Mick Jagger lied. He told a great big fib, Mr “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” “Time is definitely NOT on your side” never was – never will be. Being the Drill Sergeant of the family, (AKA the Time Tyrant, Prioritisation Princess, Scheduling Sergeant, you get the idea) I battle every day all day and most of the night control time and could just weep when time slips away….. “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” (Cue “Days of our Lives” opening theme song.)
But there might, (and I must stress might) be a couple of solutions to teaching your child the notion of time management that will help them throughout their lives. At the very least – it might teach you a thing or two about wagering the war on time.
For the preschooler or kindergartener
Little ones love their charts and stickers so use it to your advantage e.g., draw up a chart for your child to be displayed on the bathroom wall and call it “I Can See a Clean Me.” Using pictures cut from magazines etc draw a table for those hygiene tasks that have to completed every day, like 2 squares for teeth brushing; one square putting dirty clothes in the wash basket, one square brushing hair etc. Using stickers to show the job done is a reward in itself at this age and gives a sense of satisfaction that the job has been done on time on the right day.
Looking a week ahead is probably all they can really focus on at this age. Let’s face it – when they’re younger the family time table does pretty much revolve around them. So a small calendar might help. Have them decorate it or use the family one to show how all their activities like library time or swim class are all there.
Older children (7 to 12 years old)
Work with your child to create a “Responsibilities Chart” and have an agreement of their responsibilities and the best time to do it e.g., set the table at 6:30 p.m.; homework finished by 7:30 p.m. As each task is completed check it off, but only if it’s done on time! This is a great way to get them use to watching the clock and guessing how long a job takes to complete.
Have them look at the upcoming month so they can see the bigger picture, how everyone has to fit in with the family schedule, not just to suit themselves.
Young teenagers (12 – 16 years old)
Have them draw up a homework chart and list assignments/homework deadlines Monday through Sunday. As they get older their projects become more complex; teach them to break tasks down to “do-able” parts by adding in project stages. This will help them manage a larger project across a number of weeks. This can fit in with teaching them goal setting. Ensure also a balance between homework, housework, sport/exercise and relaxation. Finally teach them prioritising goals into “must do’s” and “want to’s”. Read below for more information.
This is also a good time to have them use a paper or computerised calendar. Most kids by this age have phones that have calendars. Calendars are often used to record only appointments or upcoming events, leaving large blank spaces giving a false impression on how much time is available. This may lead most kids (and some adults I know….) to thinking that they will have lots of time to finish homework or play on computer games. Show them that they have to control that time by scheduling blocks of time for homework, home chores, and then play time. Ensure that emphasis is given to the must do’s first, and then schedule at least one want to as a form of reward. Most calendars can also colour code your scheduling which is a great way to visualise the week at a glance.
A copy of the week should be printed up for a public place and as a reminder to your child and yourself . When the week is filled in the rainbow of coloured activities you and your kids will be able to see where their time goes and just how much your kid is trying to cope with. Your child still needs to schedule time to chill out and daydream too.
Discuss the consequences of not allocating their time. The lure of that great TV show verses the Maniacal Maths teacher and his wrath. The choice to sleep in bed all day and not do daily chores verses refusal from dad to allow access to the internet. Bribery helps – the child gets an extra hour at a friend’s place if they show they have stuck to the agreed timetable.
Here are my top 10 tips:
1. Start time training early.
With tiny toddlers make it a game: “Can you finish putting your Lego in the toy box before the end of this song?” Have them make a clock face with colours showing nap time, meal times etc., then have them move the hands of the “clock” to the right time for the activity.
2. Have the calendar chat.
Give each child their own calendar and have a family one for all appointments etc. Ensure they all synch up with each other. If the child is too young to write their own time table, use colour codes or stickers but it will help if the child, at whatever age, is using colour codes for specific activities EG. if blue is for music lessons, then all concerts, lessons and practice times are blue.
3. A place for everything and everything in its place
An oldie but a goodie; keep it simple, shoes can go in a basket by the door (not all over the floor); keys go in the bowl on the hall table (and only there) so time isn’t wasted hunting them down. Label, colour code, pack in specific boxes, I don’t care – as long as everyone knows the items “home”.
