I tried this timer hack to get my children to school on time, here's what changed

It also works for getting my fidgeting kids to sit still at mealtimes

Image of a family eating at a breakfast bar
(Image credit: Pexels)

Breakfast is not my favourite time of the day, and if your children refuse to sit still at mealtimes like mine, then you’ll know why. My girls Daphne, seven, and Esther, four, often spend more time wandering around the breakfast table than eating at it.

I’ll find them starting a new drawing or finishing some colouring when the clock is ticking to get out of the door on time for school. I see their point - breakfast is functional and kids are busy, always onto the next activity, so the idea of sitting still to do something boring like eat is not top of their to-do list.

And to be fair, I still remember my mum telling me to ‘sit down or you’ll get indigestion’ as I stood at the breakfast bar shoving down a piece of toast before school.

But tucking into the delicious breakfast recipes at the table is important as it gives young children a chance to interact and bond with those around them. It’s a time they can practise those all-important social skills and table manners. Sitting down also means there’s less risk of choking, so it’s a daily battle I - and parents everywhere - are determined to win.

What I tried to get my kids ready on time

Here’s where this breakfast hack for busy mornings will revolutionise your day… I read that having a visual aid could help children (who don’t yet understand the concept of time) to stay at the table. So I bought an oversized 20-minute sand timer from Amazon, and at the beginning of breakfast, I asked my daughters to take turns to turn it over.

The challenge was that they had to try and ‘beat the clock’ and finish breakfast before the sand had run out. They weren’t allowed to rush, or stuff the food in their mouths, but they also understood that they needed to sit still at the table while eating until they had finished. Here's what happened...

Image of oversized sand timer

(Image credit: Amazon)

1. Breakfast was fun instead of functional

Turning mealtimes into a game was the key to turning a stressful situation into something fun. My daughters actually looked forward to breakfast and loved the challenge of trying to beat the clock. 

We even started a rewards chart and ticked off days they 'won' breakfast, and I'd give them a treat at the weekend like take them out for a smoothie at their favourite cafe.

2. We stopped arguing as the kids felt in control (even though I was)

Before the sand timer, breakfast had become a battleground as I nagged the girls to sit still and eat. Introducing the 'beat the clock' game, and allowing them to take turns turning the timer over, gave them a little ownership and responsibility. 

It also made them feel important and valued at mealtimes - and we were all more relaxed because I didn't need to nag them anymore (about breakfast at least, doing their face and teeth before school was a whole other issue...).

3. My stress levels went down

I had begun to dread breakfast as I knew it would involve the usual dance of me trying to get the girls to sit down for long enough to get something in their tummies. 

Don't get me wrong, there are always stresses for parents when you're on a tight schedule like getting out of the house on time for school, but by eliminating one major daily battle, I felt calmer and less stressed on busy mornings.

4. The kids ate more

With me nagging less about them sitting still, the girls started to eat more and I noticed their energy levels and mood improved in the mornings. They're just like me, and get hangry (angry when hungry) so it was a relief that they were finally eating enough to fuel them for a busy day at school.

5. My friends tried the timer hack

This hack worked so well that we started using the sand timer for every meal, and when I told some friends about it they tried it out with their kids, too. 

I think the reason it was such a success was because my girls felt like they were in control, and it wasn’t just me telling them what to do again. If you struggle to get your child to sit still during mealtimes, you should definitely try this hack!

Looking for more breakfast inspiration? Find out which is the healthiest cereal for kids at breakfast

Maddy Biddulph
Freelance parenting writer

Maddy Biddulph is a freelance journalist specialising in lifestyle and family-focused content. With 25 years in consumer media, she has worked as a writer and editor for some of the bestselling newspapers, magazines and websites in the UK and US.  As a mum of two art-obsessed daughters, Daphne and Esther, Maddy is always looking for parenting hacks to make life easier. She is also a Level 3 personal trainer, and creates energising workouts for busy mums who need some me time.