When I was a teenager, I opened up a fortune cookie and found a very apropos message inside that said, “Your ability to juggle many tasks will take you far.” Fast forward 20 years and I need that fortune to be accurate as I strive to be an involved parent and good husband while juggling a full-time job and two part-time jobs.

I learned time management from a young age by being heavily involved in school, sports, and other activities. I also balanced a part-time job when I got a little older. And it was my parents who helped show me the importance and necessity of managing my time and using it to my advantage.

Young children exist purely on their own schedules. They do what they want, when they want, and how they want, despite our protestations. But I’ve found that there are some tricks to teaching a young child some time-management skills. And it’s a vital skill for them to learn.

From an early age, our children are juggling demanding class schedules, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and, as they get older, jobs. Colleges are expecting strong resumes for acceptance and that puts more and more pressure on young people to accomplish multiple goals and accomplish them competently. 

Here are a few ways to begin teaching younger children time management so they’ll have a leg up in the future.

1. Show Your Kids a Clock and Make Sure They Understand the Basics of Time

Give them a task, like cleaning up their room or feeding the pets, and tell them they need to try and have it completed before the little hand reaches a specific number. Help them to figure out the steps needed to complete the task, how long each step should take, and when they should hope to be done.

2. Find an Egg Timer and Give Them a Chore to Do

Help them to figure out how long the job should take and to give themselves a realistic amount of time to get the job done. Set the timer and see how they do. Once they finish, critique how they did and where they could improve the next time.

3. Make a List of All the Things That You Need to Accomplish That Day

And ask your children to help you prioritize the list and decide which to do first. As you go through the to-do list, cross off the completed items. If there are chores or errands you didn’t get to, explain why and how you chose which to get done and which could wait.

4. Make Downtime an Efficient Use of Time

Throughout the day there is often downtime. We might be waiting at a doctor’s office, waiting to pick someone up or simply have a few minutes to rest and relax. Remind your child that even when there is downtime, there might be something they could get done, like homework, making important phone calls, or searching for a job.

5. Allow Appropriate Screen Time

With the advent of smartphones we are never bored. There is always an app or social media awaiting us. But it’s important for children to know they can always plan ahead for the day and have textbooks or virtual books stored in their smartphone to read on the way to school or to an athletic event. If our children learn from an early age about the ease and efficacy of completing their to-do lists, they’ll be better prepared for the rigors of college and life.

6. Turn Them Into Goal-Setters

Many of our time management skills are tested on a day-to-day basis with items to accomplish at home, work, or school. But we also have those long-term to-do lists that require extensive planning and preparation. Help your children to understand those types of projects by setting a realistic date to begin or end them, putting that date on a calendar and setting realistic goals along the way. When the date arrives discuss with your children whether the goals have been met and why or why not?

This might seem like a lot of work to your kids. And they might not see the benefit right away or even for a long while. Remind your children that when they meet their goals or get their work done, they should step back and reward themselves. Whether it’s buying something they want or taking some time to indulge in a favorite activity, it’s healthy and helpful to savor their accomplishments.