When I was a kid, my mother regularly impressed upon me the importance of being on time. This lesson came to a head when I carpooled with some neighborhood upperclassmen as a freshman in high school. One young man (ironically, the one who lived closest to us) was always late. ALWAYS. And not like, five minutes. Like, we were bound-to-be-past-the-second-late-bell late. Let’s call him George. George would finally show up, frazzled, hair wet, apologetic…but always horribly behind. This behavior made me nervous, but it completely set my mother on fire. Waiting outside our garage door she would pace and tirelessly lecture me on how impolite it was to be late, how inconsiderate to other people it was. I could see her point, but was he really being purposely rude?
George was unbelievably smart, and otherwise completely responsible and upstanding. So why couldn’t he get it together with his time management? I think he’s now a college professor somewhere, probably alternately delighting and irritating his students by flying into class 20 or so minutes after the start time. Or maybe, he’s changed his ways…is it possible? You probably know kids with similar issues, or maybe you parent one of them. How does it come about that so many kids misjudge how long it takes to get somewhere, handle an important task, or get something turned in by a set deadline? Are they just lazy? Do they not care? I’ve never thought either of those theories to be the case.
I think it starts, like with so many things, when we’re very young. I have no idea whether or not tardiness was discussed in George’s household, but I think that kids can grasp ideas about time pretty early on. As soon as our oldest (now 14) was asking about time, I hung a large analog clock in our kitchen and would ask both kids if they could watch closely and see the hands move. We talked about how to use it to tell time, and we used a little toy clock with movable hands as well. Sometimes I would ask them to close their eyes and raise their hands when they thought a minute had gone by (or two, or three).
But simply learning to tell time is clearly not enough. You have to make it relatable, helping them to understand the passage of time. My husband used to travel a lot when the kids were very young. They would ask when he was coming home, but the response “In three days,” made no sense to them. Yet, when I would say “In three bedtime stories,” they totally got it. We used (and still use) other markers for judging time lapse, such as tasks taking as long as “an episode of Doctor Who” or as long as “three pop songs on iTunes."
I've just recently started offering my student organizing services, but I've developed some questions (tested on my own kids, of course) to get a feel for how kids relate to and with their time:
1. What time does your school start? When do you get up in the morning on a school day?
2. How long does it take for the bus to get from your house to your school?
3. What day(s) of the week do you have soccer (debate, dance, etc.) practice? How long does it last?
4. How long does it take you, in hours, to read a novel like The Book Thief or Divergent (this of course, varies from student to student - but how many think about why it’s important to judge how long it will take to read a book)?
5. How many months or weeks are there until your birthday? Your sibling's birthday? Christmas?
6. How long does it typically take you to run your laundry (including putting it away)?
7. Do you use a calendar? What kind?
The responses I receive to these questions give me a good idea of whether or not they pay any attention to their own schedules. The questions are in line with what most adults have to think through every day, but we can't assume kids take their brains through the same exercises. The ideas are not on their radar unless we set them on a course to intersect. The responses also give me an idea of whether or not their parents completely manage their time and schedules for them. So how will a sleepy teen learn about getting up in the morning if they've never had to do it for themselves? How does a high-schooler prepare for college and the world beyond if they don’t begin to get a sense of calendaring and thinking ahead? I think it's important to teach them the skills with the same attention and care we would use to teach them to drive, or cook, or use good manners.
Will my kids always be on time for appointments? Or will they, like my old friend George, struggle with just getting out the door every day? I’m not positive, but I do notice that they feel confident when they are able to complete assignments without stress, get to rehearsals/practices on time, or get up and get ready for school on their own with ease. I do sense that they care about making the most of their time, and using it wisely.
What time issues do your kids struggle with? Have you tried any creative solutions that clicked? Share with us in the comments.
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?