- Discuss and agree on the “Must- do’s” to the “Want-to’s.”
“Must- do’s” are the (almost) everyday tasks and time has to be made for them. Homework, school time (include travel time to and from), home chores and bed time (seriously – it will show kids staying up late is not an option!) are not negotiable and have to be scheduled, in colour, on the calendar.
“Want-to’s” are activities EG sport practice and game time, chill time like seeing friends, computer time (other than homework related), parties etc – you get the idea. All still have to be scheduled, in colour, on the calendar.
- Teach them about goals and how scheduling can help them reach those goals easier.
Short-term goals are only a few hours long up to a week in advance but still can be scheduled. A surprise for mum with breakfast in bed on Sunday means shopping for the ingredients for the meal, picking some flowers the day before to put on her tray, getting up early to cook it all, taking it in and basking in the surprise on her face, then cleaning up the kitchen after (you thought you were going to get away with that one didn’t you?)
Long-term goals are the “bigger picture” of our lives taking months or even years to accomplish. But can be scheduled by not trying to be done in one “chunk” of time but easier by breaking down the whole thing into smaller jobs over a longer period of time. Seeing those smaller “chunks” on the calendar will remind them they are heading towards that goal, not delaying it to the “one day” pile.
- Have regular family meetings
Make it just a quick one with all the upcoming events or appointments mentioned so everyone knows what’s going on. Have everyone have their calendars or diaries there to synchronise.
- “Time” your time.
How many jobs really, really need to be done every day? Can it be put on hold or completely eliminated? Look at their to-do list, do those tasks things have to be taken care of immediately, done anytime during the week, important enough to put so much time into it. Pick your battles by deciding what you can tolerate – I’ve cut down the kids cleaning their rooms every day to just Monday and Fridays. I figure they can’t have time to mess it too much while they’re at school and at least the rooms are tidy(-ish) when visitors arrive on Saturday morning.
- Consolidate jobs
Can you double up or multi-skill by cutting the amount of time spent getting ready. EG have your child pack their school bag for morning the night before, hats and jackets near the door, lunches pre-made and frozen for the week (sandwiches freeze you know)
- Lay down the law
Agree on some rules that will save time like, “At the end of the day, put your toys away”; chore delegation – so the parents don’t have to squeeze in house work within their time “off work” etc. All school notes on the coffee table for discussion later and not on the kitchen table where it might get lost or ruined with dinner preparations.
- Be Prepared
As the Scouts say – be prepared by having a pre-packed bag by the door with the baby stuff, snacks, wipes or tissues, colouring books and pencils or books (to distract littlies), sunscreen, small bandaids and whatever else you “have to have”.
Now, the bad news. Role-modelling time management helps too. I could say something about “Monkey see, monkey do”, but I would be referring more to my “monkeys”, not yours. Kids learn what they see or at least they will point out your failing/s – loudly and regularly, so don’t give them ammunition! If you come in from work, toss the mail, your coat and bags wherever then frantically look for them the next day, making you really late for work, you really can’t be surprised that your child is looking for that missing shoe or half their homework when it’s time to leave the next day. Sorry folks – we have to be perfect – ugh!
“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to affect, but actually, from a non-linier, non subjective point of view it is more like a big ball of wibbily wobbly timey wimey…stuff.” said Doctor Who (as played by David Tennant); which basically means time is all theoretical. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go to plan. Emergencies will happen, a better offer will come along, or a surprise invitation will blow your schedule out the window. Always re-evaluate, revise and move on.
Be patient. At first be happy when you see small steps in the right direction, pardon the obvious – but it takes time! Ask them if or what they need help with, check they are following the times agreed on but don’t nag them with a “stop watch mentality”. But it’s not too late to start time management training from toddlers to teens and beyond, it will be a skill they will have for life.
PS: there’s a great video on http://www.learningworksforkids.com/skills/time-management/ to show kids how to learn with video games can help to improve their time management skills.