Visual Timer for Kids - How Do I Explain Time to My Toddler?

July 07 2021

We all know how time flies. When we wait for something, time seems to pass more slowly. When we see old photos of ourselves, we see that we have gotten bigger and older. But how do you explain the abstract construct of time to a toddler when you can neither see nor touch it? 

It is important to introduce the children to the topic of time, in a way that’s appropriate to their age. Children are naturally curious and inquisitive. It comes as no surprise that they are also interested in the subject of time and the perception of time. Questions like “When will dad come home from work?”, “How long will it be until my birthday?” or the classic “Are we there yet?” need to be answered.

Toddlers have their own sense of time

How do you best explain such abstract topics to your child, like time, without overwhelming the little ones? Until they are 2 years old, children live exclusively in the present. You can only differentiate between past and future events to a limited extent. 

Even at the age of 3-4, children find it difficult to differentiate between speaking time and event time. “Tomorrow” can just as easily mean “in a week”. Only in the course of the 5th year of life do children slowly learn to understand time cognitively and linguistically. 

For children, time is a very theoretical construct that is difficult to grasp. The time for the little ones only seems to pass when something happens, for example when doing handicrafts or playing games. When they come to school and have a regular schedule, children slowly learn that time goes by, regardless of events.

Time is abstract for children

It’s even more difficult for children to get a real feel for the time. Many of you are probably familiar with a typical situation. In the morning you are busy getting ready for yourselves and the kids, when one of these typical parents' sentences comes up like: “We have to go in 5 minutes!” 

Children usually cannot do anything with this time specification because it is far too abstract. When the children go to school and can read the clock, they gradually develop a feeling for units of time. Before that, with such abstract time information, unfortunately, nothing can be achieved.

Make concrete statements

Children are literally bombarded by abstract concepts of time. Adults in particular often use terms such as “soon”, or “immediately”. In order for the children to be able to do something with these formulations, however, it is best to link such times with events, for example:

  • “After dinner”
  • “When the song is over” 
  • “Two more sleeps”

Get specific. Instead of “the day after tomorrow” say “sleep two more times”, instead of “your friend will come in half an hour” say “As long as a Peppa Pig episode lasts”)

Rituals can also help children gain a better understanding of the concept of time. Rituals are fun for the children and give them stability and security. It is also important to praise your child if it has achieved something in the allotted time, such as "Today we are in good time" or "It's great that you hurried".

These are all just small everyday aids that should help your children to bring the topic of time a little closer. After all, it's also a wonderful fact that children are not slaves to time and can simply live in the moment. Sometimes you should just take the time and forget the time together with your children!


We use a 2 minute sand timer for teeth brushing for our young children. Alternatively, for activities that are supposed to last less than a minute like hand washing (20 seconds), we have them sing a nursery rhyme, otherwise they barely scrub with soap.Public washing can be fun, adults smile, kids join in.
pyroholtz / 2021-08-26 04:12:00

When moms pause their phone calls to yell the “FIVE MORE MINUTES” warning before they have to stop playing and transition to the next planned activity, I wish the kids would yell “Fuck off! Stop injecting your schedule into our alternate reality!”
toxonix001 / 2021-09-19 05:24:00