My husband and I hardly the only parents who throw this phrase around like Skittles on an airplane. To our minds, it’s a way of letting kids know that while happy-fun-time is reaching its endpoint, while also allowing them to wrap their little heads around the concept and therefore ease more comfortably into an undesirable transition. I’ll speak for myself that there’s even a little smugness about it: I’m standing firm, but softening the blow.
The two-minute warning wasn’t our brainchild, of course. When my oldest was a stubborn toddler who tended to fixate on what interested him and tune out the rest of the world, our New York City pediatrician clued us into the idea of the two-minute warning. “It’s helpful to give him time to get used to an idea rather than just yanking him out of a situation,” he said. So from that point on, whenever we could remember to do it and physically situate ourselves in earshot, we’ve given our kids two-minute warnings before the end of playtime, outdoor time, before-bed reading time, and most commonly, screen time.
And yet, my nagging suspicion that this common parental tool always made me feel better than it did my kids is supported by new research out of the University of Washington. Researchers in the school’s Computing for Healthy Living and Learning Lab interviewed some families and asked others to keep a diary of screen time experiences over the course of two weeks. Researchers found, to their surprise, that two-minute warnings seem only to worsen tantrums in young kids. The study was small, but controlled, and definitely compelling.
So what does work to get kids to move away from an activity without throwing a fit? The researchers suggest the following:
- Routine, routine, routine: When the Shopkins or Transformers always come out, say, just after snack time and get put away just before bath, kids seem to accept the end of free time as a natural order of things.
- Natural stopping points: You don’t like it when the baby starts to cry in the middle of Game of Thrones, do you? So we can sympathize when we pull the plug just after Bree enters the time machine to the third dimension on Lab Rats. We can help ourselves and our kids by choosing a show or program that has a defined endpoint, and making sure you are around and ready to call it quits when the credits roll or avatar completes his mission.
- Make timers do the dirty work for you. Funny, children are far more accepting of a beeping device than a yelling parent. Lots of smart TVs, iPads have controls that lock access at a certain time. And we’ve had success in setting up these small, inexpensive timers in the playroom and the bedrooms (they’re even good for getting lazy kids out the shower).
I’m piloting a greater effort to structure our busy lives so I’m not continually yanking my four-year-old, especially, from one thing to another, and will keep these tactics top of mind. If you have any good tricks, do tell!