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Parent vs. Child Perception of Time

Updated on February 28, 2013

I was getting my kids ready for school one day when I asked my son to put his shoes on. “In a minute!”, he replied. My daughter immediately spoke up with, “Is that a regular minute or a Mario minute?”. She was referring to all the times he has said, “In a minute” while playing his Nintendo DS. Those minutes invariably turn into 30-minute intervals. Children’s perception of time often differs from an adult’s perception of time, and understanding the difference and how to deal with it can help make a stressful situation a little more serene.

  • Time Passes More Slowly for Children

Children's brains are very active, soaking up information constantly. The world is full of new and exciting developments and objects. Each minute is perceived acutely, and time seems to drag by at a snail's pace. Think back to a summer day when you were a child. You probably wake up, eat your breakfast, then run to get your shoes on. As you head for the door, you might hear your mother shout, "Don't forget to be home before dark". As you head out into the world, you notice the insects crawling on the sidewalk, and you stop to inspect further. You notice how the insect walks and watch as it picks up a scrap of food. You eventually carry on and meet your friend. As you play ball, you notice each nuance of the game. You spend an eternity playing and exploring. The day lasts forever. This is the child's perception of time.

Adults, however, are often surprised at how fast time flies by. In general, adults still gauge the duration of seconds, minutes and hours fairly accurately. The distortion comes when adults try to gauge time that has gone by - the previous months or years, for example. Part of the reason for this is that, as adults, life brings us fewer new, exciting stimuli and more routines and habits. Because we have fewer new memories to measure how much time has passed, an average month that doesn't seem important in your memory bank provides the illusion that time has shrunk.

Measure Your Perception of Time

  • Click one of the numbers in the center circle on this website to gauge your perception of the passage of time.

  • How to Slow Down the Passage of Time

Sometimes adults don't want time to slow down. Studies report that time goes slower when we do something we hate to do, when we are depressed, when we're sick, or when we feel rejected. However, at times when you want time to pass more slowly, there are some tips and tricks to make that happen.

  1. Make sure you have new experiences often. Don't spend your evenings sitting in front of the TV. Do something new.
  2. Live in the "Now". Do you spend most of time time thinking about the future or the past? Be in the present and focus on what you're doing each minute.
  3. Do something you love to do. Doing things you love to do can help you remember time more clearly when you look back on it.

  • Dealing with the Difference

As a parent, how many times have you heard the dreaded phrase, "I'm bored!"? While parents often find an extra 10 minutes to mean, "Thank goodness - I get a little break", ten minutes to your child can often mean, "I need something fun to do!". Just knowing that your kids perceive time differently can go a long way to quelling tension. It's still necessary to teach your kids patience, but it also might help to have something for them to do nearby. I spent an hour one day surfing the internet and copying hundreds of activities my kids could do - arts, crafts, science experiments, etc. I pasted each one into Microsoft Word, then printed out the 300-page book and titled it the "Mom, I'm Bored! book". I gave one to each child and told them that, if they ever want to tell me they're bored, they would have to pick up this book and find themselves an activity to do. It ended the dreaded, "Mom, I'm bored" that I used to hear repeatedly.


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