I want to teach my children that there are definitely times when things need to get done immediately. For example, if we have guests coming over, I will expect that their room needs to be cleaned "right now". But it is also important for me to teach them to take responsibility for something I've asked them to do within a flexible range of time and for them to learn how make choices regarding when they would like to do that task. They may have clothes that need to be put away, but it doesn't REALLY make a big difference if it's done right this second. If I stop to think about it, what I really care about is that they get put away, not so much WHEN they do, so I let them choose when they'd like to put them away within a reasonable amount of time.

This the the beginning of teaching time management skills. Important because in life we will have tasks that need to be completed within a flexible range of time more often than tasks that need to be completed immediately. Right now I have a pile of dishes in my sink. They will get done today. Just not right now. Right now, I'm in the mood for writing. Plus, the kids are both in school right now. I can't write when they are home, but I can do dishes. The dishes don't need to be done "right this second."

Given this, I try to be intentional about providing as many opportunities as possible for my kids to learn how to manage their time. It's hard sometimes because it is so much easier to teach my kids to just do something the minute I tell them to do it. If I want those clothes put away, it's easier to tell them to stop what they're doing and put them away "right now" and know that it's done, than have to go through the sometimes longer process of teaching good time management which can result in having to implement consequences. But as we all know, parenting is not about making decisions based on what makes OUR lives easier, it's about making decisions based on what we need to teach our kids.

Last Wednesday was one of those times when I chose the harder parenting road for the sake of providing an opportunity for Isabella to make choices regarding when to get a list of tasks done. On this day, there were several things that needed to be done. She needed to do her homework. She needed to do her reading. She had piano to practice. And she had to had to had to take a bath. She was way over do.

Isabella had the things on her list she wanted to accomplish that day as well. She wanted to finish watching the movie she had started the day before. She wanted to work on her Leprechaun Trap (a school project due on Monday) with her dad when he got home. She wanted to have playtime with her brother. And she wanted to have extra time to read with her dad before bedtime because they were getting so close to the end of their chapter book.

So, the initial conversation went something like this:

Isabella: Mom, can I finish the movie I started yesterday?
Me: You can, but here are the things you need to get done today. You have homework to do. We need to do your Bag a Book (her reading). You have piano to practice because tomorrow is your lesson. And you have to take a bath tonight.
Isabella: OK, Mom. I'll do those things. But can I watch my movie first?
Me: You can choose to watch your movie now if you'd like, Isabella. But I also know you want to work on your Leprechaun Trap with Daddy tonight and you want to read more in your chapter book. Homework, Bag a Book, Piano, and Bath all have to be done before you can work on your trap. And it all has to be done before bedtime.

Now let me pause here a second. I did put in place some leverage points. I know how much working on this trap meant to Isabella AND I know how important reading before bedtime is to her. These were my leverage points to motivate her to accomplish her tasks. Just saying, "They have to be done before bed" probably wouldn't work for her (she would be fine going to bed not having done any of her tasks). Just like knowing I have guests coming at 6:00 motivates me to get going on cleaning my house, it's OK to find the leverage points that work for your own kids. It could be something as simple as "This needs to be done by dinner time." Dinner becomes the leverage. No dinner until the task is complete. Or no TV. Or no video games. You get the point.

Back to my story. Isabella accepted the terms and chose to watch her movie. I let her make this choice. I didn't try to talk her out of it. I accepted her decision and I went off to do my own tasks. Now, my daughter is only six and still does not have a good sense for time. If she were older, I would have her rely on the clock. But in her case, around 5:00 when she had finished her movie and had now moved on to playing with her brother, I came in the room and gave her a sense of time.

Me: Isabella, it is 5:00. Your dad will be home in 60 minutes. Would you like to get some of your stuff done before he gets home?
Isabella: (thinking a minute) OK Mom. Let's do Bag a Book.

So we did. As she put her book back in her backpack she saw her homework. Taking it out she looked at it and said , "This is easy!" I encouraged her to just do it now, and get it over with then. Which she did. All of this took maybe 25 minutes. So I pointed out to her...

Me: Isabella, you still have about 30 minutes before Daddy gets home. Do you want to do your 20 minutes of piano practice now and get it over with?
Isabella: (thinking) Nah. Not right now.
Me: OK. Isabella. That's your choice. Just remember what we talked about earlier.

