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The Impatient Zone

Kids and Time

"Are we there yet?," the backseat asks. Uh oh. You have just entered The Impatient Zone.

Why Are Kids Impatient?

Put simply, kids are impatient because "now" is all they know. You see, without a lot life experience and nascent memory skills, little ones have no real sense of the concept of "past." Without "past" there is no understanding of the far more complex concept of "future." And “future” is what all the waiting is about. 


How Kids Learn About Time

For young children time isn't real because it's not tangible. They can't see it or touch it.  Yet for time-strapped parents, it's hard to imagine the very thing that rules our lives can be so illusive - so NOT-real - to kids.  So here’s how time comes into focus for them...


MAKING IT REAL. Kids learn about time by moving through it.

At first it may be noticing the difference between day and night -- light and dark. Next, they may begin to associate time with routine things such as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

For kids, time isn't real because it's not tangible.

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Kids learn about time by moving through it.

SEQUENCING. Next comes the idea of the passage of time when they begin to grasp the idea of sequencing (before/after, first/second/third, etc.). Putting on your socks before you put on your shoes is the kind of tangible sequence that will eventually unlock abstract concepts such as "past" and "future."


TIME MEASUREMENT. Actual increments of time -- seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc. -- are far more sophisticated concepts that will come with experience and language acquisition over time.


TELLING TIME. And finally, the ability to read the clock will emerge as they being to recognize and understand numbers and number sequencing, and relating those numbers to the time-based events in their lives.

Time Language

Like so many things, time concepts unfold naturally through everyday experiences and the words they hear from you. So choosing your words about time is important. After all, what does "in a minute" mean to a little one who doesn't yet understand how long a minute actually is.


Here are some of the time-based words we use casually in everyday conversation. Try to imagine what these actually mean to your child, and ask yourself, is there any wonder they get impatient?

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What You Can Do to Help

To help your child get an understanding of time, they have to get a "feel" for it. And one of the things you can do is use time language that is specific, contextual, and descriptive. A few examples...



Soon means nothing. Instead, choose a specific time then set the timer, explaining that when it rings, it will be time to play.



If you can't be specific, put time in context for them, such as, "I'll play later, after dinner."


"I'LL PLAY TOMORROW."            

When time is too abstract or too long for them to imagine, be even more specific. For instance, "After we wake up in the morning, it will be tomorrow and then I'll play with you."


Now, there’s no guarantee that precision time language will keep you out of The Impatient Zone entirely. But a little clarity and patience on your part may make those trips through "The Zone" easier to navigate.

Time Promises

And one last thing. When you show up when you say you will, you're not only teaching them the value of time, your teaching them the importance of keeping your word.


And on that subject, every minute counts.

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