[Week 35 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Don’t cut yourself on the schedule
Schedules are like knives. They can cut things up into bite size, digestible pieces or they can cut you to pieces. It all depends on how you wield them.
Some people say that modern technology is what is causing so much pressure on our schedules. However, both the constraints of time and the coordination of interacting with other people are not due to technology. These are ancient problems that make schedules extremely practical. Having a schedule can be necessary for survival or beneficial to having fun.
Modern time keeping simply lets us communicate about schedules more exactly and with less confusion. “When the shade of the oak tree hits the side of the house” may be poetic, but it is location dependent and more open to interpretation than, say, 3:00 PM.
Children become aware of and affected by schedules from as young as they are aware of the people around them. In fact, most children have at some point attempted to use what they know of the family schedule to their own advantage. They, like adults, only balk against schedules if they don’t like the schedule, because the schedule is unmanageable, or because they want to assert their independence.
What should be scheduled in a young child’s life?
At some point, a responsible parent will both instigate and require some degree of schedule for even a young child. The question is always how much of a schedule and for what types of activities.
The most obvious item to schedule is sleep. Not only does some regularity with this help children sleep better, but it sets the rhythm for the rest of the day. Even if the bulk of a child’s day is spent playing, a regular sleep pattern is a matter of health and good relationships!
Eating is the next thing that makes a lot of sense to have some sort of schedule with. Besides the social aspect of eating together, there is the fact that preparing food is often labor intensive and time consuming. If a parent has to feed everyone at individual whim all day long, it gets very hard to get anything else done.
Finally, even a young child can be taught to regularly clean up after themselves. Whether it be daily or weekly, scheduling is a great way to develop lifelong useful habits.
Play versus schedule?
Free play and scheduling are not at odds with each other. A good schedule for young children will include blocks of time for their imagination to run wild. It is also helpful to note that young children don’t always need as large a block of time to get lost in their play as older children or adults do.
Older children will probably have more complicated projects that benefit from larger blocks of time. This is also balanced with the fact that they are capable of attending to responsibilities with fewer breaks, to help create larger blocks of free time.
Who gets to decide the schedule?
How involved should a parent be in managing a child’s schedule? It will depend on things like:
- child’s age
- child’s experience
- child’s capabilities
- child’s tendencies
Some children will want to be told what to do, but need to be encouraged to make their own decisions. Some children may have no inclination to scheduling, so need to be more regularly guided. Some children may have had a change in their lives so that they need to learn new self-management skills.
Another unhappy factor is how much the state government imposes itself into the family. A parent may be required by threat of law to impose a certain schedule on even an older, mature child, who is basically kept legally in childhood. It can be very helpful to explain this to older children and request their cooperation.
Sometimes the state tries to give the impression that compliance needs to look a certain way, when, in fact, there are more creative options available. These are usually not advertised because they detract from the conformity the state desires. Both parents and children can look for creative options for both broad and specific requirements.
Margin versus efficiency
Every schedule needs margin. Things like transition time, dealing with unexpected problems or opportunities, and relaxing your brain to let it be creative can’t necessarily be distinctly scheduled. Sometimes rest and recovery only happen when there is not something pressing on the agenda. Often the brain does mysterious things when a person “gives up” thinking for a while.
In my experience, margin in the schedule results in better efficiency than a tight, stressful schedule. Besides a reasonably rested mind being able to think more clearly, there is the ability to adjust to real life better if there is margin already in the scheduling approach.
A child’s natural inclinations will influence how margin should be emphasized. If a child with a more relaxed personality knows that margin is allowed and coming, he or she will be more receptive to scheduling needs. A child with a strong inclination to control will benefit from learning how to relax, as well as let others relax.
Scheduling autonomy versus supervision
Scheduling can be split up in various ways that allow children to learn how they might manage their time and opportunities. Here are categories to be considered:
- social interactions
- play/creative time
The easiest thing to let young children schedule for themselves is play, or creative time. It is easy to make a game out of it. Set aside a time to talk about what things they might like to do. Explain what time will be at their disposal. Help them consider factors they might not remember, such as cost, transportation, noise, time of day.
You might suggest timing some of their favorite activities to help them realize how much time is needed to do them a certain way or to be aware of how much time is being spent on them. This will hopefully help them evaluate how they spend free time.
No more nagging about chores
When my children were young, around age 13 and younger, we had a specific main chore time each morning. I wrote about this in How to Get Your Children to Do Chores Cheerfully. When they got older, and had more activities of their own and/or outside of the house, we discussed when they could get their chores done. I didn’t want to be constantly asking or reminding.
If a chore was going to be difficult to get done as agreed on, they communicated with me ahead of time and a mutually satisfactory option was agreed to. It was understood that while they lived in the house, it was reasonable that they help with upkeep. No one just lived in his or her room, so they needed to take part in keeping the whole house and yard cared for.
