On Hurrying Children

August 12, 2013

family portrait photography

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

When our oldest was two and we’d walk down the street to the community mailbox, he was in no rush to get there. He wandered, meandered, stopped, sometimes turned around. I realized then that he was definitely not destination-oriented. Most young children aren’t. In fact, the concept of hurrying baffles them. For little ones, an outing is much more than trip to the mailbox and back; it’s a wonder-full exploration of the world around them and they’re pretty much experts at taking their time to enjoy those wonders. There’s so much to admire about children.

When we first became parents my husband bought a book called Trees Make the Best Mobiles, and although I loved the title and the premise of simple parenting, I confess I didn’t ever read it. But an idea that Justin shared with me has stuck with me for years. It’s this, or something quite like this: hurrying children is a form of violence. Yikes. It’s stuck with me all these years because it’s a pretty bold statement, but I’ve come to see how true it is.

To a little wanderer whose days are not controlled by minutes on the clock or appointments or deadlines, suddenly having an urgent rush imposed on his exploration does seem quite traumatic. Little ones don’t even have a context for something like “being late” and hurried parents are often harried parents, with small stores of patience and short tempers that are confusing at best and downright harmful at worst. When I realize that most of our hurries stem from my lack of planning (and a deep-seated denial that it actually takes us 15 minutes to get into the car), I recommit to thinking ahead. Things like asking for shoes on, asking for supplies to be gathered, bathroom trips to be taken, and drinks to be had well in advance saves us from that frantic hurry that leaves all of us feeling empty.

Do you agree with this idea that rushing a child is a form of violence? How do you keep frantic rushes at bay as a parent? Have your children taught you to slow down and savor simple things?

P.S. Thanks to my dear sister-in-law Carisa for sharing this lovely post by Rachel Macy Stafford, which got me thinking about this topic. The article is about Rachel’s evolution from a hurried parent to a more deliberate one, and is well worth a read. A real gem from Rachel’s post about accepting our parenting mistakes: “As my child looked up at me waiting to know if she could take her time, I knew I had a choice. I could sit there in sorrow thinking about the number of times I rushed my child through life… or I could celebrate the fact that today I’m trying to do things differently. I chose to live in today.” Oh, that we can all be so wise!

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1 JB August 12, 2013 at 2:36 pm

I’m new to your site and just love it! I would agree that hurrying can hurt kids. What are we teaching them if we teach them that life is about rushing? Also, as you point out basically, they get caught in the middle when our short words and impatience comes hurling straight at them. For 2 years of our son’s life, I suffered from an almost severe postpartum depression that I didn’t “snap out of” until he was almost 2 1/2. These days he reminds me to slow down, along with my husband. The best days come when he reminds me to go outside when it’s raining to jump in the puddles, because for our short San Francisco rainy season, that’s a pure life delight.


2 Amy Hackworth August 12, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I’m thankful for those reminder moments, too, and my sympathies regarding your depression. Oh, so hard. Glad you’re feeling better, JB.


3 hyz August 12, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I get the idea here, but I think it is overstated. If you are always hurrying kids, always late, always behind, it does not lead to good parenting or happy kids. On the other hand, there is value in teaching even small children to focus on a finite task, and to delay the gratification of whatever else they may want to wander off and do until they actually finish getting dressed or eating their breakfast, etc. And small kids can and do develop an idea of what it means to be late–my pre-k daughter learned that if she took forever getting ready in the morning, we would be late and miss out on the morning free playtime with her friends. My 2.5 year old son knows he has to get himself to the potty and dressed, and teeth brushed before he is allowed to spend a bit of time playing on the ipad in the morning (and for the most part he can do all this himself, as long as I do adequate prep and assistance, like laying out his clothes for him, putting paste on the toothbrush and “touching up” any spots he missed in brushing). And, maybe ironically, teaching the kids to internalize the schedules, understand the meaning of being late, and focus on actually completing the tasks at hand rather than meander through them (that is, “hurry” to get ready in the morning), eventually leads to less harried and impatient parenting, and more free time for kids to enjoy without stress. There is also the matter of teaching them consideration–putting others’ needs before their own. Kids absolutely deserve to have their own, unhurried time to explore at will, to develop their imaginations, etc., but they also need to understand that there are times they need to run or else their sister is going to miss her bus (for instance)–this can be made fun for little kids (“ok, we have to race to catch the bus, are you ready? Let’s see who can get there the fastest!”), it doesn’t have to involve yelling, but I’d say there is nothing wrong with getting them to be destination-oriented if the situation requires.


4 Amy Hackworth August 12, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Hyz, thanks for your comment. Great points. If I could edit, I think I’d say “I’ve learned there is some truth in the statement that hurrying can be “violent.” I agree there are plenty of times when focused thinking and acting is a benefit to our kids.


