Time is one of a parents biggest enemies. Time steals our babies and their fresh newborn squishy-ness way to quickly. Time turns them into toddlers in the blink of an eye. Time moves faster than the speed of an independent toddler who always makes us late. Our days are both long and short at the same time. There aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything, and it can feel like we’re always fighting the clock (and our children) to get from one place to the next, accomplish all the tasks, and still enjoy our kids.
I’ve got five tips that will help us use time to our advantage. With these tips, time will go from being our enemy to being our best friend, or at least an acquaintance we can be civil with. After all, time makes our babies grow up way too fast and a best friend just wouldn’t do that. Ha!
- Be proactive: Plan ahead. Instead of waiting to respond to a situation after it has happened, anticipate what will come next so you can be prepared for it, and sometimes even prevent it. Those moments of transitioning from one activity to the next or when our children want something right now can be some of the most frustrating moments, but if we are proactive about our children’s wants and needs, it will help to lessen their frustration, and ours too. Prepare their meals before they’ve reached a level of hunger that makes them quick to anger, redirect them to a new activity when you see them begin to misbehave, etc. Being proactive gives us a sense of control and power over the situation, whereas being reactive causes us to feel powerless without us even realizing it.
- Get ourselves calm: Another way we can use time to our advantage is to give ourselves time to get to a calm state of mind when we feel that we’re close to reaching our breaking point. It’s ok to say to our children “Mommy/Daddy needs a break right now to feel calm”. Make sure your child is in a safe place, and then take a break, walk away, lock yourself in the bathroom, whatever you need to do to find a moment of peace. It’s ok if your child is crying in the crib for a minute while you give yourself that calming moment. Remember, putting your mental health first is going to benefit them in the long run. It also models for your child that walking away is always a good option when feeling overwhelmed by emotions. Take this modeling to the next level of teaching by also labeling your feelings. “Mommy/Daddy is feeling frustrated right now. I need to walk away and take a break to feel calm.”
- Take a pause: We don’t have to respond to our children’s wants or actions right away. We can take a pause to allow us time to think of the best way to respond. There are two ways we can do this.
- Think of how we’d like to word our response. This is especially useful for times when your child asks a question that is sometimes a yes and sometimes a no. Children are smart and know when a no is firm and when it is weak. If the “no” is a “weak no”, children will likely try to change it to a yes through whining or tantruming. Take a pause to think of how to word the “weak no” into a “firm no”, so that your children are less likely to try to manipulate it into a yes. Ex. Child asks to go to the park. Some days the answer is a yes, but today it’s a no. Instead of saying a simple but uncertain “no” giving your child the hope of changing it to a yes, you take a pause to think and then respond with “we won’t be going to the park today.” The key to this method is to not waiver in your response. If you allow your child to talk you out of your answer, they will continue to try to change your answer into the answer they wanted because it sometimes works.
- Delay the consequence: You don’t have to have all the answers all of the time. If you’re struggling to come up with a consequence for your child’s actions, give yourself time to think of one. Every child and situation is different, so it can be very helpful to allow yourself time to tailor a consequence to your child and the situation. In those cases, say something like “With the choice you made, there will be a consequence. I need to think about what that will be, and then I’ll let you know.” This works great for kids over 5. (with younger kids you don’t want to delay the consequence too much because they won’t make the connection between the action and the consequence).
- Prepare for transitions: Transitioning from one activity/location to another can be one of the most frustrating and stressful times for parents (and kids). Whether it’s transitioning your child from playing with blocks to the kitchen for meal time, getting out of the house on time, or getting your child to leave the park without a complete meltdown. Children don’t want to have to stop the fun they are having to move on to the next thing, and understandably so. What they’re doing is so very important to them (after all, play is a child’s work). We can use time to help with these transitions by giving children a lot of warnings and reminders of when it will be time to stop what they are doing and move on to the next activity/location. “You’ve got 10 more minutes of playing at the park and then it will be time to head home…2 more minutes before it’s time to get in the car…you can go down the slide one more time and then we’re going to walk to the car so we can leave.”
- Use a timer: Setting a timer can be used both to tell your child when it’s time to stop an activity, or when it’s time to start an activity.
- Stop an activity: Stop being the “bad guy”. You know, the one who is always telling your child they have to stop doing that fun thing they’re enjoying. Instead, set a timer and make the timer be the “bad guy”. Let your child choose how long you set the timer for. “I’m going to set a timer and when the timer goes off, it’s time to get out of the bath. Would you like me to set the timer for 4 minutes or 5 minutes?”
- Start an activity: If your child is constantly bugging you asking if it’s time yet (“Can we go outside yet?” “Is it time to leave for Grandma’s house now?”), set a timer for when it’s time to leave. Tell them that when they hear the timer go off, it will be time for that fun activity they’re impatiently waiting for. This helps to eliminate/decrease how many times they ask you the same question over and over. And it might save your sanity too.
- Taking turns: Taking turns can be a hard concept for children to understand and accept. They never want their turn to end. You can make turn taking easier and appear more “fair” to them by putting a time frame on how long it’s their turn. A fun way to do this is by singing a song. When the song is over, their turn is over. Give them a sense of power and control by letting them choose the song. When you empower children with making choices, they are more compliant.
Since we don’t have a time machine to help us freeze, fast forward, or rewind time, I hope these tips are helpful and useful to you.