timer for training purposes. You might be wanting to train your child to sit still. You can set the timer and have him sit quietly until the timer goes off. Reset the timer each time he moves or speaks.

This is the category that got my mind thinking for this post. Brayden has always been very good about saying thank you, even from a young age. “Thank You” was one of his first words. I, however, did not do well with training him to say please. I realized this folly somewhere around 18 months old, which proved to be late enough that the word “please,” and all that it implies, is something we revisit over and over again. Incidentally, I did not repeat this mistake with Kaitlyn and she is quite good about asking nicely.

Brayden has gotten to be good about saying please. At some point, I increased my expectations. I didn’t just want the phrase, “More milk please” tossed my way. I instructed Brayden to say, “Mommy, may I please have some more milk.” I taught him to use a kind and patient tone.

This works well, but every so often, we find ourselves in need of retraining. At first, I would remind Brayden to ask nicely. I would ask him how he should ask nicely. As he turned four, I decided we needed to fix this problem. For that, I turned to my trusted timer.

Whenever Brayden asked for something without saying it in a nice way, I would set the timer and tell him when the timer went off, he could try asking again. Before, he had no real motivation to ask nicely. He asked. I reminded. He asked nicely. He received.

But with the timer thrown in there, there was a definite downside to not asking nicely. He asked. I set the timer. It ticked down. It went off. He asked nicely. He received.

There was a delay in his reward. I only had to set the timer two times before he started consistently asking nicely. I am sure we will have to revisit this in the future, but I am also sure that it won’t take more than one time for him to remember that asking nicely is the preferable way to go.

The timer can help you out in so many ways. Use your imagination to see if you can apply it to any challenge your are encountering with your child. You will find it an invaluable resource.



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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. erin blakley
    October 19, 2009 / 6:55 PM

    I have been "lurking" around on your site for about 8 months now and I realized that I definitely wanted to let you know how much I have benefited for your blog and that I greatly appreciate your insight and willingness to share. My son is now 8 months old and although he is definitely an easy baby, his fun personality (I have no doubt) has been shaped a lot by a Babywise routine. I started Babywise with him, and thankfully found your blog early on in his life. I have relied on you through many a feeding/sleep/scheduling transition over the last few months and will continue to seek your experienced wisdom in the future, I know. Thanks also for your insight into the timer, homemade babyfood, and other practical advice. Just wanted to let you know that I am truly grateful! – Erin

  2. Linds
    October 19, 2009 / 6:56 PM

    I've started using a timer with my DS's independent play time. It's more for me than him right now– sometimes I would get side tracked and not realize it had been 30-40 minutes-HA! We have a "timeout frog"– a stuffed animal that has a timer in his tummy. It's used as decoration mostly, and independent playtime. I'm sure it will come in more handy on down the road. I like this post!

  3. Ben and Jenny
    October 19, 2009 / 7:34 PM

    I LOVE this idea. Will try right away for when DS states (not asks) "May I do it please" 🙂

  4. Kyle, Amanda, and Tobias
    October 20, 2009 / 1:18 AM

    great idea, I never would have thought of using a timer the way you did to get Brayden to ask nicely but it sounds like a good idea. We love using a timer for independent playtime and blanket time, it reduces conflict for me since the timer says when playpen time is over and I'm not tempted to get DS out early 🙂

  5. Jud and Maria
    October 20, 2009 / 2:27 AM

    I have used the timer for potty time reminders too. That way it is not me but the timer calling him away from whatever fun he is having to go potty.

  6. Jenny Z
    October 20, 2009 / 6:10 PM

    I love the delayed gratification idea with the timer! Thanks for the tip!Jenny

  7. dani
    October 20, 2009 / 8:44 PM

    great ideas! we used the timer for potty training reminders and still do for toy sharing, but i hadn't thought of these uses.

  8. Plowmanators
    November 17, 2009 / 11:27 PM

    Erin, you are welcome! Thanks for your thanks! I appreciate it.

  9. Plowmanators
    November 17, 2009 / 11:29 PM

    Thanks Linds!

  10. Plowmanators
    November 17, 2009 / 11:30 PM

    Ben and Jenny, how did it go? Have you seen improvement?

  11. Plowmanators
    November 17, 2009 / 11:31 PM

    Manda, the timer is great for that for sure.

  12. Plowmanators
    November 17, 2009 / 11:31 PM

    Jud and Maria, that would be good for me, too, because I forget to remind to use the potty unless it is before a nap!

  13. Plowmanators
    November 17, 2009 / 11:32 PM

    Jenny, you are welcome!

  14. Plowmanators
    November 17, 2009 / 11:32 PM

    Dani, good point with the toy sharing. Thanks!

  15. Ben & Jenny
    November 18, 2009 / 1:37 AM

    Yes! We have seen lots of improvement. It only took a few times and we need to give a reminder only occasionally on polite asking. I've also used the timer for when he would go into the fridge for a drink without asking first (resolved!). Today I used it for hand-folding and gaining self control when he was beginning to mini-fit about one of my directions he didn't like. Worked great! Thanks for the idea!

  16. Plowmanators
    December 3, 2009 / 7:03 PM

    Glad to hear it! You are welcome!

  17. brynn eyre
    March 2, 2010 / 6:48 PM

    I am wanting to start independent playtime but am unsure how to do it. My little boy is 20 months. He plays well by himself but it is always when he wants to do it, he will wander into his room and play for an hour by himself, reading books and using his blocks but I want to be able to say when and where playtime is. I can trust him to stay by himself in his room, should I just close the door and make him stay for 5 minutes and then slowly move up the amount of time he stays in? Currently when I say it is roomtime, he will go in and play for 1 minute and then come find me. I'm afraid if I close the door he will just scream and cry the whole time. What is the best way to start it? Thanks!

  18. Plowmanators
    March 16, 2010 / 5:47 PM

    Brynn, I started with my oldest at an older age. If you go to "independent playtime" blog label, you will find a post with the info.Basically, I started by playing in the room with him. Then I slowly removed myself from playing and just sat in the room with him. Then I left the room with the door shut. I think we started with 10-15 minutes.But when we started, he wasn't good at playing alone at all. Since your son can play alone, I think I would start with him in his room alone. You can do the door closed or a baby gate. Good luck!

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