Few realizations have been more eye-opening than finally figuring out that I can't just juggle my family and my home in my head now that we're almost six people. I really did feel like I could do it before. Remembering who had what toy first and for how long. Remembering who had had screen time and when they had started using pbskids.org. Remembering that poor kid I put in time out.
Those days are gone. A few weeks ago I realized that when my kids were on the computer, I started racing around and doing all the chores around the house that did not require "help." You know what kind of help I'm talking about. It's the kind that involves a 1 year old playing with a toilet brush and waving it through the air. A couple days ago, I figured out that my kids were super fidgety in time out because heaven only knows when Mommy will remember that she put them in time out and needs to have a conversation with them. And, oh the frustration, I have no idea how long anyone has had any toy in my house. I try not to favor the squeaky wheel who whines about his property all the time or the little girl who steals toys and then shrieks when her brothers try to take them back, but OH MY WORD... the whining, the tattling, the screaming!! It grates on my last nerve, making my want to send everyone to Australia so I can pretend like adults don't whine and complain just as much (been to Walmart lately, anyone?).
My solution: the timer. I haven't used it consistently before. It was always too bothersome to get up and actually set it, but I find that it's no longer optional. It's not like I'll just magically remember when 30 minutes is up. Time just flies around here! So here are some strategies that are working to save me stress.
When a child starts asking for screen time, I give them a time (normally 2 hours or so in the future) when they can have some computer or Amazon Prime time. This forces them to find something else to do to entertain themselves, but keeps me from having to hear, "Can I play PBS Kids now?" 100 times in a 60 second period. I'm telling you... It would try the patience of a saint. I set a timer so I don't forget my agreement and point the child to the timer if the question does arise. If the question is asked too often, I set the timer for longer. So far, so good. When the timer does ring, I set it again for the amount of screen time that that particular child can handle before becoming an emotional zombie. You know what I'm talking about. You know you do. This keeps me from starting a project upstairs and coming down to find that my child has been on the computer so long that his hand is permanently fused to the mouse. And our children are justice-minded enough to think that if one has had that much time, then all should. Tell me this is not just our house.
Toys and timers have revolutionized the sharing process. I remember watching one of my friends do this with her daughter and thinking she was a genius. She is, but, shockingly, her method even worked for me and my kiddos. When one child doesn't want to share a toy, I ask them how many minutes they need with that toy (a million is not a reasonable answer). We set a timer for that amount of time, and the other child has to wait for the toy until the timer rings and then gets said toy for the same amount as the first child had it. It works like a dream! Normally it takes no more than 2 rounds with a timer for them to just start passing the toy back and forth nicely. Phew. No more tattling or brawling. So nice. So worth getting off my tail to set the timer and helping them work it out together.
Lastly, time out. Some times we have multiple children in time out. I know. It's unimaginable that my children would need significant time away to cool off and be ready to talk about better choices, especially with such an even-keeled mother. HA. At this point, I just set a timer for the youngest offender. After talking to that child and resolving their offenses, I move on to the next oldest until everyone has been freed. If a child is not ready to talk, I skip them. They know this only prolongs their own time in purgatory so normally they are ready to talk turkey as soon as I am. But occasionally someone gets stubborn. Clearly they get that from Teacher Man. (Insert giant laugh here.)
Otherwise, I have bad news. I forget putting people in time out and never get to deal with the heart of the matter. I get frustrated with people not sharing and raise my voice, never giving any strategies for coping, so the problems just keep coming back. And I just let the screen time take over our day to the point where I don't even remember what we did with all our time.
The timers aren't for the kids. They're for me. Because I've come to the end of myself and realized that I'm just not enough. I'm gonna need some extra help. And if that help just happens to be free and to teach my children some concept of time, then so much the better. But continue to pray for me. At this rate of mental disintegration, I will soon have timers ringing and have no clue why I set them. Don't judge. We all have issues.