Last Minute Demands

Someday is not a day of the week.
—Author unknown

It’s 10 o’clock at night, and your child suddenly panics. She needs to make a poster by tomorrow (and you don’t have any supplies). Or your son needs a brown shirt to use as a beaver costume in a class play—and there isn’t anything brown in your home. Or your child has a big test and begs you to help her study. How do you handle your child’s last-minute demands? Consider these ideas.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Remember that you’re not alone. All parents deal with last-minute demands from their kids. The questions you should ask yourself are: “How do I want to deal with these demands? How can I teach my child not to leave everything until the last minute?”
    • Be resourceful. Some parents joke that they know all the 24-hour stores that stock school supplies. Others think fast. If you don’t have a brown shirt for a beaver costume, you can take a white undershirt and draw the face or entire body of a beaver on it with a brown permanent marker.
    • If you offer to help, be clear about what you will and will not do. Maybe you’ll go with your child to buy the poster, but your child will need to work on it while you get ready for bed.
    • Talk through the experience after it’s over (not while it’s happening). It’s hard for kids to learn when they’re panicked about a project. After they’ve finished it, gotten some sleep, and are relaxed, talk through how to make the experience better for everyone next time.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Do your best to be prepared for taking car rides. That way, when your child screams, “Toy! Toy!” and you’re rummaging through everything to find her favorite toy, at least you’ll have everything else (such as a diaper bag and a snack) ready to go.
    • Help your child think ahead. Say, “After lunch, we’re going to your grandparents’ house. Which books do you want to bring?” That way he can start gathering things before you’re in a time crunch.
    • Model thinking ahead and thinking well on your feet. Children are always watching you, and they’ll learn how to prepare and deal with last-minute demands by the way you handle them. For a helpful article on why parents procrastinate, see Parents.com’s article on procrastination.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • As children begin to read, help them make and read lists. For example, most schools publish a list of school supplies. Go through the list with your child before school starts and gather these items. Keep them all in one place.
    • Ask questions. Sometimes it’s not your child who is placing last-minute demands on you, but a disorganized adult. For example, when your child suddenly brings home a daunting list of items to collect before tomorrow, ask, “When did you get this?” It’s one thing if he says “today.” It’s another thing if he says “last week.”
    • Notice how often you’re rushing to deal with your child’s last-minute demands. If it’s happening rarely, that’s a good sign. If it’s happening all the time, it’s important to teach your child skills on how to manage her time and priorities.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • The teenage brain goes through massive changes during this time, so kids will come up with all kinds of last-minute requests. Be patient. Continue to teach them organizational skills—even if it seems like you taught them years ago and they’ve forgotten it all.
    • Set clear boundaries. Say, “I’ll be happy to read your paper as long as I get it by 8 o’clock. After that, I won’t be able to help you.”
    • Know that a lot of kids’ last-minute plans will fall through. They’re often trying to figure out how to get to the movies, hang out with friends, or do something else. They may figure out some of the details, but often they forget about something important, such as having enough money, having transportation, or getting permission from a parent to go.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Watch for patterns. Some parents notice that their teenagers are always running out of college-ruled paper, number-two pencils for standardized tests, or report covers. If you notice a pattern, stock up on the items that always seem to create a crisis.
    • Discern which last-minute requests are important—and which aren’t. Also, pay attention to what’s important for your teenager. For example, even though you’re not crazy about the electric guitars playing in your basement, sometimes it’s a big boost to your kids when you help them lug amps and equipment so that they can play. For more information about “sparks” and the things that get your kids excited, read Sparks: How Parents Can Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers.
  • Sometimes it’s important to laugh about the crazy things you do to help your teenagers in the middle of the night. (Even if it’s 5 o’clock in the morning following prom and you’re helping your panicked teenager find a missing piece of his tux that he’ll need to return in a few hours.) Share these stories with other parents. You’ll be surprised how many parents say, “I didn’t know other parents did that too!”

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