It’s Not All Mary Poppins

You’re outta minutes, son

“In a minute!”

It sounds polite. In fact, it’s a strategy that I carefully teach the tots. When someone asks/demands a turn, they can hand the toy over immediately, or they can choose to defer for a minute or two. (The demanders are required to adhere to the rules of Making Civilized Requests first. Of course.) Sometimes we actually time the minute; often, it’s a fairly nebulous bit of time.

Reasonably often, the children will hand the toy over immediately, but it’s nice for them to have a little time to adjust to the notion of giving it away. “Finishing up” is rarely an issue at this age. Their play is so loose, there is hardly ever never any clearly defined “ending” they’re working toward. It’s mostly a matter of giving them the mental space to change gears.

And then there’s Timmy.

“In a minute.”

It sounds polite, but it’s his only answer. Ever. A playmate asks, is told “in a minute”. The playmate asks in a minute or two, and is again told “in a minute”. No matter how much time elapses, Timmy will always share “in a minute”. In short, “in a minute” does not mean “in a minute”, it means “over my dead body”, or perhaps even “&%^ off”. The fact that it’s said with a cheerful smile and a encouraging nod does not alter the reality.

It’s a bit of a dilemma, though, because of course I’ve taught him to say this. I don’t want to discourage the boy from using a perfectly acceptable social tool. It’s just that he can’t be using it to dodge sharing entirely. It’s a helpful phrase, a little verbal grease to the social wheels. I don’t want to tell the boy not to say it, but he just can’t be doing this every time. The devious little wretch.

Well, with Timmy, I doubt it’s deviousness. He’s just discovered “in a minute” is a terrific way to make that whole problematic “sharing” business go away. Simple!

I mull it over a bit … then the answer hits me like a 2×4: “He can’t be doing this every time.” Simple!

“In a minute.”

“You know what, Timmy? You’ve said that to Anna three times already. You can’t say it every time. Now you need to give it to her.”

“In a minute.”

“No, Timmy. You said that last time. Now you have to say, ‘Okay, Anna’.”

He pauses, considering whether I really mean this, and if there’s any way out. I wait a beat, then repeat.

“Last time you said ‘In a minute’. This time you have to say, ‘Okay, Anna’.”

I really mean it. You can see the mental gears whirring as they shift. He smiles and holds out the toy.

“Okay, Anna!”

Simple! Good start, Tims.

August 7, 2008 - Posted by | manners, socializing, Timmy | , ,


  1. It is tricky, because one child will ask when the other one has played for reasonable length of time, but another will ask as soon as the toy has been picked up. Squiffany has discovered a good tack – offer to swap. If it’s something interesting, her little brother may well hand the object over straight away.

    That’s another good strategy, and one we often use. I didn’t think of it in this instance: it would have been a good option.

    Comment by Z | August 7, 2008 | Reply

  2. What’s scary (and perhaps even a little sad) about this scenario is that I can relate it to my teenagers.

    Me: Son, when are you going to look for an apartment?

    Him: In a minute.

    Me: Daughter, when are you going to pick up your clothes?

    Her: In a minute.

    Me: When are you going to appreciate everything I do for you?

    Them: In a minute.

    I don’t know if, “you’ve run out of minutes” will work on them as well as it did on Timmy, but it’s worth a shot. πŸ˜›

    It’s easier to enforce the tangibles than the intangibles. They can certainly ‘run out of minutes’ for the apartment and the clothing, but you can’t make them appreciate you. Still, you can let them know that the concept would be appropriate, and see if they can at least manage a reasonable facsimile… Who knows? Maybe they’ll surprise you with the real thing!

    Comment by Zayna | August 7, 2008 | Reply

  3. I’ve always insisted on the phrase, “You can have it next” and not put a time frame on it. I suppose it can lead to the same problem when “next” never comes.

    Yes, I suspect Timmy would use ‘next’ in exactly the same way as he’s been using ‘in a minute’, but I still like the idea!

    Comment by Jill in Atlanta | August 7, 2008 | Reply

  4. Usually, Mary, I agree with you. I teach Pre-K with 20 4-5 year olds. My rule is that if a child is playing with something, and they are actively involved with it, then the other child has to wait until they are done. They are allowed to ask politely, “Will you give me the toy when you get done with it?” but we don’t make them share. This seems to work well. My reasoning is that when adults are using an item, we usually ask to have it when they are done, we don’t tell them “You can play with it for five more minutes and then it’s my turn”. Many times students end up playing together, and if not, there is PLENTY in the classroom to do. The other side of it is, I don’t have time to set 20 timers and monitor what 20 children want to play with…. πŸ™‚

    Thing is, Timmy is not always actively playing with whatever it is. Often, he’s just holding it in one hand while he plays with something else. Sometimes it’s sitting on the floor beside him, or in his lap. But when someone else wants it, he becomes desperately attached to it.

    I don’t think that adults simply make other adults wait till they’re completely finished. When an adult knows that someone is waiting for something they’re using, they will consider any number of options, depending on the urgency of their task, how long it will take, and the other person’s needs. They might let the person know how long they’ll be, and expect the other guy to wait; they could hurry themselves up so the other guy doesn’t have to wait so long; maybe they’ll offer an alternative item; perhaps decide the other person can have it right away; or, in the case of a task which could take days to finish, offer to alternate use of whatever it is. (i.e. take turns)

    Toddlers have no such sophisticated range of choices. The thing that toddlers lack (that most 4 & 5 year olds have), is an awareness of the other person’s feelings in the matter. Toddlers will happily hoard an object forever, and the other person’s desire for it would serve only to ensure that they cling to it ever harder. I see ensuring sharing as a small initial step to the more sophisticated adult consideration/awareness of the needs of others.

    Comment by Steph | August 7, 2008 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: