Did you know that one of the most common triggers for problem behavior is transitioning between activities, places, and objects of attention?
Think about your toddler’s behavior struggles yesterday. Did they happen when your child was…
- asked to turn off the iPad?
- told that it was time to leave Grandma’s house?
- forced to give up his favorite toy to his little sister?
Transitions are tough for everyone, but more so for toddlers and young children. Moving from a preferred activity to something they have to do is no fun at all, therefore may result in avoidance, resistance, negotiation, or even a full-blown tantrum!
Instantly Transform Your Toddler’s Transitions With This Magical Tool
The daily rhythm in our household has completely changed since implementing a visual timer with our 2.5-year-old.
No, this is NOT the same as setting a timer on your phone or alarm clock. A visual timer uses a colored disk to show your child how much time remains until a particular transition. This is the feature that makes it so effective.
A visual timer has advantages that go beyond just helping with transitions between activities, places, and objects.
One of the biggest ones is that it helps your child understand time which is one of the first experiences a child has with math in a very natural way. If they don’t have previous knowledge and skills with time concepts (e.g. second, minute, hour, time left, etc.), then math can become very complicated when they first learn it.
Understanding time itself also helps your child learn to manage his time. When he hears you say “you have 10 minutes left on the iPad” and sees the corresponding section of the clock covered in red, then his brain starts to connect the dots. He will see time elapsing (the red part slowly disappearing), which can help him plan his time accordingly.
This is an amazing skill for a young child to acquire!
I’m sure the most important advantage for those reading this is the way it can tame behavior issues! Children who have a predictable flow to their day tend to be less anxious and more secure, which in turn decreases misbehaviors.
How to Introduce the Visual Timer for Maximum and Immediate Success
It’s all in the presentation.
Toddlers are naturally resistant to new things and boy do they let us know! If we got a dollar for everytime they told us “no,” right?!
But what if I told you that your child would be more accepting of new things if you just made some simple tweaks to your presentation?
Let me share my secret 6-step process to getting toddlers on board with new things (this goes for new experiences or people too with some adjustments):
- Gain attention
- Pique curiosity
- Boost ego
This doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) a long drawn out process. It’s actually mean to be very brief and to-the-point.
Try starting your introduction with “guess what?!” These 2 simple words usually get their attention immediately!
Conceal the timer so your toddler can’t see it just yet! Put it in a box or bag to make them wonder about what’s inside.
“I have something inside this box that you are going to LOVE!”
Don’t reveal just yet…
Toddlers crave positive control and independence so continue your introduction to the visual timer by letting them know that you believe they’re ready for big boy/girl things.
“You are a big boy/girl now and I think you’re totally ready for what’s inside this box…Babies definitely can’t have one of these yet, but YOU are old enough to have one!”
Reveal the timer and excitedly tell him what it is!
“Are you ready to see what it is?? Look, Johnny! It’s a timer!”
Tell/show him the different parts (e.g. colored disk, numbers, etc) and explain how it works and how it will be used in your household. Again, keep an excited demeanor so your toddler feels like it’s something extra special.
Engage him in some practice runs so he can see firsthand how it works. Keep your expectations clear from the very beginning and always enforce those expectations so the timer will always remain useful to you.
Which One Should You Buy?
There are a few different types of visual timers out there but this one is the best one I’ve found!
This one is an updated version of the original (which is what we have) and from what I’ve heard and read, is SO much better!
The primary reason for that is because the original is easily breakable. There are 2 little legs that pop out from the back (on the original) to help it stand up, however, these legs break off fairly easily. This has happened plenty of times with my timers at work and it’s a huge pain! The new version has built-in legs so it can be set right on the table upright.
I recommend getting the 60-minute timer because it most resembles a clock (labeled in 5-minute increments) so, like I mentioned earlier, it will help build those skills for when it comes time for learning math and how to tell time.
Here is the description of the visual timer from Amazon:
- 60-minute visual timer with its signature red-disk shows exactly how much time remains, making life’s routines easy and productive
- Time Timer: Trusted time management tool for the classroom, office, home, and special needs. A go-to resource for over 20 years by educators and professionals worldwide
- No loud ticking; quiet operation! Optional alert when time is up can be adjusted by a volume-control dial (loud to silent)
- The Time Timer PLUS 60 Minute is ideal for small to medium group use
- 5 1/2 inches wide by 7 inches tall
- Requires one AA battery (not included). Although this product is not a toy, the battery compartment is securely closed by a small screw to adhere to CPSIA standards
Check out what people have to say about it:
Easy to use timer. Getting some good benefits in using with my son. We previously have used the Tot Clock, but this is much simpler. Simpler works better with my son. He wants to play with the settings, and since there are only two, it isn’t an issue. Providing him with this very visible countdown works well for setting aside time (cleaning, timeout, etc.) and for letting him know when it is time to X (bedtime, leave the house time, dinner time, etc.). It’s not big or heavy and he can carry it, but it is big enough it doesn’t easily get lost.
