Highlights 4Cs

Curious, Creative, Caring, and Confident™
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You know this kid: He’s the one for whom deadlines don’t matter. He’s late for dinner, late to rise, late for school, late to hand in homework, and late for almost everything else. To him, time is, well, relative. He’s on his own schedule. He frustrates his friends, teachers, and family. What’s going on?

We asked experts to explain why some kids struggle with time management. Their answers surprised us. Check out what they had to say.

No matter what I do to keep my child on schedule, she dawdles. She’s always late—for school, for activities, and to turn in homework assignments. Is she just being defiant? What’s going on?

More often than not, kids simply don’t understand how long it takes to get dressed and out the door, or complete a task on time, according to our experts. “There are all sorts of reasons that kids are late, and it’s least often because they’re trying to be late,” says Jodi Dworkin, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “Instead, it’s more likely that they’re thinking: Wow, this Pokémon card looks cool. I was trying to get dressed, but now I want to look at it for ten minutes.”

Seriously, is it really that hard for them to just get dressed and out the door?

Actually, yes. “We often forget that things we do as adults are things that kids still need to learn to do,” says Dr. Dworkin. “If I tell my son, ‘Get ready for school,’ he may not have the same to-do list in his head.” In other words, he’s thinking one thing, and you’re thinking: Eat breakfast and brush your teeth. Also, your child may not be able to differentiate when it’s OK to be a little bit late (for a laidback group park meet-up, for example) versus when he needs to be on time (when school starts in the morning). “We assume that kids are going to pick up social skills along the way,” says Faye de Muyshondt, founder of socialsklz:-) for Success in New York City, “but it needs to formally be taught. We need to help guide kids in timeliness.” Adds Beverley Cathcart-Ross, founder of the Parenting Network and certified parent educator, in Toronto, Canada, “One of the biggest jobs we have as a parent is to help children understand how to live within a group, and be respectful of others.”

Good point. But my child and I have discussed these issues many times, and she still doesn’t prioritize timeliness.

Well, that could be a learned behavior, say our experts. If Mom and Dad are often late, they add, kids may intuit that it’s OK to be relaxed about timeliness. “Look inward and ask, ‘Am I modeling this behavior?’” suggests Ms. de Muyshondt. “Am I the one who is always a few minutes late and, if so, am I showing her that it’s OK to be late?” By committing yourself to being on time and to planning out your week in advance so you meet deadlines without pulling all-nighters, you may inspire your child to do the same.

Anything else I should think about?

If your child is sprinting from one activity to the next, or facing a mountain of responsibilities from various clubs and teams, he simply may be overscheduled and struggling to meet deadlines. “Kids often feel rushed,” says Dr. Dworkin. “Dragging their feet can be a way to say, ‘Just let me slow down.’” While there are certainly situations where parents need to be scheduling taskmasters, when the situation allows it, give your child permission to move at a slower pace. “It’s important to offer flexibility when you can,” says Ms. de Muyshondt. “If you’re rushing to a playdate, it’s OK to sometimes call the other parent and say that you’re going to arrive half an hour late.”

But living on the edge like this is driving me crazy. Will my child always be so oblivious?

Not at all, say experts. The sooner you teach your child skills to be prompt, the easier it will be. “Be a role model,” says Ms. de Muyshondt. “Invest time in teaching your child to be on time. It will pay off in spades.”