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Getting the Hang of Time


Many adults struggle to understand when (if) their children have difficulties with executive functions.  That’s because all those connections have already been made in our brains.  It’s hard to understand how you could lose your understanding of the beginning of a paragraph by the end of it.  And, to imagine that children don’t fully grasp the passage of time is even harder to come to grips with.  After all, time is measured, it doesn’t change, right?

It’s true that time is measured, but as adults, we take our ability to measure time for granted.  We’ve had a long time to get used to our internal clocks.  To us, they don’t just tick in the background – they thud.  But for children (and adults) that struggle with executive functions, time is a little more fluid.  It doesn’t feel as linear as it is for others.

Challenges Caused by a Weak Sense of Time

It’s fairly simple to determine whether your child struggles with a weak sense of time.  Fluid time results in constant lateness and a lack of motivation.  Underestimating the time required to complete a task is common, as is missing deadlines.  This is very different than working well under pressure at the last minute.  In fact, it is the opposite.  Often those with a weak sense of time spend a lot of time working on the wrong things.  When faced with a project left for the last minute, people that struggle with weak executive functions will often begin with the absolute least important task.  That’s because they simply do not understand how long the entire project will take.

If your child displays any or all of these symptoms, it is very likely that he struggles to grasp time fully.  It’s important to remember that although you might have a very real sense of what five minutes or one hour means, your child cannot tell when that amount of time has lapsed.

Learning How to Monitor the Passage of Time

Fortunately, time is linear and measured.  That means that there are plenty of tactics and strategies you can use to make it easier for those with a weak sense of time.  Some of these tips will not seem effective if you can hear the metronome in your head.  But, they are extremely helpful when time is fluid.

For a start, it’s important to include many different reminders of the time.  This includes clocks (as many as possible), watches and any other ways you can think to mark the passage of time including calendars.

Alarms and reminders, especially when set to specific intervals, will help everyone stay on track.  And that automatically feeds into the idea of a schedule.  It’s important to use a calendar or schedule time using an online planner.  Although the idea is to make time less fluid, scheduling still should be.  It’s important to teach those with executive function deficiencies how to make adjustments.  (HINT: It’s always wise to use time and a half estimates.)

Learning to See Time

Another key strategy revolves around helping students learn to “see” the passage of time.  A large, analog clock with a glass face and some dry erase markers can do wonders for seeing time.  Once you’ve budgeted a certain amount of time, shade in that block of time on the clock, so that they can “see” time moving as they go. Set a timer to go off at the halfway point, at which point the student should check-in, and see how they’re doing. Did we budget enough time? Do we need to add more? This helps to make time less fluid and helps to teach a student what a block of time like 15 minutes “feels like.”

If you’re looking for more strategies to help your child deal with a weak sense of time, then stay tuned.  We’ll delve deeper into this topic next week.  And, if you’re really battling, don’t hesitate to give us a call.  We’d love to help you instill time management techniques in your child’s world while she’s busy building her executive functions.