“Hurry up or we’ll be late!” How many times have I uttered those words in agitation? Or “Hurry up and finish so we can ______.” All parents struggle with this on some level, because kids don’t necessarily operate on our time schedule, but some kids in particular are just…s l o w. There is no rushing them. They will get there when they get there, and no amount of yelling, bribing, threatening, and pleading will hasten their arrival. If you have a child like this, you are keenly aware that activities that can be accomplished in 5 minutes by one child, take your child 10 minutes. It takes FOREVER (it seems) for your child to tie his shoes, brush his teeth, do an assignment, eat dinner – pretty much ALL THE THINGS.
Today I want to bless you to know that there is nothing wrong with your child. And there’s nothing wrong with you, either. Your child is simply wired differently by his Creator, and happens to live in a society that does not match his inherent values. However, this does not spell doom for the slow-paced child if you can help him understand those differences and see the benefits of society’s values that sometimes conflict with his. But before you can do this, you need to first understand and value what makes your slow-paced child tick. What God revealed to me – after much time on my knees, pleading for understanding – is that my slow-paced son is endowed by his Creator with the following gifts:
- A sense of pride in work and desire to be the best in everything he does, which means he works to please himself more than others.
- Total focus on whatever the work is in front of him, which often precludes an awareness of time.
- A drive for craftsmanship in every endeavor, stemming from an innate desire for creative expression.
- A capacity for deep thinking and desire to fully engage in something that is mentally stimulating.
These are all things to celebrate! Because of these unique qualities, he operates on a different time-table than the rest of us. God-gift #1 causes him to be careful and conscientious in all he does, which means he takes his time to do things well. (“Well” simply means it meets his standards, not necessarily mine.) Some kids are negatively labeled as a “perfectionist,” but this is insulting to the child who takes pride in a job well done. It seems contradictory to tell a child to “do his best” in one breath, then say, “Just hurry up and finish – it doesn’t have to be perfect!” in the next because if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well in his eyes. A job well done – or at least done to his satisfaction – is very important to the child, and this value carries the weight of a moral high ground. To surrender this high ground is to betray one’s very self, in the eyes of the child. So the first step in helping your child to function in a fast-paced society is to recognize and appreciate why he moves so slowly, and not devalue his good intentions. Before he will listen to your desires, you must respect his.
God-gift #2 means that he needs to shut out all distractions in order to do his best (which we established in gift #1 as not being optional). Not only does this child need a distraction-free zone to work, he wants to be fully engaged in his work and not limited by time-constraints. As we’ll see later on, this can be managed through strategic planning, but it is essential that this child feels like his need for an environment that is conducive for concentration is respected (even though it’s not always possible to accommodate).
God-gift #3 is a driving factor in the slow-paced child’s life because creativity is his life-blood. He is compelled to express creativity in all he does – whether the job demands creativity or not. My husband – who is cut from the same cloth as my son – could never just dash off a spelling sentence when he was a child in school. Every sentence had to be a creative masterpiece, so homework took a looooooooong time. Today, he can’t just send a quick email without multiple edits and creative expression. But you know what? He’s an awesome writer and it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him! If creativity is in your child’s blood, it’s important for you to value that and delight in it. Yes, it means everything will take longer because every assignment is an opportunity for creative expression, but that very creativity may one day be the gift that changes the world. Don’t quench the fire – fan the flame!
God-gift #4 contributes perhaps the most to the slow-paced child’s challenges because mentally-stimulating activities and deep thinking are incredibly satisfying. You may be raising a scientist or philosopher who is driven to ponder and work out complex ideas. This can present itself as an attention deficit, but it’s because the child is wired to pay more attention to the thoughts within him than to what’s being presented around him. The slow-paced child likes to take time and work the thing out fully – whatever “the thing” is – because the working-it-out part is what brings him satisfaction, not the completion of the job itself. These kids derive pleasure from the process of working on something mentally stimulating, not turning an assignment in. These are all good things. But they cause stress because we live in a world in which:
- There are time constraints on almost all activities, and the expectations are based on the time the job takes to be completed by someone who works quickly and likely gives the least effort.
- Most employers will say they value quality work, but in actuality, they value quantity of output more than quality because of the time constraints mentioned above.
- Not every activity is innately creative, so investing creative energy in every activity is wasteful in terms of productivity, and productivity is valued more than creativity in most places.
- Not every activity is mentally stimulating, so those that aren’t get avoided by the slow-paced child and put off in favor of more interesting activities, and this procrastination leads to additional stress as work piles up.
So what can we, as parents, do to help our kids function in a world that does not line up with their values? First, we respect their values. Then – and only then – are we in a position to explain why society’s values can also be beneficial. Ask your child to consider what the world would be like if we all operated on our own time-table instead of functioning within schedules. Chances are, he will jump at the opportunity to think creatively and ponder this scenario, so let his imagination fly! Help him to see that there are benefits to pleasing teachers and bosses – but focus on the direct benefits to him because these will have the most power to motivate him to change his behavior.
