How to Help Your Child with Time Management

By Dr. Erin Kardel, NeuroScience

As the school year progresses, this is a great time to step back and assess your child’s time management skills. Is your child well organized? Do they have a tendency to procrastinate? Are homework assignments being turned in late?

Time management is the ability to plan and control how they spend the hours in their day to effectively accomplish their goals. If your child seems disorganized, rushed, and stressed out frequently, then review the guidelines below to see how you may be able to help them. This is a skill that does not happen automatically for most, so the reality may be that your child just needs to develop helpful habits to be more successful.

  • As a parent, you want to reinforce the importance of using a planner, scheduler, or app on their phone to write down everything. This includes all assignments, tasks, and activities so they can account for their time each day. This should be used on a daily basis without question! For younger children, create a wall calendar in a central location that is visible for them to see.
  • When using a planner, have them create both short- and long-term schedules. If needed, your child can use color-coding to increase the likelihood of remembering when things are due.
  • Have your child create a daily checklist and set priorities. The goal is to focus on top-priority tasks first once they have been identified. They must be sure to cross off items once completed so they can see what they have accomplished!
  • Your child needs to know their limits and NOT over-schedule themselves (since this may cause increased stress and an inability to complete everything). They also need to be assertive and say “No” to requests that will interfere with accomplishing their goals.
  • Help them to schedule wisely. This means planning study time when they are most alert and setting up a homework routine so they have a plan for work time and breaks.
  • Have your child estimate and monitor how long tasks take to do so they can learn to measure time and know how much time they need to allow for certain subjects.
  • If your child is having trouble starting their work, try having them work for short periods of time. Several short study sessions are more effective than one long session (particularly one that is crammed in right before a test or project is due).
  • Your child may feel overwhelmed at times and unsure how to begin working on an assignment. If this happens, help them break tasks down into small steps and set goals for accomplishing these steps. They should focus on completing one step at a time.
  • Have your child prepare the night before for the next day to help manage their mornings and minimize rushing around. This includes packing food, picking out clothes, and organizing their backpack.
  • If your child is younger, schedule a weekly time to check-in and get a plan for the week. This is also a good time to go through and organize any cluttered papers and items thrown into their folders or backpack (which may have due dates on them). For older children, they should set up a weekly time to do this in their planner.
  • Rewards are a great way to increase motivation to manage time and complete tasks. Brainstorm relaxing and enjoyable activities that your child can look forward to when they have accomplished their to-do list.

Plus, help your child to create SMART goals. SMART, is an acronym that has been used for a long time when it comes to time management:

  • Specific: What do they want to accomplish? When? Where? The goal needs to be well defined and have an established time frame.
  • Measurable: They need to have a way to measure their progress. How will they know when the goal is accomplished?
  • Action-Oriented: Their goals need to be broken down into action steps which moves them closer to completion.
  • Reasonable: Your child needs to avoid setting unreasonable expectations. Their goals need to be achievable and realistic for them to accomplish so they are not being set up for failure.
  • Time-Based: Your child needs to define start and endpoints to the goal and maintain the commitment to all deadlines.

Often poor time management can also be related to procrastination and self-control. Work with your child to look at the reason they put things off. Do they have a fear of failure? Do they feel they have to do a task perfectly? Are they rebelling against expectations and demands? Or, do they simply not want to do the task? Understanding the reasons can help put the problem into a different perspective and help decrease procrastination. Here are some helpful ways to help your child overcome procrastination that can be used in addition to the guidelines above:

  • Work with your child to identify any task interfering cognitions and self-defeating thoughts. These include saying such things as, “Everything I do should happen easily and without effort,” “If it’s not done right, it’s not worth doing at all,” or “I’m so stupid. I’m never going to get this done.” Help them challenge and reframe these thoughts so that they can move forward.
  • Help them to identify their goals, values, and priorities. Are their actions consistent with their goals? It is important to have your child connect to their goals (have a visual cue as a reminder of why they want/need to do a task). Your child needs to think about the positives of stopping procrastination and the negatives if they do not complete a task. The goal is to try to have them not give in to the short-term relief of avoiding work for something more pleasurable (like being on their phone or going out with friends).
  • Remind them to take action. Often we try to wait until we feel motivated or “in the mood” to start a task, especially if it is boring or unpleasant but that moment may never come. They need to learn that action comes first before motivation!
  • Check their surroundings. Does your child need to make changes to their environment to remove distractions? You want to help ensure they are working in a place where they can be alert and attentive.

Overall, effective time management is something that can be learned but does require effort and consistency. It is important to educate and remind your child of the many benefits of managing their time including feeling more in control of their life, stopping procrastination, accomplishing more during the day, enjoying free time when work is complete, feeling less stressed, and getting higher grades. It is possible for your child to be successful by using tools to plan ahead, prioritize, and prepare in advance to meet their responsibilities.

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