Here's my list of obvious and not-so obvious uses for the timer:
- It keeps me from forgetting about dinner in the oven.
- When cleaning, it keeps me focused on one task at a time... thanks, Fly Lady!
- It's also a great mediator... for two little boys that don't want to share a toy. Mommy can say, "When the timer goes off, it's your turn to play with the truck." See... Mommy isn't always the bad guy.
- It's a personal trainer... it makes me continue those crunches just.a.little.longer!
- It's a time-out referee. Yes, we've all been there.
- Now, it's also a give-all-my-attention-to-my-kids timer.
Like most moms, I can feel like I am being pulled in every direction: clean dishes, fold laundry, read stories, plan meals, go to the store, make breakfast/lunch/dinner, take a shower (maybe not always in that order), and the list goes on. With all these tasks, I also need to let my kids know that they are important to me, as well. Just being at home with them does not express my love. Yes, preschoolers are not as dependent as a newborn. However, they still need that "face time"—the eye-to-eye contact and constant conversation that we give newborns and babies. There is just something so special about looking my kids in the eyes and talking and playing with them. Here, I use the timer to set aside time in my day just to focus on them — just for 15 minutes or so.
I've heard some people equate kids' emotional needs to a tank that needs to be filled. By giving them undivided attention, we are filling up that tank with love. Let me give you some background, when my youngest son was almost two, he was becoming very clingy. I love that he loves to snuggle and cherish every second of it. The problem came when I could not get anything done. It wasn't that I didn't spend anytime with him because I DID! When I first heard about "filling their tank with love," I was a bit insulted. I thought to myself, "Don't you see me attending to his every whimper?!" Then, I tried it, and I began to see a difference in his level of clinginess... it was working. We still have our snuggle time early in the morning. Plus, my older son, who plays well on his own, is not getting less time with me because of his brother's clinginess.
What does this face-time look like? For me, it changes a little with their age. Keep in mind that I have two very active boys. At 1 and 2 years, it was kisses and tickles, singing silly songs (looking in their eyes), and rolling on the floor. At 3, they still need the kisses but more pretend play and flipping. At 4 and 5, making up silly sounds and songs together, creating imaginary worlds, and giving piggy-back rides. This is more than just reading a story or creating a craft project, which should be done throughout the day. I'm talking about looking into your kids' eyes and saying, "I love you!" And then playing with them.
When I set the timer, I let them know that this is just for them and no one else. I then follow it with, "When the timer goes off, Mommy needs to <fill in the blank with check on the laundry, make the beds... just something small>." When the timer does beep or ring, wind up your playtime. I find that if I keep it really busy for that whole time, they will be ready play on their own. I can now tell when they are running low and need another 15 minutes. Of course, 15 minutes is just a guideline. Every child is different. The point is to give them undivided attention.
I am a recovering perfectionist, and I am learning that not every task has to be perfectly scheduled and executed. With that said, I still have issues being spontaneous. Just being honest. With the timer, I am giving myself permission to be goofy with them. Just to put my "go with the flow" family and friends at ease, I do not schedule exactly what time each day these "face time" activities take place. That would be silly! Instead, I often do this early in the morning and several other times throughout the day, when the kids need it. See... I can be somewhat spontaneous. And, yes, I am laughing at myself right now!
So, let's give them 15 minutes of our time... just for them! No dishes, no phones, no computer, just them. When you think about it, it's not that much time. You will be astonished at the difference it makes in you and your child's behavior. My kids play independently for half an hour to an hour afterward. This is not the getting-into-trouble type of independent play. They are actually playing with their toys or coloring on their own. I have found that they don't have the need to get into a mess... just to get my attention. Disclaimer: my kids DO make messes, especially with toilet paper!! This just helps reduce some of the destruction.