How to Teach Kids Priorities

By Kathryn Hatter
A parent having a discussion with his daughter.
A parent having a discussion with his daughter.

Priorities determine where a person focuses time and effort. Kids need to set priorities carefully or they could have trouble in school or at home. Thinking about wants and needs and figuring out how to accomplish the important things are skills that will help kids succeed in life.

Recognizing Wants and Needs

Discerning the difference between needs and wants is an integral part of setting priorities, according to educators Suzanne Gallagher and Shannon Hodges, authors of “Let’s Teach Students to Prioritize.” Begin teaching priorities by talking about needs and wants often to help kids become aware of the differences. The more you explore needs and wants, the better kids can understand how to tell the difference. For example, your son might want you to spend $50 on a new video game, but perhaps you need to pay bills or buy groceries. Discuss the difference between buying a video game (a want) and paying bills or buying foods (needs). Another example could be your daughter wanting to spend time reading a book when she has a report due the next day. Help your child understand that she should complete the need (the report) before the want (the book).

Exploring Consequences

Teach the value of thinking about the consequences of actions to help kids prioritize, advises the PBS.org website. Consequences of actions can also help kids recognize wants and needs in some cases. For example, if a child is considering a purchase and chooses a want over a need, she may not have enough money left over to purchase a needed item. A child can also consider the consequences of not spending time on homework or practicing a musical instrument, choosing instead to play a video game. Spending time in recreation instead of completing required work will likely result in reprimands from a teacher. Alternatively, completing required work may lead to better grades and more advanced learning.

The Big Picture

Help kids visualize long-term situations to teach priority-setting skills. Sometimes it’s necessary to see an entire goal, with the smaller goals necessary for working toward the main goal. For example, a child who wants to excel in a specific sport in school might start by taking lessons to learn the sport. While taking lessons, he might need to practice skills to gain proficiency, which will take time and effort. Eventually, he might progress to the point of trying out for a team or for a specific position on a team. Throughout this process, he will need to prioritize his goal to ensure that he spends the time and energy necessary to achieve his objective. This may mean forgoing some recreation time, choosing instead to attend lessons or practice skills.

Budgeting Time

Your child will need time-management skills to achieve priorities. Teach the value of writing down goals, creating a plan of action and making to-do lists. For example, children often need help managing their time throughout a school day. Discuss the overall goals of each day with your child, such as attending school, extracurricular activities, homework, family time and recreation. A plan of action might determine roughly when your child completes activities throughout the day, such as working on homework before dinner and having family time/recreation time after dinner. Daily to-do lists will list specific projects and activities your child needs to complete each day, such as practicing an instrument, completing a book report, studying for a test, putting away laundry and packing her backpack for the next day. Help your child understand that once she completes the items on her to-do list, she’s free to have recreation time. With practice, your child can become adept at time management to achieve priorities.

About the Author

Kathryn Hatter is a veteran home-school educator, as well as an accomplished gardener, quilter, crocheter, cook, decorator and digital graphics creator. As a regular contributor to Natural News, many of Hatter's Internet publications focus on natural health and parenting. Hatter has also had publication on home improvement websites such as Redbeacon.