The setting is easy, simply turn the dial on the face to set the time. The second setting is the volume of the alarm. This alarm won’t get too loud, which can be an issue for us (tv being played at a high volume will drown the alarm) but that has more to do with us working on getting the tv to manageable levels. I can easily recommend this. It has helped our routines and has helped my son’s grasp of what 5, 10 or 15 minutes means. The price isn’t cheap, but the item seems sturdy and has certainly withstood some bumps and falls. I appreciate the clockwise action.
Awesome clock for keeping little ones on track! I love that it’s a visual timer, so it’s easy for them to see that the less red there is, the less time remaining. When set for the same amount of time for each part of the day or each task (such as getting ready for bed or picking up toys), kids automatically get better at finishing their tasks on time. Doesn’t have a super loud “beeping” that you need to turn off when it’s done, so if you need something loud and that has to be turned off (like an alarm clock), this isn’t the timer for you.
How to Prep Your Toddler for Each Timer Session
In order for your transitions to be as smooth as possible with the visual timer, it’s important that each time you use the timer, you tell your toddler…
- what you’re doing (setting the timer)
- how much time they have (for 15 minutes)
- how it works (when the red goes away the timer will beep)
- what happens when the timer goes off (and then it’s time for X)
These steps are essential for success!
29 Genius Ways to Use Your Visual Timer
Let’s get to the fun part!
A visual timer goes beyond helping your child transition out of a preferred activity. It also helps them transition into an activity as well as showing how long they need to remain in an activity or task.
In order to make this more useful to you, I’ve broken down the list into 3 categories: Transitioning Into an Activity, Transitioning Out of an Activity, and Remaining In an Activity.
Transitioning INTO an Activity
A visual timer is very useful for transitioning your toddler into less-desirable activities or activities that require a little bit of wait time.
1. Getting ready for bed
- Is there a toddler who actually LIKES getting ready for bed?! I have yet to meet one! Bedtime usually comes with a lot of battles for many families so a visual timer can help ease the transition by giving your toddler a heads up.
2. Getting into the car
- For some reason, many toddlers fiercely resist getting into the car/car seat. While a visual timer won’t make them suddenly love being strapped into a car seat, it WILL give them some time to accept the inevitable and mentally prepare for it.
3. Having company over
- I just made this mistake yesterday. A friend of mine planned on stopping over at 9:00am with her 3 kids and I told my 2.5-year-old about it at 8:00am! Facepalm! If you’ve ever done this, you totally understand the insanity that comes along with telling your toddler about doing something exciting more than 5 minutes before it’s supposed to happen! If you ever make this same mistake, simply set your visual timer and watch your kid relax.
- Constantly hearing “are we there yet?” and “I’m hungry!” can make traveling with a toddler VERY exhausting! They don’t really understand the concept of time so telling them “20 more minutes” is pretty useless and they will continue asking the same question over and over! Save yourself from the repetitive questions by setting a visual timer to show how much longer it will be until your next food stop, bathroom break, or final destination (up to 1-hour in advance).
5. Taking a nap
- It’s hard for toddlers to stop what they’re doing and transition into naptime at the drop of a hat. Providing them with a visual of the amount of time left before naptime will help ease that transition because they will know what to expect once the timer goes off.
6. Waiting for meals to be ready
- Nothing elevates your blood pressure quite like a “starving” toddler who is losing his mind waiting for dinner! Put a stop to the 3,048,473 snack requests by showing him exactly how much time is left until the meal that he will take 2.5 bites of is ready…
7. Needing help with something non-urgent
- Toddlers only need help doing something that they can totally do on their own when you’re busy. You see, they demand independence when you’re available but the second you sit down to feed your baby, their arms and legs no longer work. Set your visual timer and let him know that you’ll be ready to help him in X minutes.
Transitioning OUT OF an Activity
This is the big one. I’m sure the majority of us will agree that 90% of daily battles stem from transitioning out of fun activities! Let’s be honest, ending fun activities (happy hour anyone?) is no fun for us adults either!