5 hyz August 13, 2013 at 9:37 am

Thanks, Amy. I would definitely agree with you that hurrying can be “violent”–or at least harmful to the whole family’s wellbeing–if carried out in certain ways. Some of my least proud moments as a parent have been when we are running late for an actual, hard deadline and I’m trying to get the kids in the car by myself, and I’ve told my little wanderer of a daughter for the 5th (or 25th) time to stop playing, stop talking, put on your clothes, no you can’t pick out a different outfit, that’s the third one this morning (after you rejected the one *you* picked out last night so we wouldn’t have to go through this in the morning, why can’t you just wear that one?) and now we’re late, no we don’t have time for oatmeal because you spent an hour doing something that should’ve taken 15 minutes, no there’s no time for a fancy braid in your hair, dear lord why are you playing with your dollhouse again you don’t even have your shirt on, you’re killing me child we don’t have all day. By the time you actually get to the car, everyone is a nervous wreck, and the day is off to a miserable start. If that is the daily routine, that is a real problem. We were having that situation too often, I felt like a jerk, and I decided I didn’t want to be that parent if I could help it. But for me, the answer *wasn’t* getting up at 4:30 AM so my daughter could spend the 3 hours she wanted to meander unhurried through the morning routine (and she would easily take that long if I let her)–and I think that’s the only place I disagree with the article, which sort of suggests that allowing children time to meander is the only solution that really honors their needs. But it’s unrealistic, since if I wanted her to get up at 4:30 I’d have to put her to bed at 6:00, which means I’d be rushing her through her evening. So I talked about the problem with her, trying to get her on my “team” with a goal of getting ready in the morning and getting to school on time, giving her a sense of responsibility that she needed to do her part if the team was going to succeed, and giving her some “carrot” motivations too, like getting up just 20 minutes earlier so that if she got dressed “super quick” she would have time to watch an educational cartoon while she ate her breakfast. I found that by getting her to focus on something fun that she could do after getting ready, she didn’t need to make “getting ready” be the main event of her morning as much. It was something to be gotten through so she could move on to the fun stuff. She just turned 5, and she is still a wanderer at heart, which is great, and she still dilly-dallies sometimes, which is to be expected, but I am thrilled that most mornings she now moves pretty independently through her routines, and takes pride in being the first person to be all dressed. That leaves her plenty of time to play and chat at her own pace before we have to go. So we have both hurrying and peace, and a lot less frustration. :)


6 Tanya August 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm

I agree to some extent, but I think to say that it is violent is too dramatic. I think that it is good to have a balance. I do think that it is important as a parent to do our part to not make a situation stressful, but I think that it is perfectly acceptable to expect children to transition timely when needed. I think that there are times that kids are going to need to be able to respond and if they have never been exposed to doing things on someone else’s time that is just as detrimental. Being a stay at home mom most of our days are pretty undetermined; so when my oldest started school one of the things that we work on the entire year was learning to do things on someone else’s schedule. And I think that is part of preparing our kids for life; at some point or another we have to do things on someone else’s time.


7 Reaksmey August 12, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I’m sure if I would go as far as saying it is violence… but I would say we are teaching them a way of life that is detrimental to their well-being. As a parent of a 9-month-old, I am noticing how pure and simple my baby boy is. He is in the moment, loves to discover new things, sit and spin the wheels on his vehicles, laugh, smile, chew everything in site, and as you mentioned per the book’s title- stare and be content with a swaying tree. Unfortunately what happens is that as he gets older, he will be taught to not function this way. Instead, he will be pushed to always be in a hurry, be busy with many different dates, and not encouraged to be his simple and pure self. So with this in mind, and along the lines of your post, I’m hoping to be intentional as a mother to encourage being still, being present, taking things slower, appreciating surroundings, etc. It starts with me as a role model in his life. I need to personally grow in those areas in order for him to hang onto his natural way of being.


8 Danielle August 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I don’t see hurrying them as an act of violence, but I know where he’s coming from. It’s more like a subtle theft; robbing children of their pure, innate ability to live in the moment. Such a sad reality. This concept hit me a few years ago, when my boys were 6 months and 2 years old. We were in a BIG rush to get somewhere and I was on verge of yet another breakdown. Not sure why, but in that moment I had a definitive pause and understood that there must be a balance: I teach them how to prepare for future events and they teach me how to enjoy Right Now. It’s not fair to anyone otherwise. Nowadays we try not to ever rush… and if we must, then I respect that I cannot get angry or annoyed with them for being just a little bit behind. Or for needing me when my needs are elsewhere.


