Time management can feel like second nature to adults, but kids need to learn these skills from scratch. Even tweens and teens need support as their schedules and responsibilities evolve. Time management is a highly personal process, and kids need guidance as they figure out which tools and techniques work best for them. Without instruction from someone more experienced, they can struggle to develop effective strategies.
Kids with ADHD and other executive function challenges can find the process even more difficult. The earlier parents start teaching the concept of time and the skills needed to manage it, the more opportunities kids will have to practice. You can start as young as grade-school age and continue throughout adolescence.
Why Time Management Is Hard for Kids
Before parents delve into time management, it’s crucial to understand the barriers kids can face while learning. And it starts with the fact that time management doesn’t represent just one skill.
Instead, effective time management comes from a synthesis of many skills. Planning and forethought, understanding cause and effect, mindfulness, estimating time, establishing priorities, staying focused, multitasking, and changing tasks are all the building blocks of good time management skills.
Kids’ brains develop at different rates, even without executive function challenges, so they’ll begin to grasp these abstract ideas at their own pace. It’s important for parents and caregivers to be mindful of age-appropriate strengths and weaknesses, as well as the child’s individual cognitive skills and susceptibility to distractions.
Why Teaching Young Kids to Manage Their Time Matters
Like any skill, time management requires practice and a strong foundation. The earlier a child starts practicing consistently, the more effectively they’ll be able to build and develop their skills as they reach their teenage years and adulthood. Strong time management skills in grade school make high school easier to navigate, even as the schoolwork becomes more difficult, and kids start picking up other activities and responsibilities. For teens who go to college, proper time management helps them develop good study habits and balance and leisure.
The more internalized these practices are as a child enters their teens, the more natural they’ll feel. Kids who need extra practice or tools to help manage their time because of an executive function disorder will have a head start on finding the techniques that help them achieve their goals.
4 Tips for Time Management for Kids in Grade School
1. Practice Long-Term Thinking
Many young children are capable of planning what activities they want to do after school or over the weekend. However, planning gets harder the farther out the relevant dates are. As early as second and third grade, parents should start encouraging their children to think about long-term projects.
For example, a school project might be due in two or three weeks. This type of long-term activity provides an excellent opportunity to plan for incremental progress toward a goal.
2. Use a Calendar or Planner
Giving a child a calendar or planner can help them understand the control they have over their schedule, and it works for both long-term planning and visualizing their daily activities. Young kids might only need a simple monthly calendar in their room to show the days of the week that have activities.
The upper elementary age group is more likely to benefit from a planner with more space for each day of the week. This way, they can block off specific amounts of time for homework, chores, and other activities.
Encourage your child to choose a calendar theme they’re excited about or to personalize their planner with stickers, pictures, or markers, making it a fun item they can develop a personal attachment to.
3. Let Them Have Fun
Children are almost always motivated by the prospect of having fun, and a child who dreads time management will have a much harder time developing the underlying skills. Try treating the learning process like a game. Encourage your child to keep track of how long it takes to do chores and see if they can beat their personal records. As they figure out how long tasks take, they’ll get better at budgeting time for specific responsibilities. Reward your child’s progress by allowing them to plan their own free time and choose their priorities during personal time.
4. Work With a Coach
Many children, especially those with learning disabilities or executive function problems, can benefit from having a professional time management coach. A professional will have a breadth of experience in breaking time management into individual skills, and they will be able to explore many strategies to see what works for your child.
A professional is also able to develop unique relationships with children and offer a new perspective. Parents can reinforce the coach’s lessons at home, allowing the whole family to see time management in a new light and the right approach for their child’s needs.