And I left it at that and went back to my tasks.

Soon Dad comes home. VERY exciting! Isabella wanted to tell him about her day. And be silly. And help make dinner, which was turning out to take a lot longer to put together than usual and by now it was almost 7:00. So, I gave Isabella a sense of time.

Me: Isabella, it's actually later than it usually is when we have dinner. Bedtime is in 90 minutes. You still have piano and bath. And I know you have things you still want to do with Dad. Just thought I'd let you know.
Isabella: Mom, can I take a quick bath now while we're waiting for dinner to finish?
Me: That would be OK. But it has to be quick.

I got a bath going for her and helped her wash her hair right away. She wanted to stay in longer. But dinner was on the table. I told her she was welcome to stay in the bath and skip dinner if she'd like. She chose to get out.

And here comes the part where Isabella had to learn the hard way that she did not make very good choices on how to spend her day. And here's the part where as a parent I want to give in, and renegotiate, and come up with new rules, and not stick to what I originally said. Because, like every other parent out there, we hate to see our kids fail. So, I remind myself, that this is an important lesson for her to learn. And it's hard. But it's good. And I stick to it.

Dinner was full of talking and joking. It went slow. It is now 8:00 as we're wrapping up. Isabella's face lights up as she begins to talk about getting started on her Leprechaun Trap. In comes the leverage point.

Me: No, Isabella. You don't have time work on your trap. It is 8:00. Normally, this is when you start getting ready for bed. But you still have piano to do. I am actually worried that you're not even going to have time to read your chapter book tonight.
Isabella: (tears tears tears) But Mom! That's not fair! I want to work on my trap. I've been waiting all day to do it with Daddy!
Me: I know, Isabella. You're very disappointed that you chose to do other things earlier today instead of getting your piano done. I bet you wish you would have done it differently now.
Isabella: Yes, I do! I just want to do my trap. I don't want to do my piano.
Me: I know, Isabella. The trap is more exciting to you right now than your piano. But, our agreement was that everything had to be done before you could do your other things with Daddy.
Isabella: (sobbing)
Me: And now Isabella, I know you're disappointed, but you still have to do you piano. And you sitting here and crying and arguing is eating into your remaining time. Because, I'm not going to change my mind. And you do have to practice your piano. And I'm starting to worry that you're not even going to have time to brush your teeth or put on jammies.
Isabella: But what about dessert?
Dad: (who is awesome and is great a supporting things like this!) Isabella, I'd get a small piece of hard candy or something you can suck on while you practice. But it doesn't look like you'll have time for much else.

A few more protests. A few more reminders of time slipping away. A realization that Mom and Dad weren't budging on this. And suddenly there was my little girl playing her C-Scale double octaves and her Ode to Joy.

Isabella ended up with 2 minutes to get jammies on and her teeth brushed. Knowing we'd put her to bed at 8:30 tonight regardless of what she had finished, she somehow got it all done in a blur and was in bed by 8:30...well, maybe it was closer to 8:35. =)

Friday night, before Isabella went to bed, the Leprechaun Trap again came up. Her and Dad were planning to work really hard on it this weekend and get it completed. I told her she had two things she needed to do Saturday morning before the Leprechaun Trap could be worked on. She needed to clean her room and practice her piano.

At 7:30 Saturday morning I woke up to the sounds of double octave C-Scales being played. Her room was already clean. No joke!

Author's Bio: 

Tara is a a well-respected and highly educated parenting educator and coach. Considered one of the top authorities on the subject in the Denver area, Tara works with families of all backgrounds and design and consults with families from all over the country. Tara is the co founder and executive director of Xylem Family Resource.

Tara has worked with families since 1995 in various capacities including classroom teacher for preschoolers, 3rd graders and a 5th/6th grade SIED classroom.She has been a trainer and consultant in behavior management, anger and conflict managment skills, and parenting for since 1997 and has worked with children from infancy through teen including youth at risk. Tara has her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Westmont College with an emphasis in Human Services (marriage and family) and a Masters in Child Development from Tufts University. Tara is also a certified eduator for the Gottman Institute and was trained in their Bringing Baby Home program.

Follow Tara at parentingwhatipreach.wordpress.com or visit xylemfamily.org