Social Studies

8 Time Management Tips For Parents To Get Kids On A New Schedule

Whether your kids are getting ready to begin school or simply starting a new routine, these tips can help them — and you — develop good lifelong habits.

by Adam Bulger
A dad tying his kid's shoe laces
Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images
Back To School For The Rest Of Us

New routines can be tough for kids. The reason is simple: Children crave stability, and when a set routine shifts, it can feel seismic. But they can also be exciting. Whether you’re preparing kids for back to school or simply readying them for a new addition to their weekly schedule, it’s an opportunity to take a breath, set a goal, and create new routines that can build good lifelong habits.

The question is which habits can help kids stay organized and feel in control of their routines? For assistance, we reached out to several time management experts. Each of them suggested routine-building tactics for parents and kids alike, as well as some simple reminders about child development and taking a beat when things get stressful that are well worth remembering. The eight tips below, distilled from their advice, should come in handy for back-to-school season and beyond.

1. Let Kids Own Their Routines.

Parents have short- and long-term goals of time management. Today, we need to get the kids to school, soccer practice, the dinner table, the bath, and bed on time. Tomorrow, it’s the same, but replace soccer with piano lessons. And so on. But while we navigate all those hectic demands, we need to also be imparting lessons for tomorrow. After all, kids are going to need to get to places on time on their own someday, and it’s our job as parents to make sure that happens.

Rebecca Rolland, Harvard Medical School faculty member and author of The Art of Talking with Children, says parents should encourage children to take active roles in time management.

“Congratulate them on making small steps, such as getting dressed by themselves for a young child or getting all their homework organized for an older child,” she says. Organization, Rolland says, is also key. She recommends making a morning checklist for kids on a whiteboard and checking off daily tasks like getting dressed, brushing teeth, making their bed, and doing their homework.

2. Practice Short Bursts of Mindfulness.

California meditation coach Josephine Atluri says mindfulness can help frazzled parents navigate overloaded schedules. People tend to rush when stressed, which can make it more difficult and time-consuming to do things. Counterintuitively, being still can be far more helpful. Alturi recommends a simple breathing exercise. Breathe in for four seconds, pause for two seconds, and exhale for six seconds. It’s a quick and surprisingly effective way to reboot your brain and prime it for action.

Once you find your moment, use it to plot out your next, best steps. But keep in mind that there’s always a limit on how many steps you’ll be able to take. “It can help you evaluate the situation and prioritize your list of tasks and take your top three as your must-dos for the day,” she says. “Everything else that you accomplish is extra. If you get more things done, great. If you don’t, don’t worry.” And remember how we said that kids need to learn how they’ll do this stuff on their own? By pulling your act together through breathing exercises, you model healthy behavior for them to emulate.

3. Put Homework on the Calendar.

Your kids might not love the idea of appointment homework time today, but years down the road, when they’re outperforming procrastinating peers, they’ll grudgingly admit you might have had a point. As Becky Ward, education experience specialist for Tutor Doctor, says, it’s important to help your child put their time for studies first. “Often, kids think that not being at school means that they can relax, see friends, and not have to worry about anything else,” she says.

The good part is that this approach makes work easier over the long run by introducing healthy habits and expectations that align with their abilities and stamina.

“Start by breaking down projects into pieces of work that they can fit into 30- to 60-minute blocks of time, and schedule these into their planner or family calendar,” Ward says. “The sooner they get used to mapping out this time, the better.”

4. When Kids WFH, Give Them a Place to Work.

You can’t be the only one in the house with a home office when your kids work from home. It’s not fair, for one thing. But more importantly, when they don’t have a consistent workspace, kids are far less likely to do homework on a consistent schedule. Evan Weinberger, CEO/co-founder of Illuminos Academic Coaching & Tutoring, says that designating a place in the home specifically for homework helps kids focus. “Preferably, this workspace will be somewhere your student can work daily without interruption,” he says, adding that an ideal workspace should be out of the way of household traffic to minimize distractions.

5. When Time Is Short, Find Shortcuts.

Running late is inevitable. No matter how much you plan, you, as a parent, will be late for something some time. In those moments where you absolutely have to get you out the door five minutes ago, Rebecca Mannis, learning specialist and founder of Ivy Prep, says two words can help you along: realistic and actionable.

“If what’s most important is for your kid to get out of the house, that may be the day to pop some French toast sticks in a napkin or a Ziploc, rather than make a complete, nutritious breakfast,” she says. “If your kid needs to get out of the house and can’t tie his shoelaces on his own, have some Velcro sneakers or Crocs ready to go by the door.”

6. Demonstrate the Passage of Time, However You Can.

Time means nothing until it means everything. It’s a truly abstract concept, but since the world revolves around it, everybody has to make it make sense for them. How long does a minute last? For visual-oriented learners, it lasts as long as a timer set to for a minute, once they watch it tick and understand why it’s ticking. For kids who love music, 10 minutes might mean slightly more than the time it takes to play Taylor Swift’s 3:39-long song “Shake It Off” three times. None of these are silver bullets or one size fits all, so the hard part is figuring out what will work for your child. “We want kids to be independent and responsible,” says Mannis. “But at the same time, we need to do that with an appreciation for who your child is and where your child can succeed so that he grows from strength to strength.”

7. Don’t Underestimate How Much Sleep Kids Need.

Amy Motroni, pediatric sleep consultant and founder of The Postpartum Party, notes that kids need more sleep than their parents expect, with kids ages 5 through 12 needing about 10 to 12 hours each night. If you’re keeping kids up, you’re not doing them any favors. Motroni says some quick math is in order.

“Parents can decide what time their child needs to be up for the day and count backwards to establish when bedtime should be each night,” she says. To make bedtime manageable, keep a consistent time each night — and make it easier by turning screens off at least two hours before bedtime.

8. Work Within Your Child’s Developmental Parameters.

Mannis notes that executive function, the brain’s ability to handle abstract thinking, sequencing, and self-control, is the last mental ability people master. The neurochemistry behind those abilities occurs in the brain’s frontal lobes, which keep developing well into our 20s. And since those are the most important elements of time management, parents need to temper their expectations for what their kids are capable of.

“You can teach and expect executive functions earlier, but we want to engage our kids with realistic developmentally attuned tools,” she says. In other words? Meet your kids where they are. Make it easy for them. If they learn visually, give them visual references. If they’re twitchy and quick, change up the routine to keep them engaged. Nobody’s going to be able to read your kids better than you. So start reading them and responding appropriately.