One of the questions that many parents ask us is how they can teach their children to manage time, as some of the conflicts that arise in everyday life are related to this aspect: children who do not know how to wait even though we have told them that we will see them in 10 minutes, children who complain about not playing even though we have told them that there are 20 minutes left for dinner, children who take ‘too long’ to do certain tasks, children who do not know how to organise themselves, etc. We talk about children’s sense of time and how to transmit different time concepts to them.
Children do not have the same concept of time as adults.
One of the mistakes that adults make in this respect is to think that children understand and manage time in the same way as adults, and we expect them to organise and ‘live’ time in the same way as we do.
It is important to know that the notion and understanding of time is not innate, but needs to be taught to be learned. Complex learning goes through a series of stages and requires other basic learning.
But before knowing how to transmit the concept of time to children and how to manage it, it is important that we are clear about the different stages they go through according to their maturity.
Children’s sense of time at different ages
According to Piaget (Swiss psychologist who laid the foundations of children’s cognitive development), the understanding and management of time goes through a series of stages, which are important to know and which we can summarise as follows:
- Experienced or personal time, up to approximately 6 years of age: At this stage, children are fundamentally egocentric, so they perceive time in reference to themselves. At this stage, routines are important as a basis for understanding the category of temporal sequence, as they do not distinguish between temporal expressions such as before, now, after…
- Perceived time between 6 and 12 years of age: At this stage the child begins to identify rhythms, durations, and successions, observing movement and surrounding objects.
- Conceived or historical time from the age of 12 to adolescence: At this stage the child begins to evolve towards abstract reasoning and to develop the idea of causality. At this stage, historical facts and events are expanded and timelines begin to be used.
Therefore, for children to be able to deal with time properly, lived time is essential.
Learning the value of time
Our children often hear us say “time is money” or “I don’t have time”. Surely, if they are young children, they do not understand what we are talking about. Children have no notion of time and how it influences our lives.
As they grow up, they gradually understand concepts such as today or tomorrow, later or later. These are categories of time that they understand as they mature.
Teaching them to value time begins with the dawn of the day. There is a time to get up, get dressed, have breakfast, and go to school. Those first minutes of the day represent the first great opportunity we have to teach children to make good use of time.
Then, when they come home from school, they have to organise themselves to do their homework, attend an after-school activity and then play. We can teach the child that there is time to do each activity and that afterwards he or she can enjoy some well-deserved free time.
On the other hand, it is a mistake to take up all the children’s time. And this is precisely what we do most of the time; we saturate children with activities. Rather, they should learn that if they are responsible for their obligations, then they can have free time and decide how to use it. That is the greatest reward.
Tips for teaching children how to manage their time
Having free time to play freely is the greatest reward for a child who has been able to manage his or her time. To help them make the most of their time, here are three key recommendations. Remember that before the age of 6, it will be essential to relate time concepts to their day-to-day activities. In general, some recommendations are
- Take advantage of their routines and daily tasks or actions so that they learn concepts such as morning, afternoon, evening, or before and after. I wash my hands before eating, and my teeth after dinner.
- Verbalising what we are doing is important, as well as helping them with visual aids, so we can make a poster in which, using drawings, we structure the daily activities into morning, afternoon or evening. The morning, accompanied by the sun, the evening by the moon, and drawings and images of daily activities (going to school, swimming, going to bed…).
- Help them to understand the concepts of a ‘lot of time’ and ‘little time’, based on their daily life activities. For example, a short time is how long it takes me to brush my teeth. A long time is how long I am at school, for example.
- We should avoid expressions with very specific time references such as ‘you have 5 minutes left’ or ‘at 7 o’clock the grandparents are coming’ and use references that they know. When the cartoon chapter is over, we are going to get ready to go to the bathroom’ or ‘when you wake up from your nap and have a snack, the grandparents are coming’.
- Use visual weekly calendars to support the concepts of ‘today, tomorrow, the day after’, ‘weekend’, etc.
- Hourglasses with different durations to understand concepts such as 5 minutes or half an hour and relate them to everyday tasks (2 minutes to brush my teeth, 20 minutes to have breakfast or a snack, etc.).
- When they are older, we can use timers or stopwatches, so that they can visualise the time they have to do their tasks, homework, etc., and gradually become more autonomous.
It is important for them to learn the basic concepts of time in order to be able to learn the hours, the clock, and historical time properly, to be able to manage their time and organise themselves properly.
It will be very important to respect the pace of development of each child, as they will not be able to construct new learning if their previous learning is weak or absent. In other words, we must respect the child’s ‘time’.