STEP 7: Manage (Play) Time

Egg timer.

By committing to play barbies with your kid you let them in on a closely guarded secret:

Mommies (and Daddies) can actually PLAY with kids.

Since my kid is an only child and I work outside the home this was never a secret I’d kept. But I understand that it certainly does add yet another task to the already miles-long list of duties that exist for stay-at-homes and for that reason, many stay at home parents do not want to cross that line.

As a parent you worry that once you cross the line:

  •  They will want you to play EVERYTHING with them, and
  •  They will want you to play ALL THE TIME.

We haven’t had the EVERYTHING problem. Leah only asks me to play barbies. She never expects that I will draw with her or make music with her. She doesn’t even ask me to participate when I come up with barbie BEYOND activities for her to work on. So the EVERYTHING fear is not one that has been a problem for us.

Another Egg Timer.

As for the ALL THE TIME problem – we have experienced that. Leah goes through phases. There have definitely been times where she makes constant requests to play barbies. One way to manage the burden of constant requests is to put time limits on the play sessions. When she went through a phase where she asked to play every day and asked numerous times a day I began to dread playing altogether. I wanted to play, but I didn’t want to play. In other words, I wanted to play for a short period of time but I didn’t want to play endlessly.

Over time I came up with a timing and alternating tasks technique to manage time, teach time management and quiet my time-suck “fears”.

1) Use a Timer to preserve YOUR SANITY

iPhone Countdown Timer start screen.

I started using the Countdown Timer on my smartphone, but you can also use an egg timer sold in the grocery store kitchen section. I set it to 5 minutes and agreed that we would play for 5 minutes and then I would get 15 minutes to do my own things.

Some days she would monitor my 15 minutes with, “Is it time for more barbies yet?” but other days she would go off, find some other activity and forget all about barbies for awhile. On the days when she was monitoring my time closely I found I was getting a lot more of my household duties done, because I had a set limit of time in which to get them done. I had a clear sense of accomplishment, and one of the accomplishments was quality time with my daughter.

2) Alternate you barbégé’s time allotment with HER tasks – to teach TIME MANAGEMENT

Besides alternating play time with time to complete your own tasks, you can alternate your barbégé’s play time with tasks you want to have her (maybe him) complete. This is actually an amazing way to teach your child time-management skills. They will begin to understand that large tasks can be broken down into smaller tasks and those can be completed in short bursts of attention and energy.

When we alternate play with “work” I try to break Leah’s chores into more manageable tasks. For example, when asking her to clean her room, I break the chore into smaller tasks. One way to break down tasks is by type:

  • Pick up all trash and throw away
  • Put all dishes and food items in kitchen sink/kitchen cabinets
  • Put all bathroom items – lotion, hair care accessories, brushes and combs in bathroom (may or may not require putting them in “right” place in bathroom. Maybe okay just to place on bathroom counter)
  • Put all toys away (may need to be broken down further if they find this task overwhelming)
  • Make bed
  • Look for any other items that are still out of place. Put them in proper place.

Salvador Dali didn't intend to depict poor time management skills, but his melting clocks still make me think of it.

For younger children who cannot yet read, you may need to draw these steps using small pictures, or use a clip art program (Microsoft Word makes it pretty easy) to make a task list they can follow without verbal reminders from you.

Once we have a step-by-step list of Leah’s work tasks to carry out in between our play sessions, she can choose to knock out as many of these steps as she wants, per “break” period.

She may want to accomplish one list item per break period or she may want to rush through them all and use the rest of her breaks to do a different play activity. I generally leave that decision up to her.

You can also experiment with timing the play sessions but making the length of the break session contingent on the completion of a task in a list. This can help children who tend to be slow or easily distracted get better at focusing on a task in order to get it done quickly and efficiently. As with any child-rearing technique, you will know what works best for you and a particular child.

Time Tracker helps kids with managing their own time on task with chores and school work. Click to learn more about this Time Tracker for kids.

When it comes to using timers, remember to experiment with different timeframes to find the ones that work best for you and your barbégé. I find that a ten minute playtime and a twenty minute break time works especially well for us. We also use five minute play times to help Leah get ready for school in the morning. I know that these will probably change over time as Leah gets older or if she stops responding well to the times we use right now.

Interestingly, I use this play/work/play/work pattern to manage my own time and I have done so for many years. It has helped me through college, graduate school and even professionally. For example, I am actually at work right now, on a Saturday and I “let” myself write this blog post as a reward for getting some of my work done. :-)

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