“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.

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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.

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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.

  • State your expectations and let your child face the consequences of their lateness. You can say, “We leave the house at eight a.m. If you’re not ready, I’m going, and you can walk to school.” For kids who are older, this is the perfect thing. You may think they’re not going to go to school, but believe me, most kids want to be there; they’re just feeling disorganized and perhaps they don’t want to face the academics that they have to deal with that day. If you have a child who’s chronically late for school, leave them home, let them take the bus. Or let them miss the bus and walk to school.
  • Don’t excuse their lateness: If your child is tardy or misses school because he or she is not taking the responsibility to get ready and get there on time, don’t give them an excused absence. Don’t write them a note. Tell the school what happened and let your child pay the consequences for their lateness.
  • Use an alarm clock from an early age. Put an alarm clock in your child’s room from an early age. This will teach them that they have the responsibility to wake up and follow a schedule. By the way, I think it’s easier if it’s introduced when someone’s really young—it’s part of the message to kids that they have to learn how to organize their lives as they grow.
  • Make them pay for their lateness—literally. Another thing you can do, especially with younger kids, is to charge them for their lateness. So tell them, “For every minute we have to wait for you, you’re losing five minutes of video game time.” For older kids, it might be five minutes of cell phone time. And if you have to, make it ten minutes. This is effective because now, when your child makes other people late, there’s some cost to them also. They feel it a little more.
  • Let your child miss practice. It’s okay to let kids miss practices. If your child can’t get ready on time, he misses practice. If he misses practice once or twice, he won’t miss them anymore, and if his coach doesn’t like it, he can sit on the back bench for a while until he becomes better at organizing his schedule.

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.

About

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.

Comments (7)
  • Amy

    My 13 year old is slow moving and low energy. Her whole life she has been chronically late and also the grouchiest person in my life. We have always used a alarm clock, tried setting timers of when breakfast needed to be done, rewards for being in the car on time (longer playtime in the evening), consequences for not getting out on time (early bedtime that night). As a small child, I have handed her to the daycare provider in a blanket because she refused to let me dress her. As an elementary student, I have left her home when I had to leave for work and let her explain herself to the principal the next day. Now as a middle schooler, I told her she needs to ride a bike to school if she misses the bus. It is 5 miles and she is not confident at all on a bike. I took her on a practice run before school started mostly so she could see how challenging it would be. She missed the bus yesterday in spite of being up an hour before she needed to leave. She pouted for a while before finally starting the bike ride. An hour later, she messaged me and said she was lost, hot and crying and needed me to come get her. She doesn't have a phone, just an ipod so she needed to find wifi to message me, can't use the ipod for directions. Yes, I take away her ipod a a consequence too but she needed a way to message me when she got to school. I was in the middle of a work meeting so she had to wait about an hour and then I had to waste 45 min of my work day to drive her to school. We practiced the ride again last night; as a consequence we will do it every night this week. It takes a huge amount of time because she doesn't bike well, takes almost all of my "free" (housework, dinner, helping kids with homework) time in the evening. Today, she was slow moving and nearly missed the bus again; I packed her lunch, her backpack, her gym clothes, her instrument/music; she would have missed the bus if I hadn't been a crutch.

    Nothing changes her behavior and I am running out of time - I've got less than 5 years left to try and help her be a functioning adult. It is unfair to my younger child that she requires so much extra parenting and there is no time left for me to spend with him.

    Any advice is welcome.

    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent CoachEP Coach
      I hear you. It sounds like you have been dealing with your daughter’s challenges with getting ready in the morning for quite some time now, and I understand the pressure you are feeling to change this behavior now that she is in middle school. It sounds like youMore have been very clear with your daughter that it’s her responsibility to get herself ready on time in the morning, and that if she isn’t, she will experience the consequences associated with that. I encourage you to continue to hold her accountable to her morning routine moving forward. In addition, I encourage you to keep in mind that consequences by themselves do not change behavior. Consequences can make kids uncomfortable with their actions, yet they do not teach kids what to do differently next time. In order for your daughter to change, she will need to develop more effective skills for getting ready in the mornings, despite her lack of energy and grouchiness. I encourage you to have a conversation with her about what she will do differently tomorrow morning to get herself ready to meet the bus on time. You can find some tips on how to structure this discussion in The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: “I Can’t Solve Problems”. I realize how challenging this must be for you, and I hope that you will write back and let us know how things are going for you and your daughter. Take care.
  • ErikaBadu
    I appreciate your article as most other articles I came across seem to focus only on being late in the morning and ways to wake the teenagers wake up earlier. In our experience however, our 14 yo daughter seem to be late for various events (including school) but she seemsMore to manage just fine for other events!!!. It appears it boils down to motivation. We have taken away privileges and followed many of the advices but nothing seems to work and the most frustrating part is that at the end we get blamed for her being late by ... not driving fast; distracting her; yelling at her; ... you name it. She is even sometimes late to birthday parties of her friends, etc. In those cases we don't even bother getting frustrated with her any more. I am almost wondering if the anxiety of being late can secret hormones/chemicals that can lead to addictive behavior!!! From where I am sitting, it looks like she's only on time to events where there is a chance of her being publicly embarrassed (or ashamed). But I don't think that's a good solution either.
  • moms

    I have a 14 year old son as well and he's always late for school. I have tried what was said, but it doesn't seem to work. I've taken wifi and video game privileges away from my son and it's like he's okay with it. I am seriously considering calling his school and have a principal talk to him but I'm afraid they'll do more than that. I am in the process of having him assessed for ADHD because I myself have it as well. Sometimes I see myself in him because I am can be late here and there too for appointments. I know that lateness is a lack of responsibility, but I am running out of ideas on how to teach him to be more responsible, with his time and especially homework. It's just me and him so it should be easy right, but it's not. The other thing I struggle with him is to have him help around the house, but that's another post!

    What should I do when all seems not to work?

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      @moms 

      It can be challenging when your child continues to be late,

      despite receiving consequences for doing so.  It sounds like you have

      already taken steps to hold him accountable by taking away video games and

      wifi, in addition to having him assessed.  One other step you might try is

      having a https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/ with your son about specific steps he can take to help him

      leave on time.  After all, if he doesn’t know what to do differently to

      change this pattern, it is likely to continue.  Thank you for your

      question; please be sure to write back and let us know how it’s going! Take

      care.

  • kiransg
    My teen age boy of grade 12 is always late , I want him to reach 5 min before time but he is always late by 5 mins - help
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      kiransg 

      It can be very frustrating when your child doesn’t appear to

      value punctuality as much as you do.  James offers many useful techniques

      in the article above, and I encourage you to give them a try.  In

      addition, I also recommend starting where your son is, and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-consequences-arent-enough-part-1-how-to-coach-your-child-to-better-behavior/.  In other words, you might consider setting an initial

      goal of being ready on time if he is always 5 minutes late, rather than being

      early.  Thank you for writing in; take care.

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