Family life

Great parenting tools: The egg timer

Tracy writes about one of her everyday parenting strategies that help her household run a little smoother

By Tracy Chappell
Great parenting tools: The egg timer

A simple egg timer could be more effective than your voice. Photo: by barbourians via Flickr

I’ve decided to start a new little feature in my blog called — you guessed it — Great parenting tools. It’s not that I have a closet full of sure-fire solutions to all your parenting issues, but because of my job, I do a lot of reading and thinking and talking about parenting, and I’m around lots of others who are doing a lot of reading and thinking and talking about parenting. From this, many useful nuggets of wisdom are gleaned and this is a great place to share them.
Many great parenting tools are obvious, but that doesn’t mean we all use them or even remember them. Often I read something and think, “I used to do that!” and realize that somehow it has fallen out of practise in our home. For me, once things start going more smoothly I find myself relaxing on the rules and strategies and then I wonder why everything’s gotten all crazy again.
So, here’s my first featured great parenting tool: the lowly egg timer.
Do you find yourself saying the same things to your kids over and over (and over and over) again?
It’s time to get your boots on, girls.
It’s time to get your boots on, girls!
Why can’t they just listen and do what they’re asked the first (or at least second) time? But we know that to them, we’re that adult voice in Charlie Brown, just a series of blah blah blah noises, in one ear and out the other. Of course it shouldn’t be that way, but the more we talk, the less they hear. It just becomes noise. And the truth is, if they know we’re going to badger them 17 times over the same thing, why would they bother snapping to attention the first time?
This is where the egg timer comes in. Part one of the strategy is to talk less, so your words matter. Part two is to let the routine do the talking for you. (Again, this isn’t my brilliant wisdom, but things I’ve heard and read from a variety of sources. I think most recently this is coming from Stop Struggling with your Child.)
Here’s an example of how we’re implementing it in our house: The girls like to play before school, which is great, until it’s time to go and no one wants to stop, and they’re full of “just one more minute!” and then the protests begin and then it all goes downhill until we’re all upset and harried and racing out the door. So now I give them the five-minute warning, as I did before, but let them know I’m setting the timer.
“When the timer goes off, what do you do?” I ask (every time).
“Go to the door and get our boots and coats on,” they reply angelically.
“If the timer goes off and you don’t go to the door, what happens?” I ask.
“We lose our blankets,” they say. (These are the blankets they take to preschool for rest time. Though I wish I didn’t need a consequence, I find it helps.)
This saves me from having to constantly remind them that their time is running out (they’re getting a better feeling of how long five minutes on the timer is), or launching a series of threats or consequences that get everyone upset. My voice isn’t in the equation at all for those five minutes. As Elvis would say, a little less conversation, a little more action. It’s clear, it’s concrete, it’s non-negotiable, and — eureka! — it seems to be working. 
Apparently, both ways. The other day I was in my office, which is on our main floor, while the kids were playing in the living room. Suddenly, I heard the egg timer go off. Avery bounds into my office. “Mommy, it’s time to get off the ‘puter and come play with us!”
Well played, my dear. We've also used the egg timer to turn clean-up time into a racing game, which worked pretty well too.
An essential component of Great parenting tools is your input, so let’s have it! What are some of your everyday parenting strategies that make life run smoothly at your house?

Photo: by barbourians via Flickr

This article was originally published on Feb 23, 2012

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