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Children Under 7 Have No Concept of Time: Helping Kids Understand ‘Time’.

Have you ever said to your kid, “We’re leaving in five minutes!” The time comes and they totally blow you off? Or, they legitimately ask you 399 times in the car “are we there yet?” even though you told them that the GPS says 10 more minutes?! Or, thirty seconds before you leave the house, they get involved with imaginary play? Even though you’ve been telling them all along that we’re leaving “in a few minutes“?

It’s because young kids have a very limited concept of time. For babies and young toddlers, you can just about forget about it. They live so much in the present moment, every moment to them is new and fresh. This is why kids can be crying one minute and laughing the next. It’s very beautiful, but can be super frustrating for us adults who are stuck in the world of time!

Don’t you remember, as a kid, how long everything felt? I remember summer vacation feeling like an eternity! And long car trips were torturous because I thought I might die of old age before we ever reached our destination. Or, the reverse. I would go out to play in the backyard, and get lost in time, playing with sticks and leaves and mud.

It’s interesting to see when children, roughly around the age of 7 or 8, start learning about time passing. They very gradually start understanding how ‘short‘ a minute feels or how ‘long’ an hour feels. Kids at this age start to ‘get it‘ if you tell them they have to leave in 5 minutes. A younger child might ‘get it‘ that when you say 5 minutes, you mean ‘soon‘, but they can’t really ‘feel‘ 5 minutes. Does that make sense?

Anyway, time is a funny thing even for adults! I like to use the example of when I have a very deep meditation. I can be sitting there for half an hour and it feels like 5 minutes! And how about sleep?! You can’t really tell how long you’ve been asleep for. Sometimes you can guess, but there are often times when you’re surprised. Or, how about when a busy day at work that just seems to fly by? Time is weird for adults and even weirder for children!

But, let’s say you need a young child to have some sort of awareness of time and your schedule. Here are somethings you can say other than ‘five more minutes‘ or whatever, that will help your child to understand what needs to happen so that you can get to bed, get in the car, or do whatever you need to do, in a timely fashion.

Instead of giving your child a time frame, give them specific things, like a sequence of events, to help them understand what needs to happen.

  • “After you take a shower, and brush your teeth, then we’ll read a book.”
  • “Ten more swings and then we quickly have to go or we’re going to be late for swimming.”
  • “After we both use the toilet, we need to get our shoes on, and then we’ll get in the car.”
  • “I’m going to cook dinner, then after we clean up, we’ll go for a walk.”
  • “We have to eat lunch first, and then we’re going to play with your friend.”
  • “Once we get off the motorway and turn right, then we’ll be there.”
  • “Your birthday is in three sleeps” (instead of saying 3 days)

They’re really simple words to use, but the way we talk to our children about time can be so useful in helping the family flow from one activity to the next. Saying “five more minutes” hardly means anything to them or “hurry up” doesn’t always make sense! But, giving them a sequence of what needs to happen before they move to the next activity, will give them a much more concrete idea other than telling them the number of minutes.

I find that speaking to children like this about time also helps ME to stay on track! How many times do I say that we’re leaving soon, but then keep talking to a friend for another 15 minutes?! If I say, “Ok, go down the slide a few more times times and then we’ll leave” then I also become more focused and they take my ‘time warning’ more serious!

Kids will start getting the concept of time at a certain age. There’s no need to teach it to them. Actually, it’s quite impossible to teach them about it when they’re so little. It’s much easier to speak to them in ways that they can understand how you need them to move and when!


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