9 Emme August 12, 2013 at 7:08 pm

I think there’s a time and a place to hurry (like when you’re headed to an appointment), and a time to stop and smell the roses… or play with the roly poly… or collect rocks. Children need to know it’s important to be on time and they need to learn to get ready in a specified period of time. However, adults need to remember that not everything is important–maybe we take too many trips to the store. We can learn to slow down and enjoy the little things!


10 Zoe - SlowMama August 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm

I agree with the need for balance, as stated many commenters above, but I love that you posted about this topic because I think the tendency today is to be rushed, and to be so destination and task oriented, that we miss the process and don’t live in the moment. It’s particularly important for a child’s development to have lots of unstructured time and to be able to explore his/her environment. I don’t think children get enough of that today — their days are very structured and scheduled — so your post is a good remind to give this more thought as a parent.


11 Meagan August 12, 2013 at 9:43 pm

I think that’s a bit harsh. I’d rather turn it on its head and say that waiting, allowing children their own pace, is a gift. I give it when I can, but I don’t beat myself up when I’m in a rush. On the other hand, I certainly don’t expect my 2 year old to understand the need to hurry, so I don’t expect it from him. I just tell, him, “I’m sorry sweetheart, we are in a hurry today, I can’t wait for you to ___.” I have the luxury of not being on any schedule but his school’s though, so generally running late isn’t the end of the world for us.


12 Tanya @ myinvisiblecamera August 13, 2013 at 7:45 am

I rarely comment on posts about parenting styles because so often they’re rooted in criticism and hurt instead of the support I feel we women should have for each other but I feel this post has been written, shared, and discussed in such a beautiful and positive way. Thank you for sharing this story and starting an engaging conversation about giving our children time. I agree with many of your readers that the word violence may be a bit too harsh as most mamas feel compelled to rush their babies around in an effort to keep them fed, clothed, educated, and nurtured. It’s what we mamas do best! I believe, and as the author explained it, we all have a choice. I have a pretty laid back philosophy on life in general, so peaceful parenting was a good fit for our family. I try to meet the needs of each of my 3 unique boys in a peaceful and respectful way, honoring the time necessary it takes them to accomplish tasks and move through their day. Liam, my soccer star, is energetic, rushes around, and needs activity to keep him engaged. Seamus is on the spectrum, and needs much more time, lots of friendly reminders, and a lot more guidance if he is to feel about himself as he goes through his day. And my wee Finn has taught me so much about life in the short 20 months that he’s been alive. I am awed at how he sees the world and give him the space to explore. Oh, how he loves to explore (namely with markers and paint all over our house, but I digress). This wasn’t always how I parented, it’s been a journey, but it’s ultimately how I’d like my children to remember their childhood, not a hurried rush from event to event but a lovely journey, enjoying life.


13 Kate August 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I could not agree more with the importance of letting children dally because that is part of the business of being a child, and of resisting the urge whenever possible to tell them to “hurry up.”

Semantically, I do not agree with the description of hurrying others as a form of violence. To me, that language choice almost diminishes the effects of actual, physical violence. There are very real distinctions between the two concepts in my opinion.

But as I said, I do agree with your overall point of letting kids be kids and not always imposing our own adult deadlines and schedules on them.


14 Ashley August 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm

I think using the word “violent” is not appropriate. Most importantly because violence against children is very real and very dangerous and goes beyond the daily hustle and bustle of busy parents and busy lives. Using the word violent to describe parents who rush their children dilutes the violence perpetrated against children that is actually that- violent. Because the truth is that there are children who are neglected, beaten, and hurt by violent and deliberately mean parents/guardians. Parents who are in a rush to get all their children off to school or get to appointments can be negligent- sure. But to categorize it as violent is, in my opinion, harmful to children who are actually victims of violence. That is not to say that we shouldn’t slow down and allow our children to meander and be children. They absolutely need the space to do that. As children, they also need to learn the customs and rules of their family and culture. Some cultures don’t run on strict time schedules and some do. Those that do run on more strict time schedules are not innately violent towards children, just as cultures who don’t rely on strict adherence to clocks are innately more gentle and kind towards children.

My general rule of thumb: love your children. Hold your children. Cuddle them when they’re scared. Reassure them that you are there to protect them. And give your children respect and dignity. That’s what we’re called to do as parents. :)


15 Shannon { A Mom's Year } August 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Thanks for putting my thoughts in writing, Ashley. I had the same reaction as you to the word “violence” in this context.

Running around stressed is not conducive to leading happy lives, so that’s why we put systems in place so we’re not frantically looking for clean clothes or trying to find the keys as we’re going out the door. If we have to rush the kids along sometimes, that seems to me to be part of life.

And isn’t there something to be said for respecting other people’s time? One of the reasons why we might find ourselves hurrying is because we don’t want to keep others waiting. I think teaching our kids to care (even at a young age) about how they affect other people is always a good thing.


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