"Tomorrow," "in an hour," and "next week" are vague notions for young children. Here are a few tips to help them.
“Mom, do you remember when tomorrow we saw a little dead bird in the street?” a toddler may ask. What parent hasn’t corrected the approximations of their toddler who gets confused about time frames? There’s no point in trying to reason with them, as before the age of 6, children don’t have the same temporality as adults. The expressions we are familiar with (“today,” “in two minutes,” “before”) mean nothing to them.
Relate time to the events that mark the day
At this age, time merges with immediacy. “It’s easier to find your bearings if you relate time with the events that divide up their day,” advises psychologist Céline Durand. “After school, you will be able to do this.” “When Dad comes home, he’ll read you a story” or “On Saturday, we’ll go to Grandma’s house.”
When a child enters first grade, they begin to acquire certain points of reference, so it’s a good time to set up a calendar with the seasons, days of the week, and months of the year. They will soon be asking for their own watch or bedside clock. “The more they grow,” continues Durand, “the more their brain development allows them to quantify their relationship with time. This is how the child is able to relate to reality.” Or to even begin to manage their own time, gaining autonomy.
When teaching time, keep in mind the child’s temperament
If it takes your child three hours to put on socks and shoes even when you keep urging them on, it’s not just a matter of age. “A child’s personality also affects their relationship to time,” says Sophie Passot, marriage and family counselor. A child with a perfectionist temperament will need time to get things just right, to do things “to the max.” The altruistic child, one who values relationships, will enjoy arriving at school early to talk with friends, and won’t count the hours spent socializing or chatting on the phone. The hedonist, whose drive is pleasure, will tend to wander around looking for a good time, rather than stick with an activity that bores him, and so on.
The golden rule for parents is to respect these temperaments as much as possible while establishing a clear framework. “With 10 children, we had to set up a few systems,” laughs Marie.
Being told to “hurry up” is stressful
Twelve-year-old Michael, energetic, nervous, efficient, is always ready ahead of time, so his parents make sure to leave a bit of leeway in daily activities to avoid any delays. Their strategy is to keep him from feeling insecure. “Scolding children is sterile: nothing beats gentleness combined with firmness,” confirms Rose-Marie Miqueau, co-founder with Fr. Yannik Bonnet of the Alcuin School of Education and Culture.
While some children are more anxious by nature, many, unfortunately, feel the pressures of a society whose pace has gone crazy. Adults transmit to their offspring something of their own relationship to time. Psychologist Durand notes, “An over-active child may have become that way by observing his parents’ race for efficiency. ”The urge to be constantly on the move has become the norm for many families today. We’re in a constant race,” sighs Adell, a young woman in her 30s, “It’s killing us.” When she decided to homeschool her four children for a year, she realized: “The fact that the children are no longer under pressure has created a much more peaceful atmosphere!” When the siblings returned to the traditional education system, she wanted to keep that peacefulness in the home: “I try to stick to a schedule as much as possible.”
Don’t forget to teach children the value of time
Creating structured activities for children is also what Sophie Passot recommends. “It’s good to encourage them to do activities that take time, to counter the harmful effects of zapping and the constant solicitations they are subjected to.” Take them out into nature to re-energize them, encourage them to cultivate their friendships outside of social networks, help them develop a specific talent (learning an instrument, progressing in a sport) that is a long-term process.
It is the role of adults to teach children the value of time. And adults also have real life lessons to learn from their little ones. Let’s always remember that in eternity there is no time and that Christ calls us to rediscover the spirit of childhood.