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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

A kitchen timer cures homework fights



Timer_2 *Ding* Time to play! That's all it took to get my little one through some tedious homework last night. He's not very good with scissors and having to cut out a couple dozen examples of the letter "A" from a pile of newspapers and magazines was good practice for fine motor skills, but painful to watch. Kitchen timer to the rescue! We made a deal that he only had to work for 10 minutes, and when the timer went off he could go play for 10 minutes. When it went off again, he came back to work 10 minutes more.

I came across this solution a few years ago when my older son dragged his feet and stalled as much as possible to avoid the dreaded Tuesday night writing assignment. I remembered from the many Positive Parenting books I poured through that kids respond better to choices and having a say in the rules of the house, so we sat down for a talk about how to make Tuesday nights easier. By setting a timer, he wouldn't have to work very long and he knew he'd get a break, but it would save me from nagging and policing the work.

I gave him the option of choosing the block of time, but keep in mind that if he chose 5 minutes, he only got 5 minutes to play in between the work sessions. A 10-minute block seems to work best for us, especially since boys seem to need frequent move-your-muscles breaks to clear out the cobwebs.

Another mom I know reported similar success with her second grader who was fighting his nightly reading assignment. He had 12 pages to read and would sit down with her and promptly act goofy, read two words and then ask a completely unrelated question. She could not get him to settle down and focus and it was turning into a nightly battle.

So she sat him down and explained the timer system and he lit up and said "So what if I pick 2 minutes?" and she said fine, but you only get a 2-minute break. He settled on 3 minutes and she set her watch timer. He dove into reading and when the timer went off, he asked if he could hold her watch for the break time. When it went off, he went racing into the living room to find her to tell her the timer went off. It ended up taking about a half an hour, but there were no fights, and she got a few chores done during breaks herself.

Half the battle of dreaded assignments is just getting started. My son was surprised to find out how much he could accomplish in just 10 minutes. Once he got into it, he often didn't bother taking a second play session so he could just get it finished and be done with it. *Ding! Ding! Ding!*

-- Sharon Kennedy Wynne

[Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 10:56am]


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