“I said I’m coming!” your child yells indignantly, thirty minutes after disappearing upstairs to fetch his socks. “Are we there yet?” your daughter demands as the car pulls out of the driveway. “It’s due tomorrow!” says the young scholar, perched in front of a blank computer screen at 10 pm. Sound familiar? If your child’s time management skills leave something to be desired, you’re in good company. No one knows how to dawdle, stall and procrastinate like a kid, and parents are usually forced to pick up the slack. While change won’t come overnight (admit it – even you probably procrastinate sometimes) here are some tips and tricks that can help even those too young to tell time.
- Make it visual. If you need to set aside a block of time for a rest or a time-out, a visual timer, like an hour glass, shows preschoolers how much time remains. A regular old kitchen timer does the trick, too. Visual timers are also great motivators for dawdlers; tell your child that there’s time to play when the timer is in red (or whatever), but it’s time to hurry when it reaches green – and kids who are ready to go before the final ding get to pick the music in the car or have more time at the playground.
- Relate it to something familiar. For elementary-schoolers who can’t yet tell time, use comparisons. “The car ride is about as long as one episode of Arthur.”
- Put it in writing. To avoid last minute surprises, keep a family calendar on the wall, says Lori Krolik, owner of the time management consulting firm More Time for You. Parents and kids write their commitments on the calendar, in different colored ink, so everyone knows what’s going on. Krolik also suggests setting a time, like every Sunday night, when the whole family goes over the calendar to plan the week ahead.
- Teach kids to say no. “Don’t over-schedule if that’s stressing out your family,” says Krolik. “If you don’t want to be constantly running from one activity to the next, always yelling at your kids to accelerate, or spending more time in the car than you do at home, create a schedule that fits your routine.” Teach your kids that it’s okay to say no to birthday party invitations and to cut back on extracurriculars.
- Encourage preparation. Help your child get organized by laying out school clothes the night before, packing lunch in advance, and gathering books and homework before bed.
- Don't bail them out. Let older kids pay the consequences when they haven’t managed their time well. Don’t nag; sooner or later, they’ll have to take responsibility for their own time, and sometimes screw-ups are the best motivator.
Even with these tips, you’ll probably find yourself rushing at times. The real goal of successful time management isn’t perfection; it’s finding time to enjoy each other.