Education is a parent’s biggest challenge. We all want to find those methods that work not only on the spot, but on the long run as well. But how do we raise a toddler without using the word “NO!” all day long, and without getting mad ? Educating a small child is challenging for both parents and teachers, as they can’t yet rely on a conversation partner who is able to understand, to accept an interdiction, to fully grasp the reason why he is not being allowed to do a certain thing.

When a child starts to walk, it marks the beginning of the longest exam of a parent’s life. He needs to prove himself patient and creative enough to discover the best ways to get through to the toddler.

But how do you get there without saying “NO!” a thousand times a day? What are the best ways to educate a toddler, through which parents can set the foundation of an efficient communication strategy, of mutual understanding between parent and child, without any screaming, tantrums or hysterical crying?

Does your child cry when you interrupt his play?

Here are two instruments that will help you manage your child’s transition from one activity to the other, interrupt play, get ready for bed and encourage small chores (picking up his toys, arranging his storybooks etc.).

So, instead of saying “Don’t do that”, “Stop running, let’s get dressed”, “Pick up your toys NOW”, use these two instruments to motivate the child. That way, when you schedule an activity, instead of fighting your kid’s stubbornness, you will be able to get through to him easier:

A visual timer in the room

visual timerThis instrument is ideal even for toddlers. Because your purpose isn’t to teach him the time (not just yet), but to get him used to the passing of it. Children get lost in activities, they become so engrossed in play that they don’t grasp the passing of time. And if you know that in 10 – 15 minutes you will need to interrupt his play for a meal, or for a walk, a visual timer will help you stop the activity.

When you know that you have to stop the play, you can verbally announce him as well (in 10 minutes we need to let the toy get some rest, while we eat something). The child, though, doesn’t understand what 5 minutes means.
This is why visual and audio markers work so well: a colourful timer, an egg timer, even a microwave (for a 5 minute deadline and always with a bowl of water inside).

The advantage of a colourful timer is that it makes the transition from one activity to the other so much easier for toddlers. This instrument is also recommended for the education of an autistic or Asperger child, for whom these transitions are even more difficult. You can set this instrument on a wall. Large digits and strong colours help the child understand the concept of time easier.

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The mechanism of this visual timer is quite simple: the parent or teacher moves the red disc to mark the number of minutes they consider as necessary for the activity. Let’s say 40 minutes. As time goes by, the red disc becomes smaller and smaller, until it reaches 0 – that is when the clock has turned completely white. Time’s up!

The visual timer is recommended from the age of 2 up. It is useful even for parents, who make use of simple time management rules (both at home and at work) – to get everything done efficiently and without wasting any time.
An hourglass is equally useful. And you can chose between a sand hourglass and a digital one.

sand hourglass

The advantage of a sand hourglass is that you can use it for both toddlers and school children. It follows the same principle as the other instrument, the colourful timer, only this time we have sand instead of digits.

The child learns to perceive the passing of time and will know that when all the sand has flowed, so has the time for play. The sand hourglass is recommended when the deadline is shorter than 5 minutes.

For older children, who are in school, a digital hourglass is more useful. It can be set from 60 seconds to 99 minutes and an alarm lets them know that time is up.

For older children a sound alarm is enough to let them know that an activity is over.

When to use a timer or an hourglass (a sand or a digital one):

The timer and the hourglass are perfect for when the child is playing but will soon need to do something they’re not particularly keen on.

  • The sand hourglass is useful for motivating small children, when they need to clean their rooms. Picking up toys and clothes becomes a race, turning an activity that they would usually try to skip over into a fun game. In maximum 5 minutes, they need to set all their books or toys in order.
  • When the child watches TV and you want to control the time they spend watching cartoons, without tantrums, the visual timer is a parent’s best friend.

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  • The timer and the sand or digital hourglass are ideal for kids who have trouble concentrating! Because children don’t have the notion of time, when they have to perform an activity they dislike, they tend to ignore the time limit we verbally set. With a colourful timer or a digital hourglass, they will know that they need to dedicate their efforts to that activity until the time for it is up.They will not feel forced or coerced, they will not try to negotiate or to complain, because you are not the one who decides how long they need to perform a certain activity, it’s the timer who does.
  • If your child has a math homework: “Look, solve half of your exercises. Then you can take a 15 minute break, during which you can do whatever you like. When the time is up, you go back to your homework”. Again, the visual timer is the one that lets him now he needs to go back to his homework, and that the break is over. The resistance you will be faced with will be weaker than usually.
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  • When changing into their pajamas or out of their clothes turns into a negotiation, a tantrum or a chase around the house. The hourglass can transform this activity into an exciting game, motivating the child to finish getting dressed before the time runs out. You don’t need persuasion through rewards, because the game is, in itself, a reward.