Once they were working, they were given the option of paying extra, or paying rent, instead of doing some chores. But, no one chose that. The habits of working together were not only well established, but the sociability of that work was usually enjoyed as well.
Designing their own study schedule
Sooner or later, there comes a point where a child needs to show specific learning goals are being met. Whether it be for state regulations or for meeting personal goals, a schedule is important. It is useful for the child to accomplish things and it is necessary for a responsible parent to be able to monitor this. Such a schedule is also a precursor to work and other adult responsibilities. For younger children, the parents may be mostly in charge of establishing the study routine.
But teaching children to design their own study schedule can be done at a much younger age than institutional school models would lead you to believe. Scheduling is just another important skill, something that should be taught. There is no exact age and it doesn’t have to be all at once. You can work with them on it similar to teaching how to ride a bike.
First you help them balance. Then you let them go and let them try. If they fall, you dust them off and take care of their scrapes. And then you help them get up and try again.
The first step is for the child and parents to come to an understanding about what needs to get done. What subjects or resources need to be studied? What skills need to be practiced? What projects need or want to be done? What other activities and responsibilities need to or could be allowed for?
Next, there needs to be some estimate of time that is either necessary (practice piano an hour a day for the serious musician) or desired (building a computer from components). Even if these times will be adjusted later, it is better to start with a plan.
For everyone’s benefit, all of this should be written down. After the brainstorming notes, it should be put in a form that is easy to read and record progress. It helps if it is in pencil first, though after a while my children ended up with greatly decorated and color coded daily schedules.
Of course, this was before computers were in such great use for calendars, but I still think it can be very useful to have something posted for easy reference on a wall above a desk or such. Something created on a computer could both be easily updated and printed. Another trick was to put the schedule in a plastic sheet cover, which could be marked on and wiped off.
Supervising the self-scheduled child
Just because a child becomes more independent in scheduling and getting work done doesn’t mean a parent is superfluous. Hopefully there will still be a fair amount of discussion on readings and interaction on projects. My children, for instance, still enjoyed group reading time at lunch and discussions well into their high school levels.
And projects can be lots of fun to do together still. One son (now a mechanical engineer) built a robot with his father. And one of our daughters served us and our friends gourmet meals in preparation for a career in culinary arts.
It is also a good habit to look over the work that is being done. At high school level work, my children self-corrected about half of their math and science. I always gave feedback on writing projects. They learned that multiple re-writes were normal.
In other areas, I made sure to give them encouraging words, whether it be because something was done well or they were frustrated. Independent and self-motivated learning is good, but don’t let that be an excuse to disengage.
Supervision was both self-reporting and them expecting parental questions. They knew this was all done to help them, not to pester or to make them feel belittled. There was a gradual and natural release to total adult freedom that would be hard to pinpoint.
Finding time to be social
When you have good relationships with your children, they are not constantly trying to get away to have “real” social interactions. That doesn’t mean they don’t have or aren’t encouraged to develop friendships outside of the family, but it does mean that the family and friends tend to overlap very comfortably.
Some social interactions outside of the family can take place using technology, but some require adult transportation. We had some regular social activities, such as roller skating with friends once a month. We also made it a point to invite over other families over who had children around the same ages.
Although there are some good things about same-age relationships, there is a lot to be enjoyed about age-integrated social interactions. My children had lots of activities with grandparents and as a result have very close relationships with them now. Our children are also very good friends with many of our friends, loving them as aunts and uncles.
Social interactions especially benefit from having margin in the overall schedule. A person should not be so perennially busy that you don’t have time to chat or help someone. Sure, you can schedule get-togethers, but most relationships flourish from a certain amount of spontaneity that says “you are important to me no matter what is going on.” This kind of spontaneity needs to be part of your relationship with your children and it needs to be something you model to them so that they more naturally make it part of how they schedule their lives.
Burning the candle at both ends
Everyone has to test their limits of sleep deprivation sooner or later. At our house, 15 years old was the ritual age for this. By then, we felt their growth wasn’t going to suffer much and they were mature enough to handle the consequences of extreme fatigue. We also reviewed house rules, because the rest of the family was not going to tippy-toe around an erratic sleep schedule. Here were the rules:
- No noise or disturbing lights after standard bedtime for the rest of the house (this changed somewhat depending on the mix of ages at the time)
- No noise or disturbing lights before 7 AM
- No getting up before 5:30 am on normal days (yes, this was an issue with a few children)
- The agreed upon weekday schedule must still be followed, except for special circumstances
- No complaining about being tired
- No naps during normal productive/work hours
- No excuses for bad tempers, which can easily flair due to fatigue
With these guidelines, each young adult was free to discover his specific physical need for sleep and how to make that work with the realities of life.
The flow of time is a fact of life
Time is a particular resource. It can’t be recycled. We never know for sure how much of it we have. It is precious, but it can’t be saved or stored. The only option is to somehow use it.
We all use time in one way or another. Teaching our children to appreciate the time they have and teaching them skills for utilizing it is one of the best gifts we can give them.