Tuesday, November 29, 2005

One of Life's Big Mysteries Solved

I think I've stumbled onto the answer to one of life's great mysteries! Remember how when you were a kid, it seemed that time almost stood still? An hour to wait was absolutely forever, and days were nearly incomprehensible? And the adults around you had no clue how hard it was to wait. Remember how frustrating it was? It seemed like no one understood you at all, and if you are like me, it made you feel pretty bad at times.

Well, I think I've solved the mystery. Time, to my adult perspective, seems to be speeding up all the time. Those hugely long, lazy days in my earliest memories have given way to frenzied, hurried days that never seem long enough to accomplish the things that need to be done. For a long while, I thought it was because I was cramming so much more into my days than I did when I was little. Makes sense. When we are a bit bored, time does seem to drag on, while when we are happily occupied, it moves fairly quickly. But that theory still didn't explain why time seems to be speeding up as I get older. Even my boring, slow times seem to be shorter than they used to be.

Here's the real secret. Time really is speeding up for us adults. Each instant of our lives is shrinking in terms of the percentage of total time that we've been on this earth. An hour is a much, much smaller portion of the total amount of time that I've lived now that I'm in my forties as opposed to when I was three. It's almost like unrolling a very long piece of string. When you first start unrolling it, that first inch doesn't seem like very much. And yet, unrolling another small inch doubles the amount of string that has been unwound. That second inch is half of the total! Now that my string has unrolled a few miles, another inch doesn't add very much more, though. An inch is still the same size as it was in the beginning, but it's a much, much smaller piece compared to the entire amount that has been unrolled already. Minutes and hours and days are also unrolling, and they are each a much smaller proportion of my life than they once were. No wonder they seem to be flying by!

Now, all of this has relevence to your baby or toddler. It changes ideas like "wait a minute" and "please hurry" pretty profoundly, don't you think? Little children are notoriously bad at waiting, and now we know why. The time really does seem interminable to them! I hope that you can now view your baby with a bit more understanding in your heart. Waiting truly is very difficult for young children.

How can we adults help? There are several ways to make waiting more bearable for a young child. The first is to give your little one some way to measure the passing time. Use a timer or a digital clock to help your youngster see the passing time more clearly. You can also plan for wait times by having some ideas to help pass the time. Teach your child some simple games that can be used anytime and anywhere. You can play them together as you wait in the doctor's office or while you drive on your way somewhere.

And this also gives a bit of a different perspective on the use of time out as a behavior management tool. For very young children, the guideline is a minute per year of the child's age. This is a good guideline! Remember that waiting is very, very difficult for your child. Even two or three or four minutes of enforced inactivity will seem like an eternity.

So keep this in mind when you are asking your child to wait. It makes a big difference, and you can begin to understand how your child is feeling and what he or she is thinking.

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