Brilliant Ways to Use A Visual Timer with Your Child

Visual timers are a GREAT tool to use with children, whether special needs or not. We’ve actually owned a Time Timer ™ since my oldest was a toddler and it’s one of my very favorite parenting tools.

Typically developing little kids, and developmentally delayed older kids, struggle with understanding time. It’s very non-concrete and kids just aren’t developmentally ready to tackle abstract things like time. And yet time is such a big part of our lives. The visual timer helps kids to SEE time, which helps them to learn how time works, and which also helps them (and you) navigate their day a little more smoothly.

Timer options

There are several options out there for visual timers. In my experience, a 60 minute timer works best in a wide variety of situations. I love the Time Timer ™. It’s rugged, it’s easy to put back together (yes, lol), it has a clear display, and it’s easy for kids to set themselves as they gain skill. There are other options for physical timers, as well. I advise staying away from oven timers and the like – they tend to have a very unpleasant ring.

I also have a few visual timer apps on my phone, one is called OK Timer and the other is just called Visual Timer (both android, I have no idea if they’re available for Apple). And we have a one-minute timer of the colored-liquid-in-clear-plastic variety.

Using the Timer

I’m not going to pretend to know the best way to parent your child. I can tell you that with my three kids, I’ve had two who needed the rule to be that when the timer went off, it was time to do whatever they were to do when the timer went off. I’ve had one who sincerely needed another five minutes after the timer went off. We just set the timer for  5 minutes less than we really wanted, then let him set it for another 5.

I’ve had two kids who just generally cooperated with the timer. And one kid who needed rewards to cooperate with the timer.

I’ve had two who really came to rely on the timer to measure progress through the day, keep track of time on tasks or until events, etc., and one who really didn’t care for the timer and only used it for “you can do this for x minutes” or “you have to do this for x minutes” occasions.

So, do what works for you and for your kid.

Brilliant Ways to Use A Visual Timer


Moving from a preferred activity to a nonpreferred activity, such as stopping playing with toys and taking a bath, or turning off the TV (set the timer to coincide with the end of the show) and coming to eat dinner.

Ending an Activity, like turning off the iPad, turning off the TV, getting out of the bath.

Starting an Activity, like homework, a bath, getting dressed, taking medications.

How Long Until…

The timer comes in really handy for those times your kid knows something is going to happen in the near future, but they can’t quite hang on to the idea of exactly how far in the near future. Once it gets to be less than an hour, set the timer and refer your child back to the timer. They can actually watch the minutes passing.

How long until we get in the car? How long until my friend comes over? How long until dinner? How long until bedtime?

Independent Play

I’m working on a future post about teaching independent play to children, but a visual timer can really help with this. You start out by getting your child involved in an activity he or she enjoys and can do without help. Bring in the timer, set it for a short period (2-5 minutes). Explain that you need to step away quick but you’ll be right back. He or she needs to stay in the room and play, but you’ll be back before the timer goes off. Step away, wait, come back, and praise the child for playing by him or herself before rejoining the play. Repeat, slowly increasing the minutes on the timer.


We use the timer in the car to help manage the “are we there” and “how much longer” issues. Currently, I can set the timer for an hour, and then set it for additional time and that goes OK, but that was tricky for a while, and we just would wait to set the timer until we were about an hour out from making a stop. We tend to stop every hour and a half when everyone’s awake, and having the timer REALLY helps with the repetitive questions.


Waiting is SO HARD when you don’t have a good sense of time. The timer helps with at least two waiting-related issues.

Learning to wait. When the child asks for help with a non-urgent task, let him or her know that you can’t help right then, but you can help in 2 minutes. Set the timer. (Eventually, you can work on waiting patiently, but don’t expect that to happen right off.)

Managing anxious feelings when waiting. Waiting for a favorite TV show. Waiting for a parent to get home. Waiting for a snack to cook. Waiting is just hard, but using the timer lets the child see the time passing and makes waiting a bit more manageable, because it doesn’t seem like it’s going to last for eternity.

Completing an Activity

Kids tend to rush through nonpreferred activities. For one of mine, it’s the bath. He hates the bath, so his baths tend to consist of squatting in the water, then bouncing back out and declaring himself clean. Ummmm….no. So we use the timer. You have to sit all the way down, and you have to stay in there for 5 minutes and then I’ll come in and help you wash. (Note: he hates it in the sense that he’d just rather be doing something else. He doesn’t hate it in the sense that it really genuinely bothers him. I wouldn’t force him to stay in for five minutes if it was an actual issue.)

