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Why don't Timers work for us?




Have you found using timers at your house to be HIT or MISS?

Either it helps tremendously or meltdowns ensue?  What gives?

I'm breaking it all down on today's episode- both the DO's and DON'T's so you understand exactly what's needed to make your use of timers as effective as possible.

Not only do I share key insight into reducing whining, clinging, and complaining, but visual timers are your friend, and it's all about semantics so your child sees the "what's in it for me" factor!


  • My go-to recommendation for keeping kids at the dinner table longer
  • Ways to make transitions to bedtime or leaving the park so much easier
  • How to leverage a timer during play / quality time


  • Whether or not you should be making "deals" with your child

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Danielle Bettmann 0:00
If they don't know how much longer they're supposed to do something, or how long they have to wait until they can do something, they're gonna speed up your answer.

Danielle Bettmann 0:15
Ever feel like you suck at this job? Motherhood I mean? Have too much anxiety, not enough patience. Too much yelling, not enough play. There's no manual, no village, no guarantees. The stakes are high. We want so badly to get it right. But this is survival mode. We're just trying to make it to bedtime. So if you're full of mom guilt, your temper scares you. You feel like you're screwing everything up, and you're afraid to admit any of those things out loud. This podcast is for you. This is Failing Motherhood. I'm Danielle Bettmann. And each week we'll chat with a mom ready to be real. Sharing her insecurities, her fears, your failures and her wins. We do not have it all figured out. That's not the goal. The goal is to remind you, you are the mom your kids need. They need what you have. You are good enough and you're not alone. I hope you pop in your buds somehow sneak away and get ready to hear some hope from the trenches. You belong here, friend, we're so glad you're here.

Danielle Bettmann 1:26
Hey, it's Danielle. Positive Discipline-certified parenting coach for strong-willed kids ages two to 10. I help defeated parents find validation support and proven techniques to parent their strong willed kids with composure, connection, confidence and cooperation through a three month group coaching program based on the Wholehearted framework I've developed over years of working with families one on one.

Danielle Bettmann 1:51
If you've just found the podcast, go to to view a playlist of our most-listened-to episodes as well as where to start if you have a strong-willed child. Now, I don't often share really strategic, in the weeds how-tos here on the podcast for a reason. Every child is different. Every family's dynamics are unique. And parenting is nuanced. Especially with strong-willed kids, what works for one family may not work for all, or the next. You need support figuring out the child in front of you, not a hypothetical one. The more tools that you are told to implement without the support to troubleshoot them, leaves you with more reasons to beat yourself up. Leading you to think, Well, I was told what to do and it's not working, it must work for others. Therefore it must be user error, or my child is the exception to the rule.

Danielle Bettmann 2:52
Regardless, you're left struggling and stuck and feeling even more hopeless than when you started. That is the last place I want you to be when you listen to this podcast. However, I've been mining the live coaching conversation replays from inside my program to find bite sized themes. I can dissect here with enough nuance that it would be helpful in the end. And today I'm going to share a conversation around timers that we had inside my program just a few weeks ago.

Danielle Bettmann 3:26
I had made a comment like it never hurts to reinforce your expectation by making it concrete and visual by utilizing a timer. And one of my clients said actually, timers have really not worked for us. And I asked them to tell me more. And it sparked a really interesting discussion. And through it, we started to find themes and made some differentiations between what made it successful and what seemed to backfire.

Danielle Bettmann 3:53
Now time is a very ambiguous concept for kids developmentally. It's felt based on perception. And kids are very present in the moment people. We love that for them. Five minutes versus 20 minutes means nothing. On top of that I have yet to meet a strong willed child that is concerned about being on time or hurrying up in the least.

Danielle Bettmann 4:18
So when you use a visual tool, like a calendar, a routine chart or a timer, you create structure, making your expectations makes sense to your child. It also takes it out of your head and externalize is the expectation to a third party. So it's not just you and your agenda and your preferences and you deciding to be rude or unfair mean but it is the clock or the calendar that is in charge. That dynamic feels very different to your child.

Danielle Bettmann 4:53
When it comes to the visual timers that I'm talking about using here in this episode, I will link in the show notes to from Amazon that we have at my house in two different sizes. The advantage being that there is a colored piece of the pie that shrinks as the time passes. So it makes the time feel more concrete. So that's what I mean by using a visual timer as opposed to just a timer app inside your phone. What I'm going to share with you today are ways that you can utilize timers for the most likely success for your strong-willed child, and perhaps when not to use them as well.

Danielle Bettmann 5:31
So let's start with what not to do. And then also been with lots of examples of what to do instead. So here's what might backfire for you having to get done, what they don't want to do by the end of the timer. So I have specifically talked through several clients in the last few weeks, that were really unsuccessful when trying to set a timer for their child to be done taking their vitamins and brushing their teeth. By the time the timer is up. It makes their child feel rushed. It adds anxiety, to an already tension filled situation and routine. No one likes the pressure of being timed through something that they don't want to be doing. It feels manipulative to them. It's like you're saying, you have to do what I want you to do, by the time that I want it to get done. Otherwise, I'm not going to do what you want, which would be you know, reading books or having some of that special time, right before going to bed. If that's how your routine works.

