Toddlers and Time

Five creative ways to teach the concept.

Time can be a difficult concept to explain to children, and it's not easy for them to understand it, either. Kids often question time when we tell them, "Bedtime is in 10 minutes," or "We'll be leaving soon." Being patient is hard when kids don't have a grasp of the meaning of "soon," and to them, 10 minutes can feel like an hour.

More often than not, time may be taught in a negative manner when we give our children "timeouts." In order for children to have a better understanding of time, parents can incorporate it into fun, everyday activities.

To help introduce and reinforce the concepts of time and patience in a positive way, try some of these creative ideas:

1. Teach time in intervals of five to 15 minutes.

Depending on the age of your child, waiting patiently for more than five minutes can be a tough task. Using a timer that can be set to intervals of five to 15 minutes can teach kids how to wait while dad finishes cooking dinner. It can demonstrate that they can watch TV for five more minutes. As your child gets older, you can set the timer to higher intervals. You'll start to find that your child adjusts to the timed sessions and can tell when the five or 10 minutes are almost complete

2. Encourage common courtesy and patience for "mommy or daddy time."

Sometimes, moms or dads need just a little bit of time to themselves for a quick break. Practice telling your kids, "I need five minutes, so please be patient. When the timer rings, you will have my full attention." Kids will learn to keep busy during those five minutes and patiently wait. The next time you're making an important phone call or need extra time to get ready in the morning, use this tactic. You'll be amazed by how well it works!

3. Track time when brushing teeth, hand washing, potty training, and more.

Toddlers begin to develop a sense of time around schedules and routines that you put in place for them. Tell them they need to brush their teeth for a full two minutes every morning and night, and find a two-minute song to play as a tooth-brushing song. Children will learn that they can stop brushing their teeth once the song is finished. You can also use the same method for other routines like hand washing, potty training, or bath time.

4. Teach time while cooking or baking with mom and dad.

Kids will love being able to help out with cooking meals or baking sweet treats. If you tell them that the cookies won't taste good unless you bake them for 10 minutes, they will excitedly wait until the timer goes off. They will feel so proud that they had a part in making the cookies. Then, the next time you bake, it will be easier for them to patiently wait because they know that's when the cookies turn out yummy.

5. Instead of teaching timeouts, teach "time ins."

If your child is having a hard time listening and being patient, give him a five minute "time in" so you can both discuss your emotions and take a few moments to teach your child coping skills. Give him a calming, skill-building activity to do that lacks the negativity associated with a timeout. Activities can include learning to tie shoe laces, buttoning clothes, zipping up a jacket, etc. The next time your child has to wait when mom and dad are busy, these activities will encourage calmness and focus.