Time management has always been a struggle with kids...and that was before they were home all day, every single day, with all of their "time sinks" at arm's length.
Us parents know it, and while it's tough for kids and teens to face the music, they probably know it too. In fact, according to a Pew Research Center study, over 50% of teens say they spend too much time on their cellphones, and 41% say they overdo it on social media. And this was in 2018.
For younger kids, one the main challenges is that time isn’t really managed or tracked by clocks. Instead, it’s meals, school, homework, play, and other events that let them know what time it is and where they should be.
With such a fragile system - and especially now as they are missing a few key markers - it’s no wonder some kids have trouble when it comes to spending too much time in one area (ahem, social media), and too little time in another (ahem, learning).
Luckily, like with most things, a little practice and the right direction can straighten out the kinks.
Time management for kids
Here are eight time management tips you can easily and immediately incorporate into your kids' daily lives.
1. Start time management training when kids are young
I’m pretty sure at least 50% of the blogs I post here echo this sentiment: Everything is easier to grasp when it is introduced to children at a young age. See introducing kids to coding, or introducing girls to STEM.
Thus, learning time management is no different; it’s a skill just like reading or riding a bike. Repetition and reinforcement helps children fully grasp new concepts, and a young age offers an open mind, and allows for more of that repetition to take place.
2. Divide the day into digestible time chunks
Try as you might, younger kids just won’t grasp the purpose of a clock, and its minutes, hours, etc. Sure, they might be able to read the clock and know that it is 8:00AM, but understanding why that’s an important number, and how there are many other things that need to be accomplished over the next half hour or hour, etc. is the hurdle to clear.
Thus, “telling time” throughout the day might first be made easier by chunking up the day into tangible events.
Such an approach is similar to establishing a routine and order of operations. Plus, it also helps remind those who have chores of their responsibilities.
- Wake up and get out of bed
- Feed the dog
- Eat breakfast
- Eat a snack
- Enjoy screen time
- Eat dinner
- Enjoy free time
- Go to bed
With these events, it helps to create a checklist that is posted and visible, and then, you can make it fun when your child completes an item. Have them post a sticker to signify the dog has been fed, or drop a dime into the piggy bank (they’ll love knowing that a full day of activities nets them $1.20!).
Now, is a child’s day made up of more than 10 activities? Of course, and you can make your own personal adjustments. The point is, you’ll want to establish markers or triggers that feed one activity into the next.
Which leads me to...
3. Treat daily activities like gateways to subsequent activities
“After you've finished with learning time.” That statement perfectly illustrates what this step is all about.
With a list like the one posted above, it’s easy to say and illustrate that an activity shouldn’t take place until the prior activity has been completed. Kids shouldn’t be allowed to engage in free time until their learning time is done just as much as they shouldn’t sit down for breakfast until they feed the dog.
From a time management perspective, kids should start to develop the understanding that, if they want to get to TV time, and have enough time to enjoy it before bed, they better use learning time wisely.
4. Introduce time limits; verbally and physically, short and long
One of the biggest reasons kids don’t immediately take to clocks and the idea of “time” - and thus fail when it comes to managing their time - is because they have no anchor. Young kids have no idea how long 5 minutes in time-out should last, and kids who are a bit older can easily get lost in the fact that they are spending an hour watching TV.
So, introducing time limits tracked by physical timers helps instill the understanding.
Start verbalizing limits, like “5 minutes until dinner” and then physically set an audible timer that makes it obvious when time has lapsed. Do the same for their 30 minutes of free time, or 10 minutes cleaning their room.
5. Remind kids that time isn’t always the only determinant
With the tip above, you can see how kids can easily “game the system.” Oh, 10 minutes of cleaning my room? I’ll just spend 9 minutes picking up this one sock.
So, while setting time limits and introducing measures of time, remind kids that not everything is determined by the timer, and 30 minutes spent learning doesn’t mean a whole lot if learning tasks aren't completed. On the flip side, learnign work done hastily and incorrectly just leads to more time spent on it to correct, subtracting from their free time allotment.
6. Establish the link between time and activity
Sometimes, kids are perfectly aware of what’s on their plate and how long it might take to do something. But, it’s their focus to complete that activity that might be lacking.
Say, for example, your son or daughter comes home from school, grabs a snack and now knows it’s learning time. So, they sit down at the kitchen counter and try to begin, but their older brother is watching TV on the couch, or dad is coming and going cracking all the best jokes.
Can you blame them for not being able to fully immerse themselves in their eLearning classes?
Instead, try to establish a study area; the same area everyday that is to be used when it’s learning time. The same goes for eating dinner, which you might want to take place at the family dining table, etc. “Time” is now represented by physically being in a certain environment, and kids know they can’t or shouldn’t leave that area until the activity is completed. (Here are a few related tips for online homework.)
7. Talk about time management with your kids
There are some things that are better off left “hidden” for the sake of success. Vegetables underneath the cheese of your child’s pizza? Yeah, let’s keep that a secret.
But for time management and any other learning process, it’s typically a good idea to make the goal and process known. Thus, talk to your kids about the importance of time management, where they might need assistance, and how you are going about improvement.
Then, when there are breakdowns or questions, it’s easier to frame the solution or answer. It’s also easier to reward good behavior if kids have something to strive for.
8. Gamify time management!
Piggybacking off of the sentence above, engagement typically increases through gamification. Points, rewards, leveling up, progress tracking, etc. all make a process more interesting and help bring out a child’s underlying competitive spirit.
Have two kids? You can bet if I was pitted against my sister in any activity, I was going to try my darndest to best her. “Only children” can also benefit from gamification...one idea is to simply establish a running goal reward—a week of time management success results in a prize. Or, as mentioned above, give kids points for each daily activity completed, with 100 points resulting in a dollar earned, etc.
So, I set myself a personal goal of an hour to write this post. I also planned on doing it right before lunch time, knowing that I couldn’t go out and eat until I finished. And guess what, I did it. I mean, I’m really hungry, but it also helped that I shut myself off in my office, and went under headphones to block out distractions, as I usually do when writing.
Of course, with all this said, my point is that time management is a skill best learned as a kid, but the benefits of grasping the concept last through adulthood.
Really, it all boils down to structure. Meaning, if a child has weeks full of nothingness on their plate, it’s going to be tough to establish limits. Even just establishing lower-level activities throughout the day helps, from “reading time” to chores, and more.
Thoughts? Your own tips? Let us know!