We have all been there. The usual busy morning, but you might have become distracted by something - an interesting article on your phone, someone missing their homework, or
maybe just lost track of time while enjoying peace and quiet in the shower. You realize you’re running behind and, out of desperation, shout out to the kids, “Guys, we’re late!!!” to prompt them into quick and direct action to hurry up and get out the door. You envision them shouting back “10-4 Captain!” while running to put on coats and shoes and wait patiently for you by the front door, backpacks on and car keys in hand.
What do you actually find? They had started a game of chase around the kitchen table, which is strewn with all the books, papers and homework that should be in the backpacks. You’re already stressed. Your fear is setting in. At this rate, everyone is going to be late, and their silly play is not funny or cute.
Here it comes. The BLOW UP!
Something we rarely consider when interacting with our kids is that their perception and understanding of time is not yet developed or is still developing. The younger your children are the less they understand time. They also don’t have all the language we have to understand the abstract concept of time or what it means to “be late.” Children will want to, and need to, play through their routines and will not be as focused on the need for tasks to be completed in a timely manner the way you are. Developmentally, the younger your children are, the more they are learning and experiencing the world through their play. This is normal and not meant to bug the daylights out of you. So when they’re trying to tease you by sticking their arms in their pants to make you laugh, they are not always trying to push your buttons.
Kids have no regulated concept of how long it is “supposed” to take to brush teeth, eat breakfast or get dressed. Their sense of time isn’t developed like yours, and they have little ability to know when they can take things easy, or when they need to be to the point and rush. This is especially true if their allotment of time to do these things is not on a consistent schedule.
Also, the younger children are, the less they understand the concept of urgency unless it is directly related to them and what they want or what they need. And the younger children are, the less they are thinking outside of themselves for the consideration of others or the larger situation as a whole. When I tell my four-year old “We’re late!” and start rushing, she looks at me like I’m nuts. I might be “late” but she sure doesn’t think she is this “late” thing. She’s fine. She tries to follow my lead, she can see I’m stressed but she doesn’t know what the heck is going on. On the flip side of that coin, when SHE feels hungry and SHE wants a snack, she has no patience waiting for me to finish the dishes before she’s frustrated that I am not acting fast enough for HER. When it’s her problem, she gets it. And if she wants to go swimming…..Let’s just say there’s no playing around to get that swimsuit on. That girl is MOTIVATED.
Another issue to keep in mind is a child’s ability to transition quickly and smoothly from one thing to another. Kids often have difficulty moving from what they are doing (especially if it’s a preferred activity) to whatever may be next. They often have the need to make sure they are physically and mentally done with where they currently are before they can move on to the next task. So, in those moments of rushing, what we see is resistance as we try to move them from dressing to brushing teeth in one sweeping motion. They may fight you, go back to their room, get frustrated or cry. Now you’re REALLY late!
So now that we’ve looked at development and our barriers to getting those kids MOVING, let’s talk about what you can keep in mind to help decrease frustration especially when we need our kids to be moving quickly!
- Plan for enough time
By planning a liberal amount of time to get things done, you will avoid feeling frustrated and they will not feel rushed or receive so much negative feedback from you for being their usual silly selves. After all, wouldn’t it be more fun to be silly with them and take your time, instead of being the Clock Enforcer?
- Visual Timers
Because children don’t have that internal timer to realize they are taking too long or falling behind, some families find it very helpful to use visual timers. There are really cool timers you can find on Amazon that run from green to yellow to red, which also help kids prepare to transition to the next task. I recommend these timers for all kinds of things! You can also use a simple kitchen timer that children can see ticking down. For older kids, you can place a clock in their room and give them a list of times to stick with so they know when it is time to move on or if they are spending too much time on one area.
Setting regular routines will help your children begin to develop that mental time clock for how long it should take to complete tasks and ready them for the next transition. If you think of the school day, your child more often than not is prepared and ready to move onto the next subject throughout the day. Part of that is due to the consistent structure of their days. Their brain starts to pick up on the rigid time frames scheduled, and they subconsciously are prepared for transitions- which includes knowing where they should be and what they should be doing.
- Allow time for transitions
I realize this sounds counterproductive, especially when you’ve found yourself in a rush, but still allowing your child to have some control of their transitions will help keep the tears and fits away. As you may be helping them through their routine, you can simply say “Ok, what’s next?” and then help them get there. Giving them time to think for themselves will help them mentally prepare for what the next thing is. Yes, still move quickly and motivate, but pushing too hard will cause meltdowns - and who has time for that!
- Me, me, me
As stated before, our children are particularly motivated by what is going to affect them and by what they want. Instead of statements like “we’re late” or “we won’t be on time,” we can go farther with a phrase like, “school will start without you.” Using references that directly relate to the child and how it affects them will grab their attention and give them more motivation. They will more easily recognize and internalize the problem and be more likely to take action as you direct.
- Outside Motivation
This ties in well with the previous point. When you let kids know what they will gain or lose by their actions, you can find much more motivation. Like the swimming example earlier, kids will be more eager to step into action if they know there is something for them to gain. They will also work to avoid what they don’t want, or negative consequences. For instance, it is not standard for my daughter to watch videos on my phone while in the car. So, on days I need her to get moving, I will let her know that if she moves fast she will be able to watch videos on my phone once she is buckled into the car. On occasion, I will also make a promise for after school - like going to the park or doing another favorite activity - but the sooner you can reward the behavior the better off you will be. Obviously, the rewards would change depending on age, abilities and what works for your family, but the point is to make it worthwhile for them to stay focused and move quickly. Looking at the other side of the issue, if you have a day to day problem with timeliness, then you can decide what will happen if your child is not cooperating with time cues and motivate them with a consequence. For now my daughter responds pretty readily if I let her know she will not have any cartoons later if she does not get dressed right now. Find what is feasible for your family and motivates your specific child.
It is not easy to put your own mental time schedule aside, and your personal urgency to get things done, in order to accommodate where your child is developmentally. Hopefully some of these tips will give you a framework of areas you can actually focus on instead of how slooooooow your kids are.
By considering these points, you may find you have less stress and better cooperation as you move through your days. You will also have the peace of mind that you’re teaching your kids how to manage themselves, through timers and routines, so they will be better stewards of their own time later. Good luck and may the clock be with you!
*Photo Copyright: hanaschwarz