A timer is good for tooth brushing, too. (I prefer the liquid minute timer for this.) We also use it for hair brushing, for daily chores (your bedroom will take at least ten minutes to clean. I don’t want to see you until this goes off), etc.


When we’re headed toward a sensory overload or a meltdown, we can grab the timer and the kid, and do some calming activities until the timer beeps. I don’t know about other kids, but MY kid with tends to think that he only needs to barely take one deep breath before he’s ready to go back to whatever he was doing. Using a timer helps in several ways – first, it actually gives him something to focus on that’s relaxing (we use the liquid minute timer and flip it 5 times), and second, it helps him know there is a definite end to the “time in.” He WILL get to go back to playing. Since he knows the break won’t be forever, he’s usually more cooperative with doing a few calming activities like rocking, deep breaths, massage, etc.

Taking Turns

Taking turns can be really hard. The timer helps. Not only does it keep the turns strictly fair, but it also helps the person whose turn it is NOT to see that their waiting will not be forever.


I hope this gives you some ideas on how to incorporate a visual timer into your daily life. My regular kids have really liked the visual timer throughout their day when they were younger. With Teddy, who has developmental delays and special needs, we use the timer almost constantly during the day. We’ve had times we’ve had several timers going, even. Once you start using a visual timer, you’ll start seeing all the ways it can help your child’s day go just a bit smoother.





7 Ways to use a Weighted Blanket or Lap Pad

We’ve learned all about our weighted blankets. We’ve learned the science that supports weighted blankets, and we’ve learned how they work. Now how about some ways to use weighted blankets or lap pads?

1. Sleeping. Obviously, many people use weighted blankets to help them get to sleep faster, wake fewer times, and feel more rested. We discussed that in-depth in a previous entry.

2. Long periods of sitting. Travel, for example, or church services. Kids (and adults) can struggle with staying seated for long periods (and they SHOULD – it isn’t really normal to sit for that long) – weighted lap pads or blankets can help in these situations. We find that Tbear does better in the car with staying calm and showing appropriate behavior when we combine frequent breaks with a weighted blanket. The blanket provides him the deep sensory input that he naturally seeks – and he doesn’t have to seek it out in other, less desirable ways. Like hitting his sister.

3. Stressful or anxious times. Science has shown that deep touch pressure reduces stress and anxiety, and promotes calm. We use weighted items during hospital stays, for example, and I find that when I’m particularly stressed, I tend to pile Teddy’s weighted blanket on top of my own for even more weight.

4. Schoolwork. Whether at school or at home, a weighted lap pad can improve concentration, help reduce wiggliness, and help students stay on-task (see weighted lap pad studies mentioned here.

5. Transition periods, particularly moving from a period of high activity to one of lower activity – such as sitting down to dinner after running around outside. Letting your child chill out for a few minutes under the weighted blanket in a calm environment can often help ease that transition between high activity and lower activity.

6. Meltdowns. Some parents find that they can head off meltdowns by strategic use of weighted blankets. Weighted blankets, as previously discussed, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming effect on the body. Typically, parents need the child’s cooperation, but if they’re willing, and if the parent catches the meltdown early enough to head it off at the pass, a weighted blanket can help.

7. Heavy work. Many kids benefit from heavy work – during transition times, to get out their wiggles, to help re-focus. We often use our weighted blankets for heavy work. “Hey, Tbear, go get your heavy blanket for me!”

And you can get your very own weighted blanket or lap pad here!

11 Ways to Survive a Long Hospital Stay With Your Child

Long hospital stays are so challenging. The stress, the poor sleep, being cooped up, dealing with the medical things, and trying to help your child as much as you can. There’s no privacy. And most of us fall into habits that don’t help our mental well being – sitting around, eating junk, drinking too much coffee, stress eating, whatever your coping mechanisms are.

Here’s a list of eleven things I’ve found make a HUGE difference during those long stays.

