Our regular old timer on our oven sometimes it turns into a magical timer for kids. When it is set, things happen! The kitchen will be cleaned in 5 minutes, practicing will get done, but most importantly right now in our lives, Lucy will use the bathroom. Ha!

oven microwave timer for kids

The timer is one of my favorite-in-all-the-land motivational tools to help kids get going. It’s such a great “cheerleader” to use to add a little pep to their step without having to nag them. One of the best things about using a timer is that it gives the kids the autonomy to do the task on their own. In doing so, it’s a great tool for building confidence.

Ways to Use a Timer for kids

All it takes is a magical timer and all of a sudden, kids will be motivated to do anything — this is one of my favorite parenting hacks. Here are 15 ways to use a timer to help your kids get things done… and fast! (Each bullet counts for one of the ways to use the timer.)


Using a timer is a great way to get kids to take ownership of a behavior that you want to see them improve.

  • One of the first ways we used a timer was for potty training. At the beginning of this potty training adventure I wanted to pull my hair out to get Lucy motivated to sit on the toilet. No amount of coaxing and bribing could get her in there. But for some reason, once we started using the timer she decided that timer had authority. When it rang, it meant business.
  • Teaching kids to take turns and share can be very effective with a timer. They can agree on a time increment that works for them.
  • Giving kids a little time to get their emotions in check is also a great way to use a timer. It’s pretty magical that kids can be completely down-in-the-dumps, and let the timer allow them some time to stay there for a few minutes. Then come out ready to face the world again.

Simple Chores

Need the dishwasher emptied? The bedrooms tidied? Towels folded? There are a bunch of chores you can set a timer for and see if your kids can beat the timer. One little “game” we play around here is “Clean Ten.” I set the timer and we see how fast everyone can pick up, tidy, or organize ten things. It really is magic how lickety-split things get whipped into shape.

Learning Activities

As kids get older they have more and more responsibilities. Starting from a young age you can use a timer to help kids do an activity on their own.

  • When kids are young, independent play time is such an important thing for them to learn. Give them a little activity and set a timer for them to enjoy the activity.
  • Kids often have a suggested amount of time to read for homework once they start Kindergarten. Setting a timer when they are reading before bed or in the morning before school will help them hit that reading goal.
  • If your kids are anything like mine, homework can drag on and on forever. I love using a timer to help motivate kids to do homework so that it doesn’t drag on and on. This will be good for your kids so that they don’t spend all their free time doing homework and it’s also good for moms so they don’t spend all their time nagging kids to do homework. Ha!
  • Set a timer to help kids practice piano or other skills they are working on.


A timer can be used for both parents and kids to help establish time for connection.

  • Nighttime snuggle time with individual kids. Assign each kid a different night and set a timer to just focus on them.
  • Set a timer to help an overwhelmed child calm down.
  • Take a little brain break. Once kids come home from school, mine always need a little down time before they start working on chores and homework. Set a timer for an allotted amount of time to take a break and connect so that they can tell you about their day. And don’t forget about that “welcoming response” when they walk in the door!


If you do allow screens in your home, a timer is a great way to limit screens without having to constantly remind kids that they need to turn the electronics off.

  • Set timers on phones for them to be shut off in the evenings. If you’ve been around for a while, you know that I have strong feelings about technology ruining our kids. Making sure that kids take a break from technology and screens is so important.
  • Remember to praise the time when they are not on screens, reward it with YOU and your attention. Go explore nature together or play a board game. Remember those kids are going to grow up before you know it. There’s so much time for you both to be on screens later.


Sometimes a timer adds a bit of motivation to your routines.

  • Morning routine – Use a timer to get kids to move from task to task in the morning. Get breakfast, make lunches, etc.
  • Quiet-Time – Give kids a chance to have some quiet time is great, in theory. A timer will help kids feel like it’s more reasonable and won’t last forever.
  • Bedtime routine – Set a timer to help kids get motived to get their pajamas on or brush their teeth before bed.
  • After dinner chores – Turn on some music and set a timer to have the whole family pitch in the after dinner chores to do a quick tidy in the kitchen and surrounding family areas. My kids eyes shine when I say, “let’s see if we can beat a 7-minute-timer to get the kitchen all cleaned up!”

I love this video of working together to get the after-dinner chores done:

Yes, our timer is on the top of my thankful list right now.

I am indebted forever to that magical thing.

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  1. We used our timer as a potty training help too. It's amazing how engrossed you can get in something and how fast that 30 minutes or an hour can go before it's time to potty again. The timer worked great as a reminder for Mommy!

  2. A really good friend pinned a pocket timer to her son's belt loops to go off every 30 mins when she was potty training him. He'd come running, in, "Mom, I'm going off!" And as a school teacher I'd set my timer for all sorts of things. The kids responded to it well.

  3. That is so funny-those timers are treated with a lot of respect by little people. We use ours to signal the length of a time out and they almost see it as another authority figure around here, "Nate, you can't get up yet, the timer didn't tell you to!"

  4. That is hilarious! Isn't it funny how the most unexpected things just really, really work sometimes? Glad to hear that Lucy continues to make progress.

  5. We use ours so much as well! "I'm going to set the timer. You have 5 minutes to get all the toys picked up." "Timer is set. When it beeps it's your brothers turn." "You're in time out for 4 minutes."

    It really does work like magic! (… most the time)

  6. Hi Shawni, I'm a friend of your friend, Erika. I follow your blog and just love the up-beat, inspirational tone. I thought of you today. There was a special on "Charlie Rose". He's an interviewer on PBS. He did a bunch of shows he called the "Brain Series". The one that they re-broadcast today was all about vision and the brain. I thought you would maybe find it interesting. It was originally broadcast on PBS on 11/24/09. I think you should be able to find it on the web. It was fascinating stuff about vision, perception, and the brain. I don't know if it could ever be helpful in the journey with Lucy, but I just thought I'd tell you about it anyway.

    Thanks for the awesome blog.

    -Caroline Owens

  7. Timers have been a HUGE lifesaver at our house too. I've got a high energy, spirited three year old who isn't always the best at following instructions, transitions, and fights going to the potty tooth and nail. Here's something funny though: one time we forgot to carry our timer around, so I set my "head timer" (just me pressing my head and saying BEEP!). Then (approx) 2 minutes later, I pretended the timer was going off: "BEEP BEEP! BEEP BEEP! BEEP BEEP!" and my son totally believed it. Now he frequently asks me to "set my head timer" when I tell him it's potty time, time to clean up, time to leave the park, etc. LOVE timers! Can't imagine making it through this age without them!

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