Is your toddler not listening to you? This can feel infuriating. We are trying to help them, trying to set boundaries, trying to establish a functioning household but it’s like no one is listening. We discovered the Timer Technique a couple of months ago and it has eliminated some of our battles altogether.

The Timer Technique

The technique is not earth shattering. It involves setting a timer to limit certain activities. What is earth shattering is why it works and how effective it is.

The Timer Technique Explained

I will use the example of limiting screen time because that’s what we use it for the most.

My husband and I decided that we wanted to limit the amount of time our 2 year old was spending on a tablet or iPad.

We let her use our tablet many times but it became difficult to take away from her, she’d ask for it constantly, and get frustrated when we said no. Taking it away usually resulted in tears and screaming.

Not what we wanted.

We decided to approach it differently. Knowing that we only want her to have about 15 minutes per day, we sat Hailey down and discussed what was going to happen.

We told her that she could play on the tablet every day for 15 minutes. A timer would be set so she knows exactly when her time is up. When the timer goes off it means that it is time to stop and it’s up to her to put it away. If she complains, cries, or tries to continue to use it then we will take it away for one day, which means she can’t use it the next day. If she asks us (whines, complains, screams, insists) for more tablet time within the same day we will take it away for a day.

We repeated the conversation, asked her to repeat it back to us, and got her to agree. We made sure she fully understood and bought into the idea.

Now we set a timer every time we give her the tablet. When it beeps, she turns off the timer, turns off the tablet, and moves onto something else. We’ve only had to take it away from her once.

Why it works

First, your toddler is part of the decision making process. They are involved in setting the rules so it’s not one sided. Getting them to repeat everything back ensures they completely understand what’s going to happen. They agree to it. This is important….they need to agree to the terms and conditions. It has to work for everyone.

Second, it puts them in control of their situation. They know they can expect their 15 minutes of screen time each day. You are no longer the one saying yes or no or deciding when the time is up. It removes you from the situation. It empowers them.

Third, they get to decide if they listen. They already know the consequence up front. That’s not up for debate. They know exactly what they need to do to keep the tablet and they know exactly what to do if they want to lose it. It’s 100% their decision.

Fourth, if they decide they want to continue using it after their time is up then they’ve consciously made that decision. You know for certain that they understand the rules because they repeated everything up front so there’s no second guessing whether or not you should take it away. Now the only thing you have to do is follow through on the consequence.

The best part about this is that you’re not worked up or angry. You are simply executing the agreement.

What Happens if They Put Up a Fight?

If they start crying and screaming all you have to do is remind them that it was their choice. You don’t have to be self-righteous about it. You don’t have to imply they made the wrong decision. They didn’t. They may have been testing their boundaries to see if you’d follow through. Or maybe they just decided that having another minute or two was better than having any time tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter. Because everything was agreed to up front you can respond easily to the situation rather than react emotionally.

You could say something like this. “It makes me sad too. Maybe next time you’ll choose to do something different. But that’s completely up to you.”

OR “We agreed to turn off the tablet when the timer went off. You chose not to so now we don’t get to play with it tomorrow. Maybe next time you’ll make a different choice but that is 100% your decision.”

The next day, if they ask for it then simply remind them of your agreement and their choice.

Give it a try. It’s been extremely effective for setting limits with out toddler.