“My 14-year-old son is late for everything. It’s always, “In a minute,” or “I’m almost ready.” He’s not a bad kid, but he just doesn’t seem to understand that there are people waiting for him. The last straw was when he made us miss the beginning of our daughter’s high school play recently, even though he had hours to get ready. What can we do to make him get with the program?”
It’s part of the nature of childhood and adolescence to be disorganized, and one of the consequences is that you’ll see kids who are late a lot. Remember, we’re dealing with a thing called childhood, and let’s face it, part of growing up and maturing is learning how to organize yourself and your life in a way that fits in with the world. Think of it this way: when our children are young, they have nothing to do but play, go to school, do their chores and get their homework done. But as they grow and develop, kids need to learn how to take more responsibility to be organized and on time.
I do want to be clear here about something: parents have to be very careful about being excessively rigid with their children about time. Keep in mind that kids are highly distractible by nature and the development of the neurological system takes a long time. The rate of maturity isn’t the same for every child: some kids dawdle at three, some at five, some at eight years of age. And some might be more prone to dawdling than others because their brains haven’t matured yet, or because of other factors, like ADHD or ADD.
If your child is chronically late, a host of different reasons might be behind their seeming lack of motivation to get ready. It might be because they’re not committed to their schedules or to the activity they’re supposed to be doing next. Or they’re trying to avoid something they don’t like or that’s anxiety-provoking for them, like an exam at school. And sometimes they’re simply not yet able to organize themselves in a way that will help them get ready quickly and easily. Parents have to take these things into consideration when figuring out how to best manage their individual child’s schedule. For instance, if your child doesn’t seem to be able to get it together for soccer practice after school, you need to sit down and help him figure out what’s realistic and what’s got to happen—what his specific responsibilities are—in order to leave the house at 3:15 and be on time.
5 Ways to Get Your Child Moving and on Time
If your child is chronically late because he’s not taking responsibility for his schedule, I think there are a couple of simple things you can do to help him learn how to be on time more consistently.
The important thing is to hold your child responsible in some measurable way. As kids get older, you really have to be very strong about these things, because later on in life when they’re employed or in college—when nobody’s keeping score or nagging them—they’re going to pay. If they haven’t internalized the need to follow a schedule and to respect the kind of structure it gives their life, there’s a greater likelihood that they’re going to fall behind and not meet their responsibilities.
If you’re playing the odds, hold your child accountable now. Help them develop that structure today so that later on in life, it’s just a natural part of their daily functioning.
James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.