Fort Myers occupational therapists

Fort Myers Occupational Therapists: Helping Kids With Time Management

Why did the man sit on the clock? …. Because he wanted to be on time!

Compelling a child to complete tasks in a timely manner is a daily struggle for so many parents. This is especially true when your child has developmental delays and disabilities. As Fort Myers occupational therapists, we recognize that time management is not only an executive function skill that our brains will keep working on well into our 20s (!), but it’s also an abstract concept that’s tough for a lot of kids to grasp – to their parents dismay!

For the most part, schoolchildren aren’t taught time concepts until 2nd grade. Yet we often expect kids their age and even younger to “get it” when it comes to how time works and how to manage the time they have. “You have 8 minutes before we leave for school,” or, “It’s 20 minutes until bedtime.” And then we’re frustrated when they aren’t ready or have a meltdown at the transition. After all, you DID give them a heads-up!

The good news is, there are several strategies our occupational therapists can offer to help your child both grasp the concept of time and manage it better.

“Feeling” the Passage of Time

One reason kids have difficulty cooperating with a time-sensitive request from adults is that they don’t know what time passage feels like, let alone how to manage it on their own. This can be frustrating for both kids and adults, especially because as older people, we tend to take the understanding of time passage for granted. To help them learn to both see and feel the passage of time, we have to do more than just give them audio or even visual warnings. We have to first teach kids how to tell time.

Likely, you’ll start with one of these:

  • Mom as a time manager. Parents are a child’s time management team, especially when they’re young. You tell them when to get up, when it’s time for school, when it’s time to change for soccer, when it’s time for homework, when to hop in the bathtub and when to get ready for bed. This works to an extent for a time, especially when kids are small. But it doesn’t help kids learn how to plan their time or get anything done on their own.
  • Timers that countdown. Timers without visual components might be handy and get kids moving. However, without the visual element, kids who have no idea when it’s about to go off may feel anxious. A kid who doesn’t know what 10 minutes feels like or can’t see how time is passing or who doesn’t understand the numbers isn’t working on effective time management skills with these.
  • Visual timers. Visual timers with sand, three-colored light towers, sand or disappearing color dials will help kids better see the passage of time. They can also help ease into transitions, which is why our Fort Myers occupational therapists use them a lot in sessions. Still, they don’t necessarily help kids plan for the future or work on critical time techniques.
  • Timer apps. The App Store has a ton of kid-friendly time management tools, some for specific chores, some with games and more than a few that offer rewards. These can be good, but the biggest issue our occupational therapists see with them is the tech can be distracting and get in the way of them actually learning to independently manage their time. Depending on the individual and the app used, it could even be hurting more than it’s helping.

So if these aren’t working, what can you do?

One of the first things to do is to work with your child to learn to tell time, preferably with an analogue clock. Unfortunately, research shows a significant number of kids in the U.S. don’t know how. Telling time on an analogue clock (one with a face that shows the hour and minute hand) is important because digital clocks only tell us what time it is right now. To be good time managers, they need to be able to see – and feel – the passage of time. That starts with learning to read an analogue clock.

Analogue clocks are good because they:

  • Help us see time visually, in “chunks.”
  • Allow kids to count – What does 5 minutes look like? How much more time is 30 minutes?
  • Give us the ability to view not just the “now time,” but also the past and future time.

So when you tell your child, “You have 10 more minutes,” they look at an analogue clock, know that is a small chunk of time and can now start understanding, “I need to get going!”

Discussing Time Management Plans, Expectations

Once they understand how to use an analogue clock, then you can start talking about your expectations for their time management.

For a younger child (3-7), use a kid-friendly clock (there’s a great one on Etsy that has both numbers and animals, as well as bright colors). You can start with, “Right now, the big hand is on the bee. When the big hand is on the cow, that’s when we have to get ready for bed.” Start working in the numbers the older they get.

For a child who is a bit older (7-12), let them see the clock at eye level. Let them know, “We’re leaving for practice in 10 minutes. Right now, the minute hand is on the 3. By the time it gets to the 5, you need to have your teeth brushed and your shoes on. That is 10 minutes.” Make sure your child is actively listening while you’re planning.

Some tips from our occupational therapists that might help:

  • Have your child repeat back to you the time management plan. “Right now, the big/minute hand is on the (blank). When it gets to the (blank), it will be time to (blank).” 
  • Use positive reinforcement. “Good job making sure you were on time!” 
  • Offer a reward. “Since you did such an excellent job managing your minutes, we have enough time to play a game/do our silly dance/ready a story!” 

If you have other questions on how to work with your child on time management and other executive functions, our FOCUS Therapy occupational therapists are here to help you brainstorm!

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

The Age-by-Age Guide to Teaching Kids Time Management, By Sharon Duke Estroff,

More Blog Entries:

Put a Sock on It! Occupational Therapy Tips for Donning/Doffing Socks, Jan. 15, 2021, FOCUS Fort Myers Pediatric Occupational Therapy Blog

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