8. Turning off the TV
- Turning off Daniel Tiger may feel like the end of the world to your toddler! Tell him ahead of time how long he has to watch tv and then set your visual timer.
- PRO TIP: Allow him to watch episodes in their entirety (set the timer accordingly). We wouldn’t like it if someone came and turned off This Is Us right in the middle of the episode, would we?!
9. Shutting off the Ipad
- Just like the TV, shutting off the iPad can cause some major meltdowns in our toddlers. The first line of defense should be limiting iPad time and incorporating it into your daily schedule so it happens at a specific point in your routine.
- So for example, we let our 2.5-year-old play on the iPad (educational videos) whenever his baby sister goes down for a nap. She takes 3 naps per day and he gets 10 minutes each time for a total of 30 minutes per day. He knows that these are the only times he gets to use the iPad so that completely cuts out the crying, whining, and begging for it at other times of the day. Once you have established routined iPad use, then go ahead and set that visual timer so he can better manage his time.
- PRO TIP: Another way to make the transition smoother is to engage in whatever he’s doing on the iPad before you turn it off/take it away. Get into his world for a moment by making comments, asking questions, and just enjoying what he’s enjoying. It makes a huge difference in his attitude and compliance!
10. Getting out of the bath
- If your toddler hates bathtime then this probably isn’t an issue for you! However, most kids love playing in the bath so trying to get them out may be a struggle. Reveal in advance how much time they have to play and then follow through with getting them out of the bath as soon as the timer goes off.
- PRO TIP: Always get the required stuff (i.e. washing body and hair) done BEFORE allowing him to play. That way he doesn’t get so into his play that he resists the necessary things!
11. Ending play time
12. Getting off of the potty
- Soon after we started potty training, my toddler figured out that he could get out of his crib after we laid him down for the night by saying he had to go to the bathroom. Great… It’s not always easy to determine which times are for real and which times he’s just doing it to put off going to sleep! So now we give him X amount of minutes on the timer to “try and go” (when we are 95% sure he doesn’t actually have to go) before calling it quits and going back to bed.
13. Leaving the library
14. Leaving the park
15. Leaving someone’s house
16. Leaving your house
17. Taking turns with siblings/friends
- While I don’t promote forced sharing, I do think it’s important to encourage turn-taking. Set up activities where your kids can practice their turn-taking skills and use a visual timer to show how much time each child gets doing whatever it is they’re doing. This will save you from the never-ending question “is it my turn yet!?”
18. Running errands
- If your child has trouble keeping it together while you’re out running errands, try giving him that countdown (using the visual timer) until it’s time to leave. The visual gives him peace of mind that you WILL actually be leaving at some point!
Remaining IN an Activity
A visual timer can also be helpful when showing your toddler how much time you want them to spend in a certain activity. It’s not so much about transitioning into or out of it, but rather drawing attention to the length of time spent in it.
19. Sitting on the potty
- Leaving the house can be absolute chaos. Then adding to that trying to get your resistant toddler to sit on the potty and try to go…it’s no fun! Buuuut it’s also no fun cleaning pee out of the car seat. Setting the timer for must-do potty breaks was a huge help for us. He was much more willing to sit down and try to go when he got to watch the timer tick down and knew how long he had to sit there for (it wasn’t long).
20. Sitting at the table for meals
- This was actually the original reason we bought a visual timer in the first place. Our 2-year-old would much rather be playing with his toys than eating dinner with us. He’d take one bite of dinner then proclaim “I’m done!” and want to leave the table. We started setting the timer for 15-20 minutes at the start of dinner and told him that the red part is “eat time”. During that time, he had to stay sitting at the table with us and when the timer went off, he could get up and go play. We didn’t badger him to keep eating during that time, we just wanted him to sit there. Turns out though that just having to sit there for those 15-20 minutes, he DID end up continuing to eat! Win-win!
- Using the timer consistently during mealtimes has completely taken the power struggle out them! He no longer begs and whines to get down and go play or barely eats dinner then complains an hour later that he’s hungry. Our meals are now special family times that we can relax and talk about our day!
21. Cleaning up toys/family contributions
- Cleaning up the living room before bed is usually not something my toddler loves to do, but it must be done! Setting the timer helps him understand how much time he has to complete the task and that’s typically motivation enough for him. It’s almost like he sees it as a task that WILL end at some point so he becomes okay with it. That’s the power of a VISUAL timer.
