The Stopwatch Phenomenon: Helping your Child Get Stuff Done

We have a daydreamer of a six year old. She can be mid sentence and suddenly drift off into her own thoughts of unicorns and rainbows. We also share a sensitivity to the stair mind block – you know, the invisible force field that engulfs all stairways, erasing your memory of what is was you went upstairs for. The difference is, I’ll come back downstairs so that I remember what I need to do. She’ll just start building a Lego dog salon instead.

stopwatch kids focus

At the weekend we were browsing the shelves of Crate and Barrel’s kitchen department and I spotted a stopwatch on sale for less than $5. I had remembered a suggestion from my sister the previous week about timing Elsie getting ready for school in the morning. She had to “beat Mummy,” while I had a shower and it seemed to work wonders. For $5 is was worth a try…

She was crazy exited about the purchase, to the extent that a couple of shops later after playing with it she said:

“I’ve always wanted a stopwatch Mommy, now all my dreams have come true…”

Talk about dramatic… I wish all my wildest dreams could be fulfilled by a $5 stopwatch. But still, I was pleased to see her excited about it, even if it did mean I was only given 6 minutes to browse clothes… I could see this was going to get old fast, with Mommy at least.

On the way home I dropped Daddy at the supermarket and circled the parking lot to avoid unpacking the family of five. 2 minutes to park. Timer set to countdown as we sat in the 15mins only space. Despite the short shopping list, she was very concerned about overstaying our slot. To distract her from panic I asked her what useful things she could time with the stopwatch.

Elsie’s stopwatch checklist:
  • “My 3minute Math fact practice tests,” (she has four a week for homework)
  • “Tidying my play area,”(a constant battle)
  • “Timing Daddy in Total Wine to make sure he doesn’t take an hour,”

Later that day she provided much entertainment to fellow wine shoppers as she gave Daddy regular updates of his time allocation for browsing. She runs a tight ship that girl.

So, is the stopwatch phenomenon a good method to help your kids focus? I did a little snooping because as regular readers know, I love an expert opinion.

What the experts say:

“Have a stopwatch handy to reinforce behaviours such as putting shoes away, cleaning off the kitchen table, or taking toys out of the bath tub. The stopwatch gives your child the visual reminder that reinforces your request.”(Richard A. Lougy, David K. Rosenthal, ADHD: A Survival Guide for Parents and Teachers)

Now, Elsie has not been diagnoses with ADHD, but I quickly learnt from teaching, that applying methods designed for my ADHD and ASD kids to the whole classroom helped all my kids, not just the ‘affected’ ones. Therefore, I would say Dick and Dave are underselling themselves a little here with the title of their book. 

“A stopwatch can also help children focus their attention. As their attention to the task increases, the stopwatch can be set for longer intervals.” (Sylvia B. Rimm, Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades and what You Can Do about it:)

Oh good, going by the title of this book Elsie’s just bright, not ADHD, I much prefer that diagnosis. As you can see, these methods for helping special needs are just good practise for all. I like the idea of increasing the timed periods, there’s no way if I said “you have an hour to tidy your play area and do your homework,” that anything would get done. Small short tasks to start with and we’ll go from there.

What’s the verdict?

The timer has successfully completed homework tests and hurried Daddy up in Total Wine. And the fact that she can operate it herself seems to make all the difference over me using my phone. It is her stopwatch, and because she has ownership she is more motivated. It has however been banished to the fridge because baby brother decided the mini battery on the back looked tasty… eek.

So go… get your little ones a stopwatch for Christmas, and make all their dreams come true.


Katherine Betts

Architect and Science Teacher in a previous life, Katherine Betts is now a SAHM of three kids and family lifestyle blogger. She created her twin parenting blog, TwinPickle, to help parents of multiples with the unique challenges they face. Since it's conception, TwinPickle has grown to include a larger virtual community of twin parents through social media.

Blog Comments

I am looking online right now! We have a helluva/delightful time each morning as the Mrs. gathers Big and Little for school. It is equally as delightful getting ready for bed. Now, do you think with two kids I need 2 stop watches? Great post! #GlobalBlogging <3

I would get them one each… then they can race each other with stopwatch in hand, they’ll love it! ?

This is such a good idea! And I absolutely know that my children would love it, and it would make my day if they also announced it to have made their dreams come true!! I’d never even thought of anything like this before, but children respond so well to things like this, don’t they? Mine will never turn down a challenge, or a chance to say they’ve done better than mummy. Adding to my Christmas present list for them, right now!!

Oh good! I hope they enjoy it as much as mine 🙂

Amazing! My daughter is incredibly competitive so a stop watch would be great for her. Saying that, I bet she would drive everyone nuts turning everything into a competition x #prettyraw

Yep… everything. ?

All her dreams came true! Oh, how easily pleased are children! Love it. Also love that she set herself the timer challenge for tidying up. Bonus! #PrettyRaw

Tidying up… always a battle! ??

Amazing! What a great idea, I was chuckling though at the overuse of the stopwatch. Interesting to know that it takes 2 minutes to park hahah. I will definitely be using this tactic later on when my son is older I can see already his attention span is minus zero (although he is almost just a year old!). Thanks for sharing with #GlobalBlogging!

Minus zero… ??

Great idea! I need to instill this in my household. My kids definitely need to learn about deadlines!! 🙂 #globalblogging

Maybe it would be good for blogging too? (I say while ‘writing’ and procrastinating at my laptop)

Oh what a great idea! My alarm goes off on my phone 5 minutes before we need to leave the house in the morning. The kids know that the sound means it’s GO, GO, GO for shoes & coats etc.

Hahaha… I imagining a military style evacuation at the sound of the alarm ?

I have heard of this before but I have used sand timers instead. They really do work very well! I might have to invest in a stopwatch too 😉 thank you for linking up with #prettyraw

Sand timers are fun too!

I love this idea, I think i need to adopt it into my life not just Little R’s! Thank you for linking up with #prettyraw, we are open again if you want to join us this week!

I love this! I sometimes put the timer on the stove to get them moving but stopwatch sounds so much better!

Yes! Elsie loves the ownership of hers, it adds to the fun and therefor the effectiveness!

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