If you’ve ever had to get kids ready for school or to go out somewhere, you’ll know that they usually have a very ‘loose’ sense of time and getting them out of the door without being late can be a tough mission.
I know we’re always cutting it fine with our girls here:
“Get a move on!”
“No, I don’t know where you put your socks!”
“Take that off your head!”
“We’re going to be late (again)!”
These are common phrases you’ll hear on any given schoolday morning in our household and I wish I had a dollar for every time my wife and I have had to belt them out.
I mean, I’d love to take my time over everything, stop and smell the roses and all that.
And I sometimes feel bad about the fact I’m always hurrying my kids along – it would be great to just do everything at the rhythm they dictate – but as I am sure you well know yourself, modern life is not really conducive to that way of living.
And if you want to do well, being able to manage your time effectively is a crucial life skill.
But as I said, younger kids have quite a loose sense time and it takes a while for them to develop a more sophisticated understanding of what time means.
Most children will start to understand sequences before they grasp time. For example, they can understand that their birthday comes after daddy’s or that it is before Christmas. And that breakfast comes before lunch, etc.
But they don’t really begin to develop an understanding of the notion of time until they reach the age of around five or six (maybe even later for some) and have a decent level of numeracy proficiency.
However, even then, it can still be quite a vague concept at that point.
Telling the time is covered at elementary school level in most countries, so typically, by the age of eight or so, most kids should able to read both analogue and digital clocks by then.
Being able to read the time is one thing, but being able to manage your time well is something that doesn’t seem to be on the school curriculum in most countries, so it’s up to parents to teach their children this invaluable skill.
The difference between an adult that is successful and one that is not (however you define success) often comes down not to training or knowledge, but the ability to manage time.
Time management is a skill that can be learned and getting kids familiar with planning and structuring their tasks from an early age will stand them in good stead for their college and adult working lives.
And the earlier you can start with this, the better.
It is still important to let children have some undirected free time to play and explore things on their own, but introducing some structure will help them to master what is an important life skill.
The other benefit I have found is that in the short term, having a schedule seems to help reduce unruly behaviour.
There are several things you can do to help facilitate helping children develop good time management, discipline, attention and organisation and I’ve laid out ten of them for you right here.
1. Routines, checklists and calendars
Children love predictable routines because it gives them a sense of security. This makes total sense when you consider the volume of changes, new information and skills the average child has to tackle on a daily basis and throughout their young life.
But children can handle this and will do so much better if they have a predictable daily routine as an anchor and point of reference.
So, whenever possible, make sure that you stick to set times for waking, breakfast, dinner, playtime, getting ready for bed, etc. This is essentially a schedule, which forms the basis of time management.
Secondly, get them a cool kids’ calendar and start using it.
Understanding how many days make a week and a month and how many months make a year and seeing that time visually represented on the calendar will help them to develop a better understanding of the concept of time.
Work with them and add all the big events, birthdays, holidays, start and end of school terms.
Transferring the events on the ‘big calendar’ to a weekly calendar and a daily task list breaks everything down into manageable chunks that kids can deal with.
Not only does this create a great framework for overall time management, but I found that it goes a long way to improving their behaviour generally.
2. Teach kids to plan in advance
The ability to plan and think things through is an important skill. Whenever they are doing a task, get them to think about it “with the end in mind”.
Make them accountable for things like preparing their school books and getting their clothes ready the night before.
Show them how to avoid procrastination by planning an activity in advance, like tidying their room, and then sticking to the schedule when the time comes around. You could also discuss with them why procrastination is a bad thing.
3. Practise waiting
It’s said that today’s younger generation struggle focusing on anything that does not provide instant gratification. This comes as no real surprise when you consider how quickly everything moves. Take the internet for example. These days, if a page takes more than three seconds to load, most people give up and look at something else instead, which is hilarious when you think back to the days of 45Kbps dial-up speeds and the length of time it took a page to load back then.
Times have changed and so have expectations. But it is still worth teaching our children the benefit of patience and delaying gratification because many things in life cannot be achieved instantaneously.
4. Set priorities
Setting priorities and showing kids how to give tasks an order can really help develop their time management skills.
I found this great demonstration of the importance of prioritizing things in life involving a jar, rocks, pebbles, sand (and beer!), sometimes called the Jar of Life. Check it out here.
You could do a version of this with your kids to show them how to prioritize and then relate to things such as homework before play, tidying up before going out, important before urgent, etc. You could even introduce the basis of the Eisenhower Box.
Check out this post: What Is The Eisenhower Box?
5. Teach them to tell the time
If your child is able to tell the time, then it stands to reason that they will have a better grasp of time and duration. If your kid has not yet learned this at school, go ahead and teach it yourself. I used the free Timex Time Machines app with my kids (download for Android or iOS) and they’d picked it up pretty well after just a few goes with it.
Also, remember to have plenty of clocks visible around the house, which will raise awareness.
6. Less screen time
I believe that kids should be kids and they need to play – and in the modern world, that may include screen time. That’s fine because they are part of the modern world, but try to remove a lot of the time-suckers, e.g. games and activities with no real educational benefit.
Use screen time as a reward and something that is earned, rather than something they take for granted.
In keeping with good time management, it also makes sense to schedule it too.
7. Focusing attention
One of the biggest reasons we all fail to manage our time well is due to our inability to focus our attention on one thing for any length of time, so exposing them to this early will hopefully make things easier as they get older.
You could try a (shorter) version of the Pomodoro Technique as a game to see how long they can focus their attention.
Check out this post: What Is The Pomodoro Technique?
8. Lead by example
I think it goes without saying that if you’re a disorganized mess, you do everything last-minute and you’re often late, that is the model your children are likely to follow.
Kids use their parents’ behaviour as a guide, so make sure you’re setting a good example. If you need help with your own time management, you’ll find plenty of ideas here, so go check out some of the other posts and remember to subscribe for notification when new ones are published.
9. Teach duration
Time the duration of tasks using visual timers or an hourglass, so they understand how long things take, e.g. brushing teeth, washing, doing homework, watching an episode on tv, etc.
Once kids can relate how long one activity takes in relation to something else they are familiar with, say, one episode of Peppa Pig, then they start to join the dots when it comes to understanding time.
10. Don’t nag – support!
I have definitely been guilty of nagging my kids, but I know I should try to offer solutions and support and find ways to make them accountable themselves, rather than cracking the whip all the time.
Be patient with your kids when working on this with them.
Don’t expect them to have the same level of productivity and time management skill as an adult – it would be unfair and unrealistic to do so.
Give them the opportunity to do stuff outside of scheduled activities that let them lose track of time, like getting lost in a book or playing with friends, as this is part of life too!
Also, remember to schedule time with them yourself too.
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
While children don’t really understand the concept of time until they get a bit older, there are still plenty of activities you can do with them to help sow the seeds when it comes to teaching them how to manage their time and their schedules.
Time management is not really taught in schools and yet it is a crucial life skill, so if you are able to introduce yourself, it will help them internalize good time management habits that they will thank you for later on in life.