Danielle Bettmann 6:42
Another version of that could be telling your child you need to beat the clock and be dressed for school by the time this timer goes off. Or especially if you add on a threat that says if you're not done by x, then we can't do Y or you know, we'll take this away or whatever that is. So often that dynamic with the timer is going to lead to an escalated power struggle and a meltdown because it adds overwhelm on top of an already busy morning routine. It's just going to backfire. What's also not likely to work is leaving when a timer goes off without a warning, or a choice in the matter leading to a really abrupt transition. When you can experience parents strong-willed Kids know when you can always give a heads up, and maybe even ask how much more time at the park do you need five minutes or 10 minutes, I'll set a timer and let you know when it goes off. And then giving another five minute and a one minute timer is never going to hurt. It's still that guaranteed to make them excited to leave when you are sad that you're going to leave. But at least you're being very clear in your expectations. And you're giving them a runway of time to make peace with it and wrap their mind around it and get ready to actually accept the grief of that fact that they don't want to.

Danielle Bettmann 8:06
That's just a couple examples of how timers can possibly backfire when you're trying to use them for cooperation. So let's jump into all of the situations where timers are going to be your friend. And how exactly to leverage them in a way where semantics do matter. So listen closely. And if it sounds like something you've tried, but it didn't work for you see, what is the difference maker here? To give a concrete answer.

Danielle Bettmann 8:40
Now, so often when we try to tell our kids, yeah, you can watch TV later, or I need to cook right now. Or yeah, we can maybe do that? I don't know. We'll see. If you are not able to give a concrete answer, then a lot of times a strong willed child is going to make that answer come true. And they are going to do what they can and what they need to do to find the answer. And what I mean by that is they will whine they will keep asking. They will try to push your hand and manipulate the situation in a way where they're able to get what they want because you are being wishy washy, and they don't have proof or evidence or some type of tangible answer they can wrap their mind around of when they're gonna be able to do that thing. So they hyper fixate on it and can't let it go. So you want to be able to set a timer to give a more concrete answer. If they don't know how much longer they're supposed to do something or how long they have to wait until they can do something. They're gonna speed up your answer

Danielle Bettmann 10:00
So you could say I'm making dinner right now. I need you to play by yourself and find something to do for 20 more minutes. And then when that timer goes off, I'll be able to complete with you, as opposed to, I can't play with you right now. Well when can you? I don't know, I need to cook right now. Okay, well, then that's no answer. And they will resort to clinging on to you and whining and making it happen. So if you need them to do something that they don't want to do, you need to give more of a concrete, definitive boundary around it. Like if they are not excited to do homework, or practice their math backs, or study or do some reading, or even how much longer until they get to leave grandma's house or wherever they don't want to be. Let them know, Hey, I'm gonna set a timer. And as soon as a timer is up, we get to stop or we were going home. Because they know, not only is that a concrete answer, they can wrap their mind around. But it's also holding you accountable to your word in their mind, which gives them more peace of mind and an ability to kind of let it go stop hyper fixating and move on in their brain. Does that make sense?

Danielle Bettmann 11:21
So another great example of this moving into kind of another way to use these timers, is if they're having a hard time sitting at the dinner table, it's not interesting, you know, they're not, they don't want to be there, you can say, we're going to start small with an amount of time that they will be successful with, and then build that up over time, where you're going to say, All right, I'm going to set a timer for three minutes, or five minutes. And as soon as this timer goes off, we can take a break, and you're welcome to get up. And then you can put a timer around the concession that you're making, for them to be able to take a break and get up, which is another way to use a timer. So just to sum up that first way before I move on, is a timer that holds you accountable. And a timer that gives a more concrete expectation around how long they have to wait until they get to do something or how long they have to do something they don't want to do is a great opportunity to use a timer, especially a visual one.

Danielle Bettmann 12:27
So then, building off of this dinnertime example, you want to be able to use a timer to put a box around a concession that you are making, like, you're welcome to get up from the table for the length of this song that I'm gonna put on my phone. And then when the song is done, it's time to check in with your body again, and see if it's still hungry and finish eating for another three or five minute timer. Or, you know, if you don't want to put on a song, you put on the visual timer and say, Alright, you know, we're taking a break for three minutes, when the timer goes off, it's time to check in with your your body again. So it can be it can feel like you are trying to make a deal, which sounds like a bribe, but it's not at all we have with strong-willed Good, we do negotiate with terrorists. And you need to know how, because you are a negotiator, whether you like it or not, they are negotiating with you. And you want to actually lean into that, because they're so good at it with a collaborative problem solving approach, which is what I teach.

Danielle Bettmann 13:36
So it's okay if that feels like you're making a deal where you know, they want to take a break or something and you need to then put an expectation around it, I sometimes call it putting a box around a behavior, where it's a behavior you're not thrilled with or they're kind of getting their way a little bit. But it actually is a win win when you can put a boundary around it that makes sense for both of you. And they really see that you were on their team here and you get what they're trying to do. And it's not something that you create a tug of war power struggle out of.