  1. Drink. No, I don’t mean alcohol (though I sometimes think hospitals should have bars that only take tokens, and parents can earn the tokens through doing good deeds like not being grumpy with the residents). I mean keep yourself hydrated! Drink water, yes. But you also need to get yourself some fun drinks. Like flavored water? Stick some drink flavorings in your hospital suitcase. Like pop? Pack it, but don’t over-do it. Like Coffee? If you’re going to be there for a long time, bring your favorite coffee things – whether that’s your Keurig, your French press, or your favorite creamer. I’m not encouraging over-indulgence here. But I find that treating myself to my personal favorite – raspberry flavored tea – every now and again really does put a bit of a bounce back in my step.
  2. Healthy Food. Especially if you’re a stress eater! Your hospital cafeteria might not have great food, but I bet it has a salad bar and I bet they serve at least semi decent veggies. Ours has great veggies and a nice salad bar, and I make it a point to stock up whenever I can. I also have my husband bring me frozen single-serve veggie dishes when he visits on weekends. Not only is this keeping my body functioning better than it would on junk food, but it actually gives me a mental boost, as well. Not because I love salad so much, but because I feel good knowing I’m eating healthy things. And my body has come to associate Hospital with Vegetables. I actually eat more veggies when we’re inpatient than I do at home. Which is weird. But it’s good for me! And good for you, too.  Some hospitals even have arrangements with local farmers and food co-ops to make fresh veggies available to families. Take advantage if your hospital does this!
  3. Treats. Yes, to go along with all those vegetables you’re going to be eating… bring or get small portions of treats. I have a few of those single serve microwave brownie cups in my hospital suitcase, and I also pack hot chocolate mix. And I know where to get scotcharoos. And as long as I don’t get carried away, these sugary treats ALSO provide a mental boost, because there’s nothing like letting yourself have something that just plain tastes sinful at the end of a long, stressful, and either very boring or very unpleasantly exciting hospital day.
  4. Things Unique To Your Hospital. Most larger hospitals have SOMETHING available to families. A gym membership? Get Child Life to hang with your kid while you check it out. Massages? I used to get a massage during every surgery. They often joked that they couldn’t make much headway on my tension. But it still felt nice. Find out what your hospital has on offer, and take advantage.
  5. Exercise. Yes. Exercise. What can you do in a hospital? If you can leave the room, go for a walk. (If your child can join you, so much the better.) If you can’t, there are YouTube exercise videos, YouTube yoga videos, etc. You can do pushups, situps, squats, calf raises, tricep pushups, etc. in the room. (Oh no! What if someone walks in?!? It’ll be OK. If you’ve been there for a while already, I’m willing to bet that someone walking in on you doing a pushup isn’t the worst thing that’s happened, and you exercising is going to be FAR FROM the strangest thing the hospital folks have seen.) You could even jog in place, or figure out a small circuit in the room. I used to have a stretchy band in my hospital suitcase for some resistance exercises before it got lost. Look up Office Exercises for some other ideas. (or I have a Pinterest board with ideas!)
  6. Electronics. Yes, embrace the electronics. For you, for your child. Your kid’s likely sitting in bed most of the time. YAWN. It’s ok to put aside your ideals about electronics use and let them use a tablet for a while. Truly, this is how Teddy learned his letters and numbers. Yep. The iPod I let him use during hospital stays.
  7. Social Media. There’s nothing quite so isolating as being in the hospital with your child. Especially if you’re on isolation, lol, or in the ICU. Many parents live a distance away from their child’s hospital, making it hard for friends or family to visit, and even if you live in town, many people don’t or can’t have visitors. Use social media to stay in touch with the outside world. Even if it’s hard. I know, believe me, how hard it is to be sitting in the hospital with a gravely ill child and read on Facebook someone freaking out because their perfectly regular kid has a perfectly regular fever, or GI virus, or is getting a tooth. Stay off Facebook if you need to, but try to stay in touch via private messaging or text to your inner circle.
  8. Go Outside. If at all possible, go outside. Even in bad weather. Even if all you do is stand under an awning for five minutes. Go outside. Take a few deep breaths. Do some stretches, or that thing where you tighten and relax your muscle groups for a minute. It isn’t good for humans to be indoors all the time.
  9. Child Life. Get to know them. Get to know what they can do for you and your child. Use them. They can hook you up with toys, activities, art supplies, iPads usually, gaming systems, sometimes music therapy, sometimes therapy animals. Child Life is your friend.
  10. Spiritual Services. If you are religious, talking to the hospital chaplain, even if that person is a stranger, can be really helpful in re-setting your mental state. During one hospital stay, a long distance friend whose dad was a pastor in the are we were staying had her dad come and visit us for a while. I sat and chatted with him for an hour or so, and it was really very nice. Just…. soothing.
  11. Scream and Cry. Most hospitals will have a place you can do this. Embarrassed about it? Take a pillow and find a distant bathroom or meeting room. But there’s no reason to be embarrassed. Nurses will understand, and if you ask them for a safe place to go cry loudly and maybe yell nonsense for a minute, they’ll know where you can go. Sometimes you just need it, and you can’t usually do this in the room with your child.

