It’s 8:15 a.m., you’re rushing around trying to pack lunches, searching for the toddler’s other shoe, wondering where you put your phone, knowing you have to get everyone out the door in five minutes if you have any hope of getting to work on time – and your six-year-old appears in the doorway in nothing but his underwear.
Your patience is shot, so you explode, and by 8:16 everyone’s morning is ruined.
As any busy parent knows, the more rushed you are, the slower your children seem to move, and it can be one of the most frustrating parts of parenting. However, a technique known as “Target Time” can help alleviate some of the frustration, not only for you but also for your children.
First, you’ll have to do some research: What time should everyone be completely ready to walk out the door in order to be on time? Designate that as your “target time.” (Be sure to allow some wiggle room for getting children buckled into car seats and any other little challenges that may pop up.)
Next, choose a specific location where everyone should be at the target time. It can be the family room sofa, the kitchen table, or the foyer – just make sure there’s enough room for everyone involved.
Third, establish a checklist of items that must be completed before you hit target time. These might include: getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, shoes on, lunch packed, wearing a backpack. It might be helpful for younger children to have these items in picture form on a laminated piece of paper, with a dry erase marker to check them off as they go. Older children (and even adults) will do fine with a list posted on the wall.
Finally, call a family meeting (at a time when you aren’t rushed) to announce target time. Tell family members what you expect them to do before target time, where you expect them to be, and when you expect them to be there. (For younger children who can’t yet tell time, putting a brightly colored piece of tape on a wall clock to show them the place where the minute hand should be at target time may be helpful.)
– To make target time even more effective and appealing, establish some incentives for kids to be in place and ready to go at the target time. It can be a small treat for everyone who is there on time -like a small piece of candy (mini marshmallows work great) or a sticker on a chart (if you choose to do stickers, be sure to build in a little extra time to allow for children to attach stickers to charts).
– Set your child up for success: Don’t expect them to suddenly remember and adhere to target times. Remind them prior to each target time that “target time is coming.” Ask them what else they need to do to be ready for it, and encourage them to do their best to hit their target. Soon, they’ll be able to hit their target time without additional guidance from you.
– Use multiple target times throughout the day to allow for different activities: Being in a seat at the table for mealtimes, for example, or sitting in bed in their pajamas at bedtime. Not only does this keep the day moving along for everyone involved, it also gives children the secure stability of a regular routine.
– Use target times for yourself as a parent: Do you always feel like you’re rushing to throw in a load of laundry before you head out the door for work? Determine that you will have a load going no later than 7 a.m. every day. You can use this for other positive habits as well, like deciding to read your child a story at 8 p.m. in the evening. Attaching personal goals to specific times of day will not only help you stay on schedule but will make you more likely to achieve those goals on a regular basis.
– Adjust as needed: You may find after a few days that you’re still running behind even with a target time in place. If that’s the case, move your target time back another five minutes -or as much as is needed- and keep doing so until your routine feels more comfortable. Soon you’ll find the routine that works for you and your family.