22. Working on homework
23. Taking a time-in
- A time-in is a replacement for the popular discipline approach, the time-out. The time-in is much more effective for young kids because it actually teaches them how to self-regulate their emotions which decreases the probability that the behavior will happen again in the future. The time-out is a temporary fix as it doesn’t teach kids any skills for managing their emotions so they can better handle situations next time.
- Taking a time-in isn’t a punishment. It’s a tool to help a child calm down and actually process the situation that happened. It involves taking your toddler to a special place in the house and using strategies to calm down.
- We started implementing the approach by creating a Calming Corner in my son’s bedroom. We put up posters so he could clearly see his calming strategies and decorated the space with a comfy chair, rug, box of calming items (e.g. books, squishy balls, coloring books, crayons, and stuffed animals), and his visual timer.
- The visual timer was a must-have in this space because he knew he had an allotted time to use his strategies and then move on with his day. It was a big motivation for him!
- Wondering where I got those awesome posters from? Generation Mindful has a product called the Time-In Toolkit which provides you with all the tools to create your own Calming Corner! Check it out HERE.
24. Spending special time with mom and dad
- Our days can get so busy but it’s SO important for your child’s behavior to get at least 10 minutes of quality one-on-one time with them each day. To help manage the whining and crying when you have to get back to adult responsibilities, set the visual timer so your child can see how much time you have together. Let him know right at the beginning that you have X amount of minutes to play together. Keep distractions out and focus 110% on your toddler. Let him pick the activity!
25. Brushing teeth/washing hands
26. Parent work time
- You all know how hard it is to get work done when you have little ones at home! Your toddler is constantly asking to play with you which makes you feel super guilty. The timer can really help with that. See, your toddler doesn’t understand the phrase “I’ll play with you when I’m done working.” It’s not a definite amount of time so he doesn’t know if that will be in 5 minutes, 2 hours, or 3 days! So he’ll continue to beg because he wants to be sure that playtime with you will happen.
- Reveal in advance how much time you’ll be doing your work and then set the timer. Let him know that when the timer goes off, you’ll be ready to play with him.
27. Playing during Quiet Time
28. Getting ready for bed (bedtime routine)
- The visual timer can be motivation for your toddler to carry out the steps of his nighttime routine. He can see that he was X amount of minutes to get his pajamas on, brush his teeth, read 2 books, sing a song, and get to bed!
29. Giving a hug
- Okay, so this one is my favorite! Suzanne MacDonald Tucker from Generation Mindful shared with me that she makes each family member give her a one-minute hug every single day. She said it does amazing things to your brain and I’ve definitely heard that there’s some science behind that too. Not sure about your toddler but I know mine only lasts about 5 seconds before he’s ready to zoom off and play with his cars! Setting a visual timer for one minute will help keep your toddler in that squeeze for the entire duration so you both receive all the brain-boosting benefits!
Grandpa and Grandpa Will Thank You for This
I don’t know about your toddler, but mine is the Energizer Bunny! He can go, go, go all day long which is obviously super exhausting for adults, especially grandparents!
Sometimes we just need a little break. However, most requests for breaks result in whining, begging, or even meltdowns!
Well, we decided to give the timer a try one day when poor Grandpa was SO tired from running around outside with our 2.5 year old (of course when Grandpa is around, that is the ONLY person he wants to play with!).
“Let’s give Grandpa a little break. He’s very tired! I’m setting the timer for 10 minutes. When the red goes away, the timer will beep and Grandpa will come play with you again.”
Guys… he ate it up.
He went on happily playing in the yard while Grandpa grabbed a beer and took a well-deserved break!
Give your amazing parents the gift of quality time spent with your child WITHOUT having to deal with challenging behaviors and WITHOUT the need for bribing and negotiating.
Let’s be honest though, Grandma is still going to give him the cookie.
The Timer Will Fail You
A few tips to make sure the timer will be as effective as possible for you…
- Always follow through with the transition when the timer goes off or they’ll lose trust in you/the timer.
- Don’t place additional demands after the timer goes off. So if you told your child they can leave the dinner table after 15 minutes, don’t tell them they need to take 3 more bites of chicken in order to leave the table once the timer does go off. I can guarantee this will just end in a major meltdown! Keep to your original word. No need for a power trip!
- Don’t use ALL of these at one time! This list was created to give you options. Please do not try and implement every single one. You’d be hearing beeping in your sleep.
What About On-the-Go Transitions?
If your toddler has more trouble with transitions when you’re out and about, then try using a free iPhone app called Countdown. It’s a really cute visual timer that reveals a picture as the timer counts down!