Parenting requires constant teaching, second-guessing, and reassessing the important childhood lessons we teach our children. From knowing when to start them on table foods, to learning how to teach boundaries, the only constant—in parenting and life in general—is our own responsibility to use the time we have each day. Rather than micro-managing each and every task we expect our children to complete, professional organizer Kristin Long says parents can teach time management early in life, and avoid grown-up meltdowns later.
“Children can be taught to manage their time,” Long explains. “All it takes is a consistent, straightforward plan that parents can help implement and reinforce through modeling and rewards.”
Long lays out seven crucial tips to help parents develop a sort-of lesson plan for life: teaching kids responsibility and planning while requiring that the grown-ups follow the system, as well.
- Be their super model. Kids are sponges that absorb what is going on around them. Lead by example.
- Have a visual plan. This is just a road map to follow, giving them visual guidelines to their day. When they are old enough, have them make a daily plan for the parents. It’s an interesting exercise for you and fun way for them to begin learning how to plan life goals (it’s also funny to see what they think you actually can get done in one day!).
- Let them (bake and) eat cake! Humans of every age become overwhelmed with more complex tasks and find they become unable to move forward, and children are easily stymied. It’s as if someone has told them to bake a cake without the recipe. In order to make a great cake you need to follow the steps: gathering ingredients, mixing them together correctly, and then baking for a set period of time. Teaching children how to break down more complex tasks can be as simple as making a cake.
- Remove road blocks. Sometimes teaching time management is all about removing distractions. If you are trying to hurry them out the door, but a favorite TV show is on, it might be more difficult for them to succeed. Evaluate the distractions and try to limit them during key times.
- Make success simple. If you are trying to get your child out the door and they have to complete all their chores, get dressed, pack their lunch, and collect their homework, success is not likely. Give them the opportunity to shine by making it easy and simple. Start during the toddler years with small tasks, whether putting a toy away or brushing teeth. These small steps will make it easier for them to learn how better to manage their time on their own.
- Change the program. Don’t be afraid to review what is working and what isn’t. Flexibility and discernment are vital and some children may need more help than others; don’t feel the need to pressure one to perform. Change the lesson plan to suit the child’s level of independence, confidence, and ability.
- Reward with parent time. Instead of punishing failure, reward success with more parent time—whether it’s playing outside, walking together, or playing a board game. Time with parents is the ultimate reward for kids and parents, alike.
Kristin Long is the founder and CEO of Organizational Specialists, Inc., a full-range professional organizing services company based in northern Virginia and a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers since 2004.