Once he has a desire to work within the constraints of someone else’s system – whether that’s a school or place of employment – you can discuss the following strategies that have proven helpful for us. I used these strategies to design the flow of our homeschool day – and this method was the only one that worked of the dozens I tried. Now that my son has successfully transitioned to public high school, we still use these strategies to organize our approach to homework or big projects. As a word of caution, though, these strategies are still not going to make him move any faster than he’s able to move, so you are still going to need to adjust your expectations for how long a particular activity should take, and adjust your schedule to accommodate your child. If he’s in public school, you may need to work with his teachers to find compromises, as well.
School/Homework/Work Strategies for the Highly Creative, Deep Thinker
- Make a list of all regularly occurring tasks. Categorize your tasks according to your employer/teacher expectations as either highly important or less important. (Talk to your boss/teacher to help you do this, if necessary.)
- Then further categorize these tasks as either requiring creativity, mentally stimulating, or neither of the above.
- Look at your schedule and block out what you think is a reasonable amount of time for each activity, allowing the least amount of time for the things that are not creative or stimulating. Don’t just look at the day’s schedule, but look at the week because some days are full of activities, and others are not. The goal is to accomplish everything you need to do in the space of a week – not a day – so that you can spend your weekend doing fulfilling things (even if that means work projects you happen to enjoy) instead of boring work that has been put off through procrastination. Also consider the environment when making a schedule. For instance, don’t plan mentally stimulating tasks for the same time as little sister’s trombone practice!
- Set a timer and then try to accomplish as many boring tasks that are important to your boss/teacher as you can during that block of time. The goal is to just get ‘er done so you can move on to something more interesting. The timer is important because it forces you to stay focused and keeps the end in sight. (If you use any rewards for motivation, this should be the only time to use them. Creativity is internally rewarding, so only offer admiration for creative projects. Physical rewards like my son’s favorite motivator, an M&M for every 2 math problems completed, are usually needed to motivate a child to just plow through boring activities.)
- Next, set a timer according to how much time you can reasonably afford to spend on a creative activity that is a high priority, then work on it until your time is up. Doing something creative is a reward for finishing the boring activities, and also energizes the highly creative person. However, you must still set a time limit because otherwise, you won’t want to move on.
- Set a timer for a small amount of time and then tackle some of the low priority, boring activities. Then do the same for low priority creative activities, etc. If you run out of time to complete them, they move up into the “important” category the next day. This keeps the little tasks from piling up as long as you commit to doing them as quickly as possible, according to the standards imposed by your boss/teacher (and not your own standards of perfection and creative expression).
- Lastly, reward yourself by allowing the last block of time each day to be spent on a mentally stimulating activity. If it needs to be a big block of time, adjust the amount of time you spend on the above activities accordingly. If you run out of time, jot down notes and plan to finish your thought later in the day. If you have a lot of important activities, you may need to wait until the weekend to do mentally stimulating activities, so you can give them your full attention and a larger block of time. Mentally stimulating activities are important because they keep you motivated and satisfied in your work, so block out a good chunk of time for this. Putting it at the end of the day or week means you don’t have other things hanging over you, and can fully dive into to the task with less pressure from time constraints.
Following this format, the highly creative, deep thinker should be able to get through tasks in a reasonable amount of time in a way that is still satisfactory because he is directing the most time and effort to the things that really matter to him (creativity and mental stimulation). It helps him to identify and acknowledge which things don’t require 100% in order to still be good enough for his boss/teacher. “Good enough” is a hard pill to swallow for those with an internal drive to excel, but so is stress, anxiety, and never having free time to do things that are truly enjoyable and satisfying.
As I’ve talked with my teenage son about how he will approach his job someday, I’ve tried to remind him that the goal of man is not to have a mentally stimulating job; the goal of man is to have a full life. Life is more than work. Life is work, relationships, recreation, and rest. If you try to satisfy all your needs through work, then work will take all your time. But when work is no longer the sole means for creative expression or mental stimulation, but more of a means to that end, then less time can be given to less important activities in order to make time for needs to also be met in relationship, recreation, and rest. It helps to see the bigger picture in order to embrace the small sacrifices he must make in his approach to daily tasks so that those tasks don’t take up his whole life.
It’s not easy raising a “square peg” in a world of “round holes.” But God has often reminded me of the verse he gave me for my son:
[He is] God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for him to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
Every aspect of my son’s personality was intentional in God’s design. God has a plan for his life, and he is uniquely qualified to do those good works. My job is not to “fix” him, but cooperate with God in helping him be who God created him to be while functioning in a less-than-ideal environment. And the result, so far, has taken my breath away. When my freshman son left 6 1/2 years of homeschool to enter the public school system, I watched my square peg willingly fold in his edges and slide himself into that round hole. Glory to God! Let’s bless our kids to be all their Heavenly Father created them to be, and allow God to change our perspective to His.