Time is a modern human concept that must be learned. You could almost say it’s a magic show; something complex that children aren’t born understanding. Children learn best thinking about real things that are tangible or kinesthetic in their early development. They create relationships in understanding, and knowledge by linking what they learn with their own hands-on experiences; and because time is not hands-on, we have to teach them. It’s critical that we blend their natural skills and talents with societal rules. This is why we help children learn about time by incorporating routines into their usual play, as play is something they truly understand. The key thing to keep in mind while teaching children about time is that the way they understand it now leads directly into how time rules their lives in the future. For this reason, it is important that as we teach the concepts and construct of time in the formative years, we practice with time decisions that lead to a future of success versus stability and stress.
They’re going to make commitments somewhere down the line that’s going to require them to align their desires with the cost of achieving them. There are only 168 hours in a week; we need to teach our children the concept of making decisions on how they want to slice and dice that 168 hours to best serve them. Without this knowledge, we raise children to become adults that tend to be dabblers and vulnerable to other people’s decisions. They will live in the effect of having to accept what they get instead of teaching them that they’re responsible for creating what they want. The sooner that the child grasps this concept, the better they’re going to learn how to maximize their life and their time.
At this point, you may be asking at what age you should really start teaching your children about the rule of 168 hours. I don’t think that it’s based on age; I believe it’s based on mental development. As soon as they can mentally grasp the concept of their participation in responsibility and learning they’re part of something bigger without losing the sense of their ego, then they are ready. It needs to begin with simple activities that are fun.
There are so many benefits from understanding the rule of 168 hours. This is about empowering your children to accomplish something meaningful. The most important lesson for our children regarding time is that they control (for the most part) their own 168 hours and are not at the effect of the world, but at cause in their own world (even if Dad and Mom still call the shots). By the time your children reach high school, they know what hours of the day are spent in school, playing a sport or practising a musical instrument, doing homework, and hanging with their friends.
As a teen, initially, the goals are getting on a sports team or band program and solid grades. Some children are motivated from a young age to get into a certain college or earn money for their first car. They are more successful when they understand what the time commitment required is to succeed in any specific goal, but it must be subtracted from 168 hours each week. In doing this they can answer a very critical question: What are they willing to give in return? Maybe to make the track team or lead in their sport they need more time to work out. Are they willing to get up an hour early each day to go to the gym? Since the 168 hours includes sleep time, maybe they will choose to move that time around and go to sleep an hour earlier to make sure they are not too tired to wake up that hour earlier. Maybe they need to cut their social media trolling or gaming time to use those hours for something more productive. Maybe they could choose to limit their streaming of a series on Netflix or Hulu or YouTube.
Start by giving your children advanced warning about changes in routines.
That can help minimize the frustrations or problems from confusion, and it leads towards more cooperation and flexibility. Think about it this way: If you’re working on something critical and the announcement comes that dinner will be on the table in 15 minutes, that advanced warning allows you to complete what you’re doing and make the transition gracefully. We need to allow that change to develop in children as well versus hard-liner rules, like dinner is on the table come now! We need to make the rules easy to win.
Teach them that language matters!
They can learn at an early age that it’s not just about the message, but we articulate the message. Maybe saying something like, “Your yummy dinner will be ready to eat in 15 minutes!”. If you use a whiteboard for chores, use words that make them feel good about what you want them to accomplish:
Clean rooms = germ-free bodies, healthy foods = energy and clarity to win your big game, feeding pets = loving pets
Make it fun!
In the beginning, children don’t really understand the meaning of five minutes, but they can begin to understand that they need to get ready for bed when they end a cartoon they are watching. You can start bringing in concepts of time (like after this cartoon is over, which is when the big hand touches the 6) then your children become more likely to be receptive. Let them know of any changes to your normal schedule before they’re going to happen.
If you’re giving instructions on how to clean the house, first make it clear that they need to start learning by participating. Start with something easy, like after dinner it’s time to take out the garbage. Be careful not to be so rigid about them getting it perfect. Remember we want the rules to be easy to win, which will build their self-esteem. There’s a difference between teaching a concept and expecting mastery the first time out. It’s more about teaching them the process, instead if aiming for perfection. When the chore is completed, give them feedback on what they got right. Maybe it was their attitude, maybe it was that they gave it their best attempt, maybe that they got it 98% complete. Then follow with what could be improved for next time. When they see that what they did makes you happy and makes them feel good, they will do it better and better until they master it. Finish it with a second round of what they got right to illustrate they are getting more right than wrong.
Start teaching them how to use a calendar.
Often by junior high children are ready to start using a written calendar. The first part of incorporating a calendar with your children is to start with a family calendar, maybe on a whiteboard on your wall. This will support communication. Use juicy language and coloured markers, writing down things like when dinner is, family events, movie night, or a sporting event. Having their own calendar allows the children a sense of individuality and responsibility and will aid them with priorities once they get to middle school. When their events start coming in, such as dental appointments, class pictures, sports games, or a band recital, they can start keeping their own personal calendar. When they can understand 168 hours and where school, sleep and play all fit in, they start learning self-responsibility. They need to be responsible for their own time, which will enable them to organize time in a motivating way.
The most important thing to walk away with is the gift of control for your children. We all want to raise successful, independent adults. When they learn what to do in their 168 hours, it’s empowering. They become responsible for putting together their schedule each week. They learn how long it takes for them to complete tasks, and how much time they have for the fun stuff. This becomes more and more important as they enter adulthood. They will know when to schedule pit stops in life to rest, relax, and serve their purpose. They will understand when they need to dig in, and when it’s playtime.
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