Does your child seem to have no idea when to start getting ready to leave the house? Do they wonder why you wake them up for an activity a whole hour before they have to be there? 

If your child is little, this may be age-appropriate. However, teens and tweens need to understand how to make their own timeline for getting ready.  This is actually a skill, like baking cookies or doing an algebra problem. It can be taught. You’ve probably gotten so used to it that you don’t realize you do it. It requires thinking through all the things you need to do in order to make it to your appointment on time and figuring out how long it will all take. If your child has ADHD or ASD they may struggle with executive function. Being able to create your own schedule or manage your time is harder when you struggle with executive functioning skills.

Step by Step

This is how I teach this skill. First, we use a real-life example. You want it to be something real so you can do it and test your plan. “You have to be at your class at 10 o’clock. So,  let’s figure out when you need to start getting ready.”  I write 10:00 AM at the bottom of a piece of paper, while my child watches. 

Just above that, I write how long it will take us to drive to class, and then explain that means we need to leave the house at that time. So, if we need 20 minutes to drive to class, plus 5 more minutes to walk into the building, we need to be in the car at 9:35. 

“What do you have to do before we can leave?” I ask. We then fill in each item they state, with a time associated with it. Five minutes to find shoes. Ten minutes to get dressed. Twenty minutes to eat breakfast. Five more minutes to brush their teeth. Ten more to fix their hair. You want them to come up with a list of things they have to do, but they may need some coaching to think of everything.

Don’t Forget The Details

It is important to call out little things like “find your shoes” separately from “get dressed” if those are pain points for your day. For my kids it’s food. It seems like they realize they are hungry right as we are about to walk out the door. So we make sure there is time to eat in the plan.

Once we’ve listed all the things they need to do and what time they would start those tasks, we arrive at the time they need to get out of bed. When they see it written down and really talk it through, it is easier to see why they don’t actually have time to watch one more YouTube video before they get dressed.

If your child needs to work out this kind of schedule for getting ready for afternoon activities, where they are already awake and have eaten, you need to think about what is coming before and how that impacts the timeline. This kind of activity can help show that, for example, you need to finish the morning math lesson by a certain time to make it to the park play date on time. Your child may not realize that in order to get to the park in time for that Nerf war they are excited about they have to finish math before lunch. 

For some kids, understanding the drive time and time to walk into the class is confusing. You’ve been trying to push them out the door “on time” but they don’t really understand what this “on time” business is all about. And most kids, particularly if they are not near driving age, don’t really register the time in the car as time they are doing something. So they don’t think about it.

Post it where everyone can see it

Once you’ve taken the time to write out what time your child needs to start each item on their list, be sure to post this list where they can see it.  Your child can look at the list to remember all the steps they need to do to get ready.  It will also remind them why they have to wake up when they do, and what time they need to actually be in the car.

Adjust as needed

You may also find that you and your child over or underestimated how long it takes them to do things, like eating breakfast. Be willing to rewrite the chart to match how long it actually takes them to get ready. Some kids may even be interested in having a stopwatch going one morning to see exactly how long it takes.  However, you may want to insist on timing them more than once, as some days things just take longer.  You don’t want to create a schedule that your child can’t actually do every day. 

If you try this out, let me know how it goes!  Do you need to tweak this system? Did it work for your child? 

About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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