Parenting HackSolution: Set a timer

I had the pleasure of going to Cub Scouts with my son the other night.  This is typically a father-son sort of adventure so it was nice to see the “inside” of the den.  I had to smile when the crafty activity was completed with hack saws, drills and screwdrivers, all to make a “guitar” from a box.  It was fun and a really cool idea.  We won’t talk about how liquid nails does not dry instantly…  we did some bracing and careful transport instead.

At the end of the activity, I noticed that despite the number of parents in the room, the clean up was anything less than efficient or organized.  In fact, if you deal with any number of children, including only 1, you will quickly learn that “Let’s clean up” often seems to fall on less than attentive ears.  As a therapist and a mom of 4 seriously not neat kiddos, I have found giving specific tasks often helps, especially when trying to coordinate several children and a larger clean up.

For example, instead of saying “Clean up your room” try “pick up all your pants” or “put away all your shoes” or “pick up all the legos.” By breaking down the steps of a larger task, the task feels more manageable.  Think about it.  All of those “Get Organized” planners start with really simple things- clean off your dresser and then move to bigger things.  Makes sense.

Next, set a time line.  Many kiddos struggle with their intrinsic sense of time.  Heck, many adults do too!  This sense is really important for school aged kids as they develop their ability to manage their time with increasing responsibilities.  I have one complete clock watcher in my house and one “whatever… I will do it in my own time.”  This makes getting out of the house an interesting challenge.


For the purposes of getting stuff done, setting a timer can be used in a few ways.

  • First of all, it helps with transitioning in and out of a task, the biggest challenge facing many children.
  • The timer may be for when you will start the clean up.
  • The timer can be used for how long you will clean up.
  • The timer can be used for a challenge- can we clean up in this amount of time?
  • The timer can be used for increasing attention to task (increase it by one minute every day.)
  • The timer can be used for count down to a desired outcome- computer time, trip to the playground, a favorite treat, a favorite activity.

As Kimmy Schmidt says… You can stand anything for 10 seconds. (A seriously random series, but a lot of fun.)

Ultimately, it would be awesome for children to develop an intrinsic desire to meet a deadline but sometimes incentives are best used.

If you are tackling a big project or didn’t quite meet your deadline, take a break if needed (set your timer) and then go back at it.  It’s amazing how much you can get done in 5-10 minute intervals when you are focused on one task!  Of course, this idea works equally well for adults!  It is honestly how I managed to have a job, take additional credits and graduate early with my Masters with a 3.98 GPA.  My life was scheduled in 10 minute time frames.

Speaking of which, in case you are wondering, recent statistics show that the average human attention span is 8.2 seconds.  Yup.  That is down about 4 seconds from the year 2000 according to  It is in fact, shorter than that of a goldfish. Tell me again why video games are good for kids?  Seriously, don’t get me started on screen time, attention span and addictive behaviors…  I have been telling parents about that since 1999. Ugh.

I hope you find this helpful!  I know this plan has saved my sanity more than once.  Happy timer-ing!

Thanks for stopping by.

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