I recently spoke at a local elementary school PTA meeting on the topic of time management for children and students. While there's no silver bullet or magic answer, and while creating good habits takes a lifetime of effort, there are some tips and ideas you can try to work with your kids. Here's a summary of takeaways from the talk:
1. Watch for patterns in your child’s dawdling/procrastination. It may signal hunger, fatigue, a need for downtime, or a feeling of being overwhelmed about a particular issue or task.
2. Establish routines (as best you can) and consistent times for homework, bedtime, chores, etc.
3. Help your child learn how to estimate time required for tasks. Set timers and work with him/her to set achievable goals.
4. If your child is a perfectionist and needs approval/fears criticism, find out what teacher expectations are and help him/her work within realistic guidelines. Let your child know that perfection isn’t expected – only that the best effort is put forward.
5. If your child feels overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start, break down large projects into manageable tasks and work side-by-side to offer structure and praise along the way.
6. A fear of failure or success can best be battled with open communication. Start conversations with “I bet kids who are really smart worry what their friends will think,” or “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
7. If dawdling or procrastination is a result of anger, find out what the real issue is behind the behavior and focus on that first.
8. If your child is using procrastination to establish control, let them make some choices about how/when tasks get done. But set consequences and guidelines, and stick to them.
9. Keep track of your child’s homework and tasks yourself so that you can monitor progress and avoid surprises. But let them take ownership and responsibility as appropriate.
10. Set consequences and follow-through. Offer rewards, too. Reinforce positive behavior rather than negative behavior.
11. Use gentle reminders to keep them on task. Give them a heads-up 15 minutes before bedtime. Try using other descriptions of time, like “after this level on your game…” Put up job/chore lists and homework lists as visual reminders.
12. Resist the urge to “rescue” them. Don’t do tasks for them because it’s easier than chasing them. Ultimately, this only prolongs the procrastination problem.
13. Organize your physical space. A cluttered environment can lead to a cluttered mind.
14. Minimize morning mayhem by doing as much as you can the night before. Pick out outfits, pack lunches and backpacks, etc.
15. Establish good family communications to coordinate schedules and activities. A weekly family meeting is a great start. Also post a family calendar where everyone can see it.
16. Have patience. Establishing good habits takes lots of time and effort and won’t happen overnight.
17. Teach by example. If you exhibit issues with time management and procrastination, your child will pick up on those habits, too.
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