I Want it Now!
The other day I was shopping at a toy store and overheard that phrase we all love to hear, "but I want it NOW!" Aren't they the sweetest words you have ever heard? It was a 3 year-old who apparently was not happy when she was told she could not get the doll 'this time', but 'NEXT time'. Next time? Yeah, to that little girl, waiting another next time feels like 3-6 months away. Children have problems with waiting for things otherwise known as delayed gratification. Sound familiar?? A little like Veruca Salt from Willie Wonka.
The other day my baby was having more stranger anxiety towards my sister who was over for a short visit. My sister was offended that my daughter started to cry the minute she held her and said, "I don't understand why she is crying, I just saw her last week!" Little did she realize that to a 6 month old, last week was like last month. Their concept of time is completely different than an adult. This is the reason children have problems waiting for things (delayed gratification).
Just like when we go visit places we have not been to since we were kids and we say to ourselves, "wow, I used to think this place was so big as a kid, but it's super small now that I see it as an adult." Everything seemed so large when we were younger and the same difference goes for timeframes. Anytime in the future is an ETERNITY to children. A week to an adult feels like a month to a child and hearing "we're going to Disneyworld next month" feels like a whole year away to them! They are just not there yet developmentally.
On a similar note, since I'm on the topic of time, have you every uttered the words to your child "just a minute?" or "we're leaving in 5 minutes?" Yes we have all said them to our kids, our spouses, friends and even our pets. It's almost like a slang phrase- we don't really mean "just a second" and that we will literally answer someone in exactly one second. It's just a way of saying, "hold on and I will be right with you when I am done."
Although these can be innocent little slang phrases to kids they can be pretty confusing. They start learning that when mom says '5 minutes' she really means an entire 30 minute episode of Dora the Explorer. And then the confusion begins. They start not believing you when you tell them you are leaving in 5 minutes and the following scenario happens: they just sit there on the sofa watching their TV show, not moving to get up, so we get mad, they throw a temper tamper, we get more mad and you know the rest. They honestly thought they had more time and when you tell them it's time to go, they don't believe you anymore and won't hurry to get up from what they are doing.
So even though we all say and do these things, it's a good idea to keep in mind how children differ with their concepts of time when planning activities or running errands and of course when we are setting limits and disciplining.
Ideally it would be great to tell our kids "ok, we are leaving in 7 minutes" and really leave the house in exactly 7 minutes. Hard to imagine as we will never follow our words exactly, but if we try to follow a little more of what we say then our kids will trust us which makes them listen to us better and therefore less acting out! Isn't that what we are all wanting? Less conflicts and power struggles?
If you are limit setting (punishments) with timeframes, for a young child it's probably best to restrict a privilege for half a day and for an older child you can restrict an entire day or even a week depending on the limit. For example, if your 3 year old is not helping to pick up their toys you can tell them, "if you choose to not pick your toys up now, then you choose not to ride your bike until after lunch". That way you are using age-appropriate timeframes in a way they understand. For an older child you can tell them something is off limits for the rest of the day or a weekend, etc.
One other little time frame tip that's helpful to get our kids to listen to us better is to give a 5 minute warning. For instance, when it will almost be time to quit playing and come to dinner we can tell them, "you have 5 more minutes left to play before it's time for dinner." Then you watch the clock and when there is 1 minute left, give them the 1 minute warning.
It's always nice to know what is going to happen next and they will follow our instructions better. Just like when you are enjoying a nice relaxing bath, how would you like your husband to run in and demand you get out immediately to go do some laundry with no warning at all? You'd probably want to yell at him and use some not so nice words. Believe me, if I (an adult) was told to get out of my nice relaxing bath 'immediately' I would be throwing a temper tantrum and it would not be pretty. So next time you want your kids to do something, give them a time warning. That way they won't need as many reminders in the future and will actually follow our instructions instead of throwing a tantrum.
How many time have you had to remind your kids to do something? Or had problems with delayed gratification that was more of a "if I don't have it now, I am going to have a melt down?" Tell us what tips have worked for you and if you have any funny comments your kids have made about it!