My grandpa had this saying that goes: “When you’ve got kids, that’s what you’ve got.”
Meaning that when you’ve got kids, you’ve always got some surprise, some mess, or some instance that has you scratching your head and realizing that kids will be kids.
But as a mom of four all under eight years old, I find I’m happier when everyone listens and obeys. And when I’m happy, the mood of the entire house brightens—it is something you can tangibly feel. I don’t want to have to beg, yell, threaten, or bribe to get that kind of euphoria.
I discovered this incredible trick about a year ago when at my wits end trying to get my kids to listen, I saw the kitchen timer, set it for 15 minutes, and by golly if those kids didn’t hop to!
“But there are no cute charts, no glittering incentives, no clever punishments involved,” I said to myself. “How can this possibly work?”
It can and it does. If you want your kids to obey the first time, if you want them to listen to the words coming out of your mouth without yelling them, try the amazing timer trick.
The Amazing Timer Trick: How I Get My Kids To Obey the First Time
What You Need:
A timer. That’s it. No elaborate chart system, no 10-step program. That’s the beauty of the timer trick—it is easy, convenient, and any timer works. I use my phone timer, the microwave timer, or a small kitchen timer. As long as it counts down the time and kids can see it working, any timer is perfect.
How the Timer Trick Works:
Take any task you’d like your child to do: chores, cleaning up a mess they made, getting dressed, etc. Historically it might have taken me an average of ten attempts to get my kids to finally kick into gear and obey. This is called nagging and I don’t know anyone in the world who likes that.
Instead of nagging, I ask once and then announce I am setting the timer. It might sound something like this:
“Hey guys, it’s time to clean up those blocks you got out. I am setting the timer for 15 minutes and let’s see if you can beat it! Whoever beats the timer gets to come with me on a bike ride.”
It is incredible how they jump into action when a timer is involved.
Why it Works:
Why do we react to a timer? Because it gives us a sense of urgency. It’s the same marketing trick used on consumers. Place a timer on a sale or a survey and even grown adults will jump into action.
For example, I recently got an email advertising concert tickets I was interested in. I clicked the link and was met with a timer widget saying something like, “Only 30 tickets left…” and as the clock ticked down the seconds, my heart rate rose and I bought the tickets right then instead of mulling it over for days.
Timer psychology is a fascinating concept that all humans are more productive when we have a countdown. It gives us less time to over-analyze (or dread the task) and helps us spend our time more wisely.
That’s why the timer trick works for kids! When you give them a task and then start a timer that they can visually see counting down, their sense of urgency rises. They have less time for complaining and procrastinating and the task now becomes a game.
And kids love games.
How You Can Use the Timer Trick:
You can use the timer trick in any situation really, but I find it’s best when an incentive is attached. This could be a positive incentive or a negative incentive, you’re call.
Positive Incentives: If they beat the timer
-Staying up an extra 10 minutes before bedtime
-A special treat
-Mom or dad will read a story
-An extra amount toward their chore money, etc.
Negative Incentives: If they don’t beat the timer
-Go to bed 10 minutes early
-Lose screen time
-Won’t get to play with friends
-Don’t get dessert after dinner, etc.
The thing I love about the timer trick is that it removes the parent as the “bad guy.” Instead of battling mom or dad, kids are now battling the timer. There is competition involved, which is a positive motivator because kids aren’t competing with each other, but rather themselves. It’s you versus the timer and no one else. If the timer goes off and you didn’t make your bed, you only have yourself to blame.
As long as you start the timer with a reasonable amount of time to complete a task, the timer trick will work. Keep it fair and keep it consistent and get your kids to obey the first time.
Getting kids to help around the house doesn’t have to be a fight. Check out these other great tips: