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Children and the concept of time

A week after my six-year-old daughter started oging to school full time and not coming home for lunch, we discussed her new routine. She asked me if her daddy still came home for lunch. I said he did. She thought a while and then said: "Oh, those were the good old days,m when Daddy and I ate lunch together and watched 'The Munsters' on TV."

To a child, as with Autumn, a week ago can really be the good old days.m And "when I was a baby" is ancient history.

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Children do not share our concept of time, past or future. If you say, "In a month, we will take our trip," they start packing and expect to leave tomorrow. If you say, "We will move next year," they can't comprehend when that will be. A year might seem like an eternity.

Wise parents learn not to promise when things will happen. The smaller the children, the smaller the time segment they can handle. "Please put on your jacket, we're going to the store," is often all the notice a preschooler can bear. If you say at breakfast, "We'll go to the store this afternoon," you may be asked every five minutes, "Is it time to go now?"

On long car trips, children want to know how much farther it is to your destination. It's a good idea to set short-range goals: "In 15 minutes, we'll pass Oak Park, and in a half hour, we'll pass Pontaic." If you say, "We'll be there when it gets dark," have the children check each town along the way so they can see some progress. "Dark" may seem like a long time away.

While my children haven't learned to gauge time very well, I've noticed they're quite good at procrastination. Next week is too long to wait to go to Grandpa's house, but next week is an OK time to finish cleaning their rooms. With chores, "right now" works better than "next Tuesday."

It's a great relief to children when they learn to tell time. It puts them at ease. When they are told, "Be home at five o'clock," they must keep asking a playmate's parents what time it is. Watching the clock hands move helps them appreciate that they still have time to play or that they must go home soon.

Once Autumn asked her daddy what time to be home and he said, "December second." She ran off to play at John's house. Pretty soon John's mother phoned and wanted to know what time De cember second was. They had a good laugh about it.

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