Always Running Late

Develop Time Management Skills

Use a Stopwatch

Your child is always running late to activities and rushing to complete homework. As a result, your child misses important parts of lessons, risks incomplete or incorrect homework, and is deprived of the sense of responsibility that results from being prompt.

Teenagers occasionally run late and rush around trying to fit everything they need to do into their day. But when your child is chronically late and stressed even for regular activities, it could indicate that your child is struggling to develop time management skills.

Time management is one of our executive functions: the set of skills that let us execute daily tasks.

Solution: Building a reliable internal clock using a stopwatch.

Building a more accurate internal clock can help your child to overcome problems with time management and develop this critical skill. The internal clock-building process involves using a stopwatch to teach your child how to recognize the actual duration of an activity — and how that matches up with his own pace/style of work. A better grasp of these two parts of the equation translates into better time management choices and skills.

Don’t do this: Ask your child to budget his time or to start a project especially early.

Do this instead: Sit with your child and ask him to try a few exercises using a stop watch. First, point out to him a common assumption: that things he likes will go very quickly, and things he doesn’t like will go slowly. For instance, he may feel as though he has watched TV for 20 minutes, but it has been one hour. Alternatively, he may worry that cleaning his room will take an hour, but in reality it takes only 20 minutes. Or, loading the dishwasher: Maybe seven minutes in reality, versus the 35 minutes spent dreading and fighting about it. Try such an exercise with your child. But first let him know that you’ll tell him when five minutes has passed so he can know what that feels like. However, he should continue with the activity until it’s finished.

To complete the exercise, ask your child to:

  • Pick an activity he can do at home.
  • Write down how long the activity is expected to take.
  • Start the activity while you time him using a stop watch on your smart phone.
  • Notice the five-minute mark when you alert him.
  • Stop the watch when he stops the activity.

This exercise will help develop time management skills by:

  • Comparing perceived time to actual time
  • Thinking about what five minutes feels like
  • Raising awareness about how long an undesirable activity actually takes
  • Helping your child realize, and be realistic about, how long his attention to a task lasts before he needs to take a break and do other things

The next time your child does an activity, ask him to factor in the things he learned during the exercise. Do this exercise sporadically with other activities, until your child closes the gap between perceived and actual time — and starts to be on time with his better handle on time.

Remember: Time management skills are difficult to master and don’t reflect your child’s sense of responsibility or seriousness about a task. These executive function skills depend on gauging time accurately and recognizing how the passage of time matches with work patterns.

It is perfectly normal for children to experience some degree of difficulty and frustration as they learn to execute new tasks. Toddlers can tantrum, school-aged children can yell and argue, and teenagers can ignore instructions. When deciding if executive function weaknesses require intervention, ask yourself: “How frequently is this occurring? How intense is the experience/significant the impact?” If your answer to these questions is “too much,” “too often,” “I don’t know what to do to change this,” or “it’s only getting worse,” you may benefit from a face-to-face conversation to help problem-solve your concern. Effective problem solving will help you clearly identify the problem, goal, steps it will take to achieve your goal, possible barriers, and available supports.

What to Expect

You and your child or adolescent will meet with a pediatric neuropsychologist for approximately one hour. 

Executive Function Interventions

These interventions aim to create new habits that can sidestep or override a child’s cognitive challenges.