"What are you doing?!" I say to my son. "I told you five minutes ago to get dressed. We're leaving for your baseball game!" Even in my apparent state of frustration, my 6-year-old refuses to be rushed along as he reluctantly tosses his toy plane onto the floor and slowly begins pulling one sock on and then another.
His inner clock shows no urgency. And no amount of lecturing about dilly-dallying is going to expedite my dawdler. So begins another frantic dash out the door.
Although some of us may be inclined to consider punctuality — or the lack thereof — as a personality trait, experts say that time management is a skill that can be taught and is just as important to academic and long-term success as learning the three Rs.
"Time management skills for children are linked to 'school survival skills' when mastered young and become ingrained habits for later in life," says Stephanie Mihalas, a nationally certified school psychologist and clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry & bio-behavioral sciences at UCLA. “Starting too young is never too early.”
Try these strategies to help your family develop better organization and planning skills.
Schedule weekly family meetings.
Use Sunday evenings to discuss the family’s upcoming schedule. Give each child their own calendar that they can fill out. Hang up a master schedule with each person’s activities noted with a different color marker.
Use a timer.
Build awareness about how long it takes to complete a task. Ask your child to estimate how much time he needs to finish his math assignment and then time him. With practice, he'll start to realize how long each task actually takes.
“A great tool is Time Timer (timetimer.com). The app functions as a kitchen timer, showing time in a stopwatch fashion with time remaining in red,” says Cindy Sullivan, time management and professional organization expert. “As the red shrinks you are getting closer to the end time. It works great with homework or when doing a ‘beat the clock’ to tidy up or work on other tasks.”
Timers can also work well to keep parents on track, says Jane Sosland, clinical assistant professor in behavioral pediatrics at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
“A lot of times we’ll say, ‘I need you to brush your teeth. I'll be back in five minutes.’ Then we get busy with other children,” Sosland says. Instead, use your microwave or your phone timer to help remind you when it’s time to check on your child.
Create a chunked to-do schedule.
Divide the day into chunks of time on a dry erase board. For example, the morning routine might say: Get dressed, make bed, eat breakfast, and brush teeth. Your child can check off the tasks as she completes them.
“Receiving more checks can be linked to a natural reward, like time with the family, helping to create a meal, or play time with friends,” says Mihalas. Fewer checks results in natural consequences, like less time to play or the loss of a favorite TV show.
For children who aren't reading yet, photographs or pictures can help cue them.
“I helped my son take responsibility for his morning routine as a kindergartner by drawing pictures on post-it notes of school clothes, eating breakfast, and driving to school, then stuck them on an analog clock,” says Sherlyn Pang Luedtke, author of The Mommy Advantage.
Luedtke, the mother of two, says on the day her son was still sitting in his pajamas when it was time to go, she calmly put him in the car and set his clothes and shoes next to him. “He got dressed while the car was in the driveway with the engine running,” she says.
If at first you don't succeed, keep trying. Changing old habits can take at least a month. “If a morning goes poorly, rather than being furious and upset on the way to school, try and problem solve to decide what to do tomorrow so this doesn't happen again. Maybe that means waking up a few minutes earlier,” says Sosland. Poor executive functioning can also be a sign of ADD/ADHD. If this is a concern, consult with your family physician.
Freelance journalist, Christa Melnyk Hines, is a mom of two boys and the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator
in a Digital World.