These days I spent most time with my son nagging him to hurry up already. From the minute I wake him in the morning to the time when I put his lights out in the evening our encounters are a string of, “Faster, you’re late, hurry up already.” This is not pleasant. I have come to resent the way he closes the zipper of his jacket or his shoes. It’s taking so much time.
He really is very slow in dressing and undressing himself, and in getting ready for anything. He – like me – has a problem with transitions. He – like me – also has a problem perceiving time. He doesn’t really feel how much time has passed, or how long things are taking. This is a real problem when he needs to get ready for school in the mornings, when he has to get home after school, and when he has to get ready for all his extra-curricular activities. His teacher even wrote about it on his report card. How much she doesn’t like reminding him every single day to get ready, get dressed and get home. Even the women who volunteer to help the children crossing streets are getting annoyed with him because he’s always the last one, and they stay there waiting and waiting instead of going home.
We have tried a lot of things, counting, setting a timer, not doing anything and sending him to school without breakfast, but what I mostly do is this constant nagging. It’s totally automatic by now, and I guess neither my son nor me listens to it. It’s just an unpleasant background noise. Sometimes I wonder why I keep doing it since my son has turned deaf to it anyway but then I found I keep nagging because at least that’s a way to release some of my frustration. So I nag, nag, nag, and then I get angry, and tap my foot.
The other day, when he was telling us that the volunteer women had threatened to report him to the school we thought about how he could become better at this. His problem is that he is easily distracted, and so when he puts on his shoes and clothes after school, and chats with the other children he won’t do both at the same time. He either chats or gets ready.
All of a sudden I realized that he doesn’t have a way to measure how much time has passed. He doesn’t know if he is going fast or slow, he is just doing one thing after the other when it occurs to him. He lives pretty much in his head so the fact that he is still standing there in slippers while most of the other children have already gone home doesn’t register with him. And it doesn’t help that the friend who walks with him is about equally slow.
So we talked it all through and for the first time ever I asked him about the other children. He said there were quite a few who were as slow as him. And we asked, “And do they live as far away as you? And do they have volunteers waiting for them as well?” Turns out that those boys live just across the street from the school. So I asked him about the children that are getting ready much faster than him. And there is one boy, his best friend who gets ready very fast. So I told my son to watch him, and try to match him. And he did, and at least he is only late coming home from school, not extremely late.
The problem is that apart from us and the volunteers waiting for him, and getting worried because there might have happened something to him, he also has two days when he comes home, has 15 minutes to eat lunch, and has to leave for school again. Now, this was his choice. We told him not to sign up for those things but he really wanted to, and so we sit there, wait for him with lunch ready on the spot, and then tell him to hurry up because he’s late.
Evenings have been getting better, and then I remembered that that was when I told him the exact time when he had to be in pajamas, and then when the lights had to be out. Of course he couldn’t know. My husband and I knew that we wanted him to turn out the lights at 8.30 but nobody had bothered to tell him. The minute we told him he could look at the clock and see how many time he had left. Of course it helps that he can read time now. You can’t really do that with most younger children but with a second-grader you can.
So yesterday evening I sat him down and told him that he has to wake up at 6.45, get out of bed at 7.00, be dressed and ready for breakfast at 7.10, brush his teeth and get ready for school at 7.25, and leave a little later than 7.30.
Well, today it worked like a charm. He did struggle a bit, and then I know it’s quite a tight schedule, but he made it. I sat the clock next to him while he was putting on his clothes, and for once he realized that he does not have time to read or play in the morning. He could sit down for breakfast and instead of me telling him, “You’re late, you’re late, you should be brushing your teeth now.” he was the one glancing at the clock saying, “I only have four more minutes before I have to brush my teeth.”
I know that our schedule in the mornings is a bit too tight but I also know that neither my son nor I are ready to get up earlier than we do because that would mean to going to bed earlier as well. And having more time does not always lead to having less stress. I know that when I have the feeling to have plenty of time for something I often end up doing everything so slow that I have to hurry up in the end anyway.
Of course, now that it worked (once) I’m a bit angry at myself for not realizing this earlier. And I’m a bit afraid that this might be one of those things that work once, and then nevermore. But then I know that when I, as a grown woman, finally realized that catching the 7.05 bus meant leaving the house at 6.55, and that meant brushing my teeth and putting on makeup at 6.45, and that meant having breakfast at 6.15, and that meant getting up at 5.45, and that meant setting my alarm for 5.30 – that felt like a revelation to me. “You mean in order to catch the bus at 7.05 I have to set the alarm more than 1 1/2 hours earlier? Oh, that’s why my timing never worked. No wonder I had to rush and scramble every single morning. Duh.”
Duh indeed. I really hope that I will cease to resent the way my son – slowly and diligently – pulls up the zipper of his jacket. Or fastens and unfastens the velcro on his shoes not once, not twice but at least four times each time he puts them on. And I really hope that I can become more than a nagging device for him.
I’m glad it did work, even if only once! It is very hard, with all children. I often wonder how people with very packed schedules and many children manage, but I am convinced they are nagging and stressed much of the time.
One other thing I did which was useful was to match a paper or toy clock with a real clock. I had them both hanging in the hallway, and I would set the paper clock for the end time so the kids had a visual example of where the hands on the real clock would be when time was up.
At our house, we actually do better if there is a little less time and everything is focused on getting ready. If there is too much time, then books and things come out and they get involved. I am happy to say that they haven’t had any tardy notices this whole school year (which is actually an achievement for my husband, not them, as he brings them to school three out of five days)!
You’ve got a good thing going, and that is great. Good for you, and may it continue to be successful!
Later–in a month or two–you might want to introduce a timer into his life–a simple kitchen timer, that he can carry around. Rather than make it another obligation, it might be fun to play guessing games–everybody guesses how long it will take to do this or that; whether you can beat the timer if you set it for 10 minutes and do activity X; how much can we put away before the timer goes off in 10 minutes; can we wash and dry the dishes/load the dishwasher/dust the bookcase/fold the laundry/pack the suitcase before the timer goes off in 15 minutes, or whatever. ” Oh, we didn’t finish–what do you think–we’ll be done in another five minutes? Let’s see.” Any such “let’s guess/let’s see” activities (non threatening) might help build in a sense of time.
Similarly–guess in advance how long it will take to finish the board game/walk to the corner/read the comic book. Nobody has to beat the clock–this is just to help build in a sense of estimating the passage of time.
You could do something similar with egg timers (“hourglass”) devices–watch the sand go through. Compare it with the clock or the timer. Which is the most accurate? The most fun?
On a weekend, it might be fun to make a cardboard sundial for the back yard and do predictions. How long will it take for the shadow of the roof to move to place X?
Do you have daylight saving time there? Does he help you set the clocks forward and back?
Can he go out in the evening and look at the constellations? Could you say “It’s two hours later–let’s see if we can see how much the Big Dipper has moved”?
Finally, my guess is that using clocks/watches with hands is better than digital numbers for getting a sense of time.
Oh. This was helpful. I have a VERY SLOW 4yo. And he is my oldest, so the WHOLE thing is new to me. And I couldn’t understand why he didn’t understand that there were time-frames for things. But he is totally distracted. This parenting thing requires SO MUCH parental involvement. Sheesh.
But I will remember the timing thing for when he can tell time.