Sound familiar? Nearly all parents have days like these. Even if you’re usually a model of efficiency and organization, mornings can make you crazy. How can you get your kids up and out on time without tearing out your hair or screaming yourself hoarse?
Start teaching the little dawdlers time management techniques. Children as young as five can understand and practice simple time management skills, and learning time mastery in small daily tasks, such as making it to school and soccer practice on time, has an added bonus—it lays the foundation for planning and handling larger goals, such as preparing for tests and homework assignments. And the more your children learn to manage their own time, the less often the job will fall squarely on your shoulders.
Perhaps the greatest mistake families make in getting out the door on time is not having a well thought-out plan of attack. Think of your family’s time management strategy as a roadmap. If three days in a row you got lost driving to a friend’s house, would you drive the same way on the fourth day? Probably not. You’d resort to writing down directions or pulling out a map and plotting a different route. Planning your mornings requires a similar line of attack. When the time-honored tradition of nagging, pleading, and cajoling no longer works, it’s time to try something different, to sit down and create a morning roadmap that will take you to where you want to go—calmly and on-time.
1. Have a Family Strategy:
Start by calling a pow-wow with the kids. Calmly explain why being on time is important, and help them understand how everyone will be happier and less stressed if you are all more timely. Ask for their input on ways you might solve the problem together and for ideas on what may be causing them to get pulled off track.
2. Work Together to Set Goals and Rewards.
Set written goals together, and be sure to be specific. It’s not enough to say, “I’d like everyone to be ready for school on time.” Restate it as, “I’d like everyone to be ready and standing by the front door at 8:15 a.m. each morning.”
Provide praise and rewards. Create a goal chart and give each child a star for every occasion they’ve met the goal of being on time. Lynne Grant of Chicago, Illinois gives her children a special gift or outing, when they’ve received five or more stars in a week, while children with less than two stars have their TV or computer time docked. It’s fine to have different rewards for each child, as what motivates or deters one may not motivate another.
3. Relearn to tell Time.
Studies suggest that adults underestimate by about 30% the time it takes to accomplish tasks, and children aren’t much better. To overcome this tendency, ask each older child to estimate how long it takes them to get ready for school in the morning. For the next week, have them track their actual times. At the end of the week, create a morning schedule for each child based what they’ve found. This is exercise is a wonderful tool for adults too.
It’s also important to recognize each individual child’s natural temperament. Some children are naturally more easily distractible, floating from one activity to another without making any forward progress. For these children, incorporate the use of a kitchen timer to keep them on track. For example, if it takes your child half an hour to get dressed, set the timer for twenty minutes so that when it goes off, he’ll have an audible reminder that he has ten minutes before it’s time to move on to breakfast. You can also incorporate music into their routines to keep them on track. Put on a CD when the kids wake up and ask them to be finished dressing by the time the CD is over (or after a particular song is finished). For very young children, ask them to start singing a favorite song and try to be dressed by the time it’s finished.
4. Have a “preparation rule.”
Each night, ask the kids to lay out their clothes, put notebooks and backpacks by the front door, and choose their breakfast cereal. Identify items that frequently get lost, such as keys, homework, shoes, and glasses, and specify a designated place where those items are always stored.
5. Institute “Lombardi Time,” renaming it after your own family.
Vince Lombardi, the former coach of the Green Bay Packers always insisted that his team and staff arrive fifteen minutes early. Adopt this policy for your family and call it “Smith Time" or "Jones Time” to integrate it into the family culture. Bear in mind the time-tested rule: If you plan to be 15 minutes early, you’ll usually make it just on-time. If you plan to be on- time, you’ll usually be late. Remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Aim above the mark to hit the mark.”
When you arrive early, chances are you’ll have to wait a few minutes. Instead of thinking of that time as wasted time, start to think of waiting as “luxury time,” time to relax and just talk or think. Always stock the car with interesting things to do or read to keep everyone happy and occupied when you have to wait.
6. Teach older children to work with daily planners. The Franklin Covey company has excellent, entertaining planners for children as young as five. Encourage your children not only to plan their days, but also to log important due dates for assignments and projects, along with associated steps and milestones prior to those due dates.
For children under five, it’s unrealistic to expect complete cooperation to your new time management strategies. You can, however, get them involved in the concept of time management by talking to them while you go through the process of getting them ready. Kimberly Day of San Ramon, California uses statements such as, “It’s 9:00 o’clock, time to brush your teeth. 9:15, time to put on your clothes”. Getting children accustomed to the idea of time and schedules helps make the transition smoother in the later years.
7. Remember that you are a role model. If you’re frantically running around the house at the last minute, chances are your children will too. So purchase your own daily planner and practice the tools listed here in your own life as well.