Parents who often find themselves scrambling to get out the door and arriving at their destination 10, 15, even 20 minutes late may want to explore the details of their delays. To cure chronic punctuality problems experts suggest parents consider the causes and implement strategies to address it.
That’s what Susan Spartz did. Before having children, this mother of two was tenaciously on time for every event, activity and appointment.
“I still subscribe to the theory that if something is worth going to it’s worth being on time. It just doesn’t always happen now because we’re on our kids’ schedules,” she says of her now 4 and 2 year-olds. “It started when my son was born. I’d load him into the car and before we could get on the road I’d have to stop, change his diaper and start the routine again. Just when I felt like I had a grip on our schedule my daughter was born.”
“There are a number of things parents can do to help them stay on track with time,” says Penny Lawhorne, president of a local human resource consulting firm. “For starters, clock yourself. Be realistic about the amount of time it takes to get a task done or travel from one location to another.” And don’t forget to factor in the unforeseen.
“This is a huge area where people fail to plan properly, and when you’re dealing with children it’s even more important,” says parent educator and consultant Carol Brown. “Create buffers by leaving earlier than what you normally would. Plan for the unexpected such as traffic, car trouble and extra help or attention your child may need.” Spartz found this to be helpful.
“From here to preschool it takes 15 minutes. That lets me know the absolute last minute I can leave the house and still make it on time,” she says. “What’s variable is how long it takes to get the kids dressed, go through potty routines and get seated in the car. I started off trying to get everyone out the door 15 minutes early but that didn’t work. So now we get ready 30 minutes beforehand. It sounds ridiculous but it works.”
Next make preparations.
Set out clothes, books, keys, lunches and needed directions well in advance to avoid last-minute delays.
This is where Melissa Dawson falls behind.
“It will be time to go and I’ll find myself doing last-minute things like getting the baby’s diaper bag ready or putting together my son’s baseball uniform. Then we’re racing to get out the door,” says the mother of three.
Also eliminate distractions and prioritize your to-do list. Turn off or avoid electronics such as the television, computer and telephone when time is tight. And set aside domestic details such as picking up toys or loading the dishwasher until later.
“This is an issue of multitasking, and if you’re not careful it can slow you down,” says Lawhorne. “Focus on your priority—getting out the door. If you can, delegate some responsibilities to your spouse and children.”
Next set an alarm.
“If you’re not used to watching time or easily lose track of it, get a watch or cell phone that has an alarm on it—a kitchen timer works well too,” says Brown. “Set the alarm to go off several minutes before you have to leave as a reminder and to give yourself a margin of error.”
Also carry a calendar with you to enter appointments and activities while you are away from home. Then when you return transfer them to a large family planner, if needed, to stay organized and help order the events of your day. Dawson does this but admits on occasion, over scheduling still occurs.
“Just recently my child had two doctor appointments an hour-and-a-half apart,” she says. “I thought we had plenty of time between the two, but the first doctor was running late then there was traffic. We wound up getting to the second appointment right on time.”
If punctuality problems persist appoint an accountability person. “Recruit someone to be your time coach, at least at first,” says Lawhorne. “It’s helpful to have someone who can keep you on track when you’re trying to make or break a habit.”
Finally set goals and commit to change.
“I’m a firm believer in writing down goals and creating an action plan because it increases the level of commitment,” says Lawhorne. “I call them S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time limited. Set a goal for being on time for events and activities the next month, create a plan for achieving it and then list the benefits and rewards you’ll realize as a result.”
Perhaps the greatest reward will take root and remain with your children. “Parents are potent role models and one of the best lessons we can teach our kids is the importance of time management,” says Brown. “In doing so, we’ll send a lasting message that will permeate into their school, work and personal lives, both now and in the future.”
Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children and six grandchildren.