I should say upfront, that I have no idea what I’m doing.
That goes for a lot of what I do in parenting/homeschooling. But I know what I’m trying to do, and I think that counts for something.
I’ve been working for months on trying to teach my kids time management. It’s practically become a school subject. I think the hardest part is getting myself better at time management, so that I can be a good example. The trouble with that is I have 5 kids who are constantly interrupting what I feel I “should” be doing. My kids do get disrupted by their younger siblings, but for the most part, I act as the gatekeeper, and keep them away while they are working on their schoolwork.
This also has been connected with our New Rules that I wrote about awhile back. My kids waste time and then somehow it becomes my fault. It annoys me.
Part of the difficulty with this, is I hold to 2 strong beliefs about parenting: 1)Parents should set them up with healthy habits from the beginning, 2)Natural consequences work better than all other kinds most of the time.
Because we have so many diverse personalities, challenges, and goals with our kids, I have found that routines work better than schedules. Some of my kids need lots of breaks in school. Some don’t. They are all different ages and abilities. To make some kind of defining-across-the-board-rule is tough. I want them each to excel where they are at.
So the goal: make them want it.
Make them want to manage their time well. Help them to see the value of managing their time well.
Because if I know anything about my kids, it’s that they are passionate, stubborn, ornery people, and if they want something, they won’t quit. So get them to want it.
Enter: natural consequences.
Oh, this is the painful part. I’ve been working overtime, trying to get through to my kids about this. The hardest part is doubting whether or not my kids are mature enough for this lesson. Am I trying to teach it too soon? This is what Knut and I debate about. Should I still be ultra-controlling of their schedule, so that they don’t miss out on anything fun, or should I hand some of the responsibility over to them, risking that they may misjudge and miss something fun. I don’t know. But I know I feel compelled to try.
Here are some things I have found to be helpful in teaching time management:
- Have a printed routine on display for all to see. Let them know the plan for the day. Some of my kids have a daily assignment book. My job is to make sure that everything on this list is done. Allow them the freedom within this routine. Our routine is loose with lots of white space so that I don’t let them fall behind, but they have the freedom to move ahead faster if they’d like. Do they want to take 10 hours to finish their list with lots of breaks? OK. Do they want to get up early, take no breaks and push to have all their playtime at once? OK. Did they finish their math early, and do a good job? Well, then I tell them, “You can have free time until the next item on the list. You can choose to use this free time to work ahead in other subjects, or you can just go play if you like. I’ll call you when we’re starting up the next thing.”
- When they get distracted because of daydreaming, or whatnot, because I was working with a different child in another room, I don’t shame them for that. Just say that they’ll have to work it into their schedule later in the day. Point to that part of the routine where they can work on their reading, or writing, or whatever it is. Just say, “You chose not to work during this work time. So you’ll just have to work during your play time later. The only time I see is right here. Do you see a different time on the schedule today you’d like to do it in?” This is where it gets hard. Sometimes they have to give up something they really wanted to do in order to finish what they should have done. Teach them that the more white space in their day, the more wiggle room they have for goofing off.
- Start a list of “fun things I want to do” when they mention it. “Hey Mom, can I work on a sewing project right now?” “That sounds fun! But you have science on your routine right now. Can you find a good spot on your schedule to put in sewing? Put it on your list. That way, when you are trying to figure out what you want to do someday, you can have a list waiting for you.” If your kids are like mine, their list will get insanely long. They want to build a treehouse, train the dog to do something, explore the woods, ride their bike. Put it on the list.
- When the kids want to do a new, regularly scheduled activity, like instrument lessons or sports, we look at the schedule, and look at the list. I find myself asking them a lot, “What on your list are you willing to give up in order to fit in this activity? Remember you don’t have to give it up forever, just as long as you are in this other thing.” This is painful for them. They don’t want to give up anything. Ever. Do they want another animal? Great! Let’s talk how it will be paid for, and where in the schedule they plan to care for it daily. What are they giving up to do that? Free time? Play time? Instrument time?