In Praise of the Dorm Fridge

Really, one of the best things we’ve done since having Teddy, as far as medical supplies and whatnot goes, is buying a dorm fridge for his supplies and keeping it near the rest of his supplies, in his room.

image shows a white dorm fridge on a set of metal shelves with bins of syringes, medications, and other medical supplies.

We use it to hold really everything Teddy related that needs to be refrigerated. When I was pumping, it was conveniently located near my pumping station, and keeping his fresh milk in there meant no risk of the other kids accidentally spilling any. I also stored my breast pump hardware in the fridge between pumping sessions.

Keeping meds in his own fridge means a greater degree of control over the temperature (it is opened fewer times during the day) and no chance of the meds getting lost. I have never spent time digging through the fridge trying to find where one of his meds got shoved. It also means that his meds don’t mix with our food. Several of Teddy’s meds are cytotoxic, and we want to keep them as far away from our food as we can.

image shows bottles of compounded medications inside a dorm fridge.

We also use it to store his feeding set between feeds. Many people, including us, don’t wash out the feeding set between every feed – and you really can’t get it completely clean anyway. We just stash it in the fridge so the leftover food in the tubing remains at a safe temperature, and then pull it back out for the next feed.

And when we’re using home blends, the blends are stored in the dorm fridge, as well. There’s no reason they couldn’t be in the main fridge, but it’s just more convenient to have them separated.

In talking to other medical needs parents, it doesn’t seem like this idea of a separate fridge is super popular, but if there’s any way you can make it work – put it on a shelf in the closet, on top of a dresser, on shelves like we did, etc. – I do highly recommend it. It’s really made things much easier with Teddy’s meds and foods.

But how do I cap my 60 mL syringes?

Since the introduction of our Syringe Totes, which let you carry prefilled 60 mL syringes with an ice pack to keep them cool, I get this question a lot:

“But how do I cap my syringes so they don’t leak all over?”

Well, you have several options.

Use an old extension
Shut the clip on an old extension, glue it in place if you like, and snip off the rest of the extension. Slide that puppy onto the end of your syringe and you have an awesome homemade cap. This is an ideal solution for those whose DME doesn’t provide syringes with caps, or for those who’ve bought syringes on their own without caps. (This is shown in the leftmost syringe in the image above.)

Use the caps from feeding sets
The second and third syringes in the image above are capped with the caps from feeding sets – the second syringe has the cap from the legacy feeding sets (red tip) and the third syringe has a cap from the EnFit feeding sets. Legacy caps fit much better on the syringes I own, and the EnFit ones are kind of loose, but they still work. This is a pretty simple solution for those who use both a feeding pump AND 60 mL syringes.

Buy or use syringes that come with caps
This seems obvious, but a shocking number of 60 mL syringes do NOT come with caps.  If you get syringes from your DME, ask them if they have any available with a cap. If you buy syringes on your own, look for ones with a cap. Alternatively, as mentioned below, The Squirrel Store sells caps that fit on the Miracle Syringes they (and others) sell. The two syringes to the right of the image above are two different types of syringes we’ve gotten from two different DMEs that both came with caps.

Wondering where to get syringes? I strongly prefer O Ring syringes over rubber-tip syringes. They have SUCH a long life. We’ve been using the same 5 O ring syringes for 6 years now. Rubber tip syringes tend to last us a few days max before the rubber starts sticking really bad, and then we have to baby them along with olive oil for continued function – not exactly easy to use on the go!

If you weren’t already aware, some people are into squirrel rehabilitation, and those people evidently use 60 mL O ring syringes. So, some of the best places to buy O ring 60 mL syringes are squirrel rehab stores like The Squirrel Store and Chris’s Squirrels and More.  The “Miracle” Syringe sold by these stores does not come with a cap, but The Squirrel Store sells caps that will fit on the tips of the 60 mL syringes.