Danielle Bettmann 14:11
So it's kind of like saying yes, with an asterick. Right. So you're trying to put a box around about behavior, or something that they really want to do, like get up from the table. But it's hard to stop. So you're going to put a timer in place to be in charge and hold both of you accountable, so that it's not just you being the bad guy. Instead, it's the timer setting you both up for success and holding you to the deal that you made. If they are in the middle of free play, and it's time for bed soon. You could say I know you're in the middle of a really important creative outburst and it's hard to stop. Would you rather keep drawing for one more minute or three more minutes before cleaning up for bed? Man that feels so much more empowering to your child, then just saying, do it now or else right? So that timer helps you say, yes, you can keep trying with an asterick that says, and I need your cooperation. And this is still the problem that needs to be solved.

Danielle Bettmann 15:18
So another way that you could use those timers for success, possibly, is holding parties accountable when taking turns. So whether that's the, you know, fundamentals, Sharing 101 for really younger kids, or for my kids who are much older, making sure that they both get the screen time that they made a deal and decided together would be fair. So let's go ahead and set a timer for the length of your turn on the game. Because to them, the timer is there to protect and stand up for an advocate for them. And their turn, while the other person is seeing it as the timer is there to hold that party accountable to make sure I get my turn when their time is that. So the timer is a friend to everyone involved. It's a huge adversary.

Danielle Bettmann 16:15
Another way to use timers that I already kind of alluded to is when they are holding you accountable. So a really important way that I teach my clients to use a timer specifically is when doing one on one time, or a special time, because you're using the timer to not say Oh, I only want to play with you for this amount of time. Instead you're saying you and time with you are so important to me, I'm going to set a timer so that I am not distracted at all for this whole time. While we are together. No siblings, no looking at my phone, no work during this 15 minutes. So as soon as I set this timer, it is protected time for me and you to be together. So that feels different. It's the same 15 minutes. But it makes your child feel so much more protected, like the timer is there to back them up in what they want to get out of you and getting the best out of you.

Danielle Bettmann 17:19
And then to end the one on one time, that timer is there to protect your sanity, and allow you to have more authority over that transition that you say at the beginning. Alright, I'm gonna set this timer because it's so important to me not to be distracted, I can't wait to play with you. When the timer goes off, it will be time for me to start the laundry or to start dinner. But until then, it's just you and me. I don't want to have to start dinner, can't believe it's that time of the day already. But I can't let everybody go hungry. So it will be time for me to start dinner as soon as the timer goes off. But from between now, and then it's just me and you.

Danielle Bettmann 18:05
So you're giving that disclaimer upfront, 15 minutes before it's even going to happen so that they can wrap their mind around, you will have to get up and leave as soon as the time is up. But you're being present and you're giving them your all and you want to be there during those 15 minutes. So adding a few more words ahead of time to kind of front load where you're coming from and why you're setting that timer and why it's actually to their benefit. strong-willed Kids love that what's in it for me factor.

Danielle Bettmann 18:36
And when you know how to play that up and you work with that way that they are naturally gravitated towards perceiving things and narrating things in their own life. It is going to make you feel like their hugest advocate rather than biggest adversary.

Danielle Bettmann 18:53
And I know, the families I work with, they want to feel that way. They don't want to crush their child's spirit. They want to be the best parent they can be with more compassion for themselves and their kids to better understand them get on the same page and work on themselves so that they can get this figured out. And those parents know, parenting is nuanced. Right?

Danielle Bettmann 19:19
I could go buy a book on Spanish, if I'm trying to learn Spanish. And that will get me so far. Right? But a program like mine is like going to Spain for three months, being completely immersed in the culture and the language versus buying the book. So you can see the difference in just how integrated and deeper the understanding becomes when you have that level of support. So that's not for everyone. Right? Not everyone goes to Spain to learn Spanish. Sometimes a book is just was good. But for you, you have to decide how badly How much do I want that level of complete understanding and confidence in what I'm doing as a parent. So for you, if you were at that I want to go to Spain place, start with my free training, I always mention, I will have a new training coming out soon on my website. So watch for that. But if you watch that with your partner and it hits home, then go ahead and apply. We'll have an interview conversation where we both kind of hash each other out, make sure we answer all our questions and feel really good about giving you all the insight you need so that your family has all the information to make the next right decision for your family. Whether that's a book on Spanish or going to Spain.

Danielle Bettmann 20:58
All right. I believe in you. And I'm cheering you on. Good luck with setting timers.

Danielle Bettmann 21:07
Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Failing Motherhood. Your kids are so lucky to have you. If you loved this episode, take a screenshot right now and share it in your Instagram stories and tag me. If you're loving the podcast, be sure that you've subscribed and leave a review so we can help more moms know they are not alone if they feel like they're failing motherhood on a daily basis. And if you're ready to transform your relationship with your strong-willed child and invest in the support you need to make it happen. Schedule your free consultation using the link in the show notes. I can't wait to meet you. Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I believe in you, and I'm cheering you on.



Tuesday, Sept 27th at 1:00 PM CENTRAL

Confidently parent your strong-willed child without caving in or dimming their spark so you can finally break free of power struggles, guilt + self-doubt!