Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Blessed Timer

There is one tool in my house that I have a special fondness for: The timer. Oh, let me count the ways this timer has helped me manage the various stages of mothering thus far.

Great uses for a timer

1. The most obvious (and least interesting) use of the timer is for cooking. But I must say that the timer on my oven has saved our meals from a burnt crisp pretty much every night. The little beep goes off and I think, "huh. What was that for? OH YEAH! I am cooking something!" Using the term distracted really does not do justice to the brain activity of this mom on any given day.

2. When naps fade away and "rests" become en vogue for my kids, the timer is set to the highest possible number it can go (60 whole minutes) and the child quietly reads and rests on his bed until the sweet dinging is heard.

C. When toothbrushing consists of a quick scrub of only the top two front teeth, the timer, set to 2 minutes, helps that child work on all his pearly whites. (In this situation, the timer was long ago replaced with singing "Twinkle, Twinkle" two times through.)

4. When my four-year-old is learning to play with an eighteen- to twenty-four-month-old, the timer serves as a great way for that older sibling to know that there is an end in sight. A timer set for 10-15 minutes (to begin with, anyway) is a do-able task for a preschooler, IMHO. It is SO HARD to play with a kid that is constantly messing with the toy he is playing with, so this is a good introduction for the older child to learn how to be selfless and for the younger child to feel included in the fun for a while. "You can read more about how we protect the sibling relationship in the early years here.

5. Timers are GREAT for time outs, of course. I am not a big believer in time outs, but they do have their place in the discipline toolbox. And a timer helps!

E. And when there is only one of something (like a trampoline, or a swing, or a fire engine) that timer comes in handy again. I can remember when my oldest two boys were three and five years of age and I would set the timer in the playroom for them to use all on their own. They would set it for the agreed upon minutes and have fun taking turns. The game became less of a "I want a turn with the cool toy" and more of a "Let's find something fun to play with so WE CAN USE THE TIMER!!"

And, because I have a baby, my current favorite use of the timer is for his sleep. There are two ways I can't live without my timer.

1.) Teaching a baby how to cry himself to sleep requires (for my personality) a timer. When baby cries in his bed, I automatically set the timer for the number of minutes that corresponds to the number of weeks old he is (4 weeks old = four minutes) and shut off the baby monitor. When that timer dings, I turn the monitor back on to check to see if he is still crying. It's a lifesaver because I CAN'T STAND to listen to my babies cry. (But if i don't set a timer and just turn the monitor off, I will forget that he is crying... and if I just leave the monitor on so I hear him crying, I about go insane, wringing my hands in nervous energy and tension.) For more sleep tips, you can check this post and also this one.

2.) Defining sleep cycles. OK. I will admit that I don't use a timer for this one. Just a clock. But it relates to #1 above, teaching babies how to nap... So, 45 minutes after my baby goes to sleep, he almmost always wakes up and cries. (45 minutes is a typical sleep cycle and most babies wake for a time after that first sleep cycle but will - and need to - go back to sleep if they are given the chance.) Anyway, I note if it is, indeed, 45 minutes after I put him down. And if so, I use my timer trick above and he can learn to fall back asleep. If it is past 45 minutes, then it can be counted (according to my favorite sleep expert) as a nap and I can go get him.

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