- Teach them to schedule in white space. I remember my mom had a rule when we were growing up that we needed at least one night a week at home. I remember being so mad about that as a teen, because there would be something I’d want to go to, but it was the last white space on the calendar that week, so I knew it would be a “no.” As a mom, I’m stricter than my mom. I require 2 white spaces a week on the calendar, at least in the afternoon/evenings. That’s partially because we have so many littles still in the house who just need to be home and taking naps, and not constrained in carseats constantly. 2 white spaces a week for my older kids teaches them to respect the needs of others, as annoying as that lesson is for them.
Part of our difficulty in this lesson is that I require these 2 open spaces a week because I’m an introvert too. My husband does not require these 2 spaces a week (or at least won’t admit it yet) and so he will book his schedule more full than I’d like, and take the kids out on days I have marked blank. The thing is, that’s ok too. It’s good to be consistent, but it’s also good to recognize the personalities of each parent. Each one is important, and one should not trump the other. The kids go on way more adventures because their dad takes them when I have no more energy to do so. I will often stay home with the little girls and enjoy peace and quiet on those times. That’s our usual compromise. But I’ve also learned to let my husband know, “You can, but I’d advise against it. The kids are exhausted and this is their rest day. So take them at your own risk. Tomorrow they have to do _______ and you’re risking a meltdown then.” I don’t (and shouldn’t) control him as a dad, but he deserves a good “heads up.” Communicating the kids limitations to him is part of the equation. Letting him be a dad and make his own decisions is part of the equation. I have to live within my limitations, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else has to live here in them too.
But this does require a lot of conversations, and negotiating back and forth in our marriage…which also makes it tricky to teach the kids. Tricky…but realistic. They might someday be married too, and need to know that time management does not always revolve around them, but it’s a give and take. I think when we work to make a lesson perfect and easy for kids, we are setting them up for an unrealistic view on life. All those complexities make the lesson so hard, but it makes the lesson that much more important.
These are all things I have learned, but it’s been a road. It’s still a road we are traveling, not a place we’ve arrived.
I feel like I constantly frustrate people in my family by pointing out that our time is finite. We can’t just shove it full and hope it works. To live with integrity, and keep our word, we have to recognize our limitations. I say often, “I am not God. I did not invent time, nor do I control it. I’m just asking that we live within it’s limits.”
That’s not to say we will always have these limits. I want everyone in my family to grow and mature, and get a greater capacity to do more things. But we can’t live outside reality. We have to work to grow it, not just wish it.
My kids will miss activities sometimes because of their poor time management. That’s really painful for me to see, but I let it happen. I let it happen. Who let’s their kids miss out on fun stuff? Me. Who lets the kids feel the consequences of a job poorly done? Me.
They will have to opt out of some things that are fun, but not important enough to them to give up something they already do. I do get a lot of flack for this outside our home too, because as you know, my kids are homeschooled. Therefore, if I keep them home to finish their schoolwork, chores, or commitments, I’m keeping them from the all-important socialization. I think I frustrate other people that I’m prioritizing learning time management over the mysterious “socialization” that apparently doesn’t happen in my house. We don’t speak together, play together or anything I guess.
If I had a nickel every time someone who barely knows us says to me, “but you have to let them come out and be with other kids sometime” because I said “no” because we can’t fit another activity in our schedule…
So my kids are annoyed with me, my husband is (occasionally) annoyed with me as his personality loves to be out and about more than mine does, and people outside our home get annoyed with me because of their prejudice against our schooling choice.
Sometimes I feel like training my kids is an uphill battle.
And I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time, or at least know that what I’m doing is working.
But the last few weeks? I’m beginning to see a glimmer. I’m beginning to see my kids anticipate the questions I will ask them, and prepare ahead of time their plans, and how the plans will work out. I see them work ahead in their schoolwork, forfeiting their breaks so that they can do a project on their list that keeps getting pushed back. I’ve even overheard them tell someone, “That sounds like fun, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that right now.” They’re starting to take ownership of their time. They’re starting to want it.
They’re not there, but I can tell you that seeing them start to want it…
and that’s all the encouragement I need right now.