My kids are from Planet Slow. It takes us a ridiculously long time to get ready for a simple walk to the park. On the kids’ end, they only need to pee and put on shoes, but these two simple tasks take forever. Getting out the door to go to school in the morning is even worse. The more I try to hurry them along with phrases like “hurry up!”, “we’re late!”, “we’re running out of time!”, the slower they move. Probably because they’re trying to figure out what the heck ‘running out of time’ means. Even the ultimate threat, “if we don’t move faster you’ll miss circle time!”, is met with a blank stare and a marked slowdown.
I often find myself frustrated that I can’t make Katherine and Clara move faster. I take pride in my efficiency and punctuality; the ability to power through my daily to-do list is a major source of job satisfaction. Kids are a direct obstacle to efficiency and punctuality, and their sloth-like tendencies can drive me crazy. Nevertheless, I love that they are not tied to the clock, always aware of what time it is, always looking ahead to what needs to be done next. It is one of the wonders of childhood, to not be burdened by time, and I want to preserve it for them.
But how? How do we balance this aspect of childhood with efficiency, and quite frankly, practicality? We have to keep a schedule, get to school on time, move at a reasonable pace. If we spend 30 minutes walking two blocks to the park, Katherine and Clara don’t have time to run and climb before we have to come home for dinner. And they need to run and climb at the park, because if they don’t, they’ll just do it in the living room and on the furniture when we get home. How do we coordinate our time constraints, which are perfectly valid and necessary, with a child’s (nonexistent) concept of time?
The standard answer is better planning. “Leave extra time so you don’t have to rush,” everyone says. But in my experience, this is not sufficient. I don’t think it is possible to leave enough time for Katherine to tie her shoes at her own pace. She could probably spend most of the day tying and retying her shoes to perfection. As usual when I struggle with a parenting challenge, I consult our local experts (aka, Katherine and Clara’s teachers). They recommended the simple solution of slowing down. Here are the specifics of what I’m working on:
1. Move at half-speed. This is counterintuitive as I often think if I move faster, the kids will move faster. But frantically trying to get everything ready and calling out instructions from across the kitchen while filling a water bottle projects a sense of urgency that just distracts them. Taking my time as I get ready helps them focus on their tasks. If I slow down, they speed up.
2. Make requests slowly. When I stop what I’m doing, look Clara in the eye, and speak a request simply, slowly and deliberately, “Clara, you may put on your shoes now,” she usually does it right then and there. Magic.
3. Set aside time for activities with absolutely no agenda. Planning outings with no final destination gets me more cooperation on outings that are about getting somewhere. For example, I can say to Clara, “This is a park outing. You can stop and count every single flower petal on the entire rose bush on our walking outing tomorrow,” which is much nicer than “Let’s go! We don’t have time to stop.” Plus Clara knows she will get a chance to count every petal because walking outings are part of our routine.
Although these strategies are straightforward and effective, I admit they don’t come naturally and can be hard to implement. Half-speed, slow and deliberate, no agenda… these are concepts that threaten my daily productivity. But when I make the effort to slow down, I achieve a better balance between my schedule and their pace. I even find myself appreciating their pace. It is freeing to let go of the rushing about, and when I get into the groove of slowing down, I find myself relaxing into the day and enjoying all the slow moments with the kids. Moments without the burden of time.
Katherine’s morning shoe routine.