I meant to write this post last week….or was it the week before that? Maybe it was last month. Well, you get the idea! In short, I am the occasional procrastinator. Fortunately, this challenge doesn’t afflict me too often but for many kids it is a habit they have fallen into. If your child is a frequent procrastinator or just tries out a little procrastination occasionally, we’ve got some tips that can get him or her back on track.
- Think about why all of us procrastinate. Sometimes it is because the job at hand is not fun or we have more exciting things to do. Other times a task seems too difficult or out of our comfort zone. Some of us may experience a little perfectionism. Maybe we wait to get started because we fear failure or even fear success may lead to higher expectations. Oh, and sometimes we procrastinate because we got away with it last time! Understanding what motivates your child’s actions may help you problem solve.
- Resist the urge to bail kids out when they procrastinate. When my daughter waited until the last moment to complete her science fair project, it took nearly all of my self-control to stick to our expectations that she do her project with only a little support from us as parents, that she do her research independently and that she keep her regular bedtime. She learned an important lesson about the stressful feeling that comes when you find yourself pushing to finish a project at the last minute. She also discovered that she can perform well under pressure!
- Offer choices when possible. “Do you want to start with your math homework or your reading first?”
- Know your priorities and stick to them. Don’t be afraid to have your child miss a favorite TV show or even a sports practice if procrastination is becoming a major problem.
- Be sure your expectations are developmentally appropriate. Expect your two year old to pick up her toys when she is done playing but don’t ask her to organize her book shelf. Expect more from older kids or kids that have had practice!
- Celebrate what they accomplish. If you’ve asked your child to pick up the play room, celebrate progress as it happens. Try not to walk in and comment on all of the toys that are still on the floor. Instead, tell them that you can see progress offer encouragement. Remember to avoid the pitfall of “re-doing” what your kids have just done when it comes to chores at home. If you ask your kids to fold laundry, be prepared to teach them how and be willing to accept their best. Don’t re-fold the clothes to your own standards as this can make a child feel even less excited to be helpful the next time you ask.
- Help your child develop the skill of breaking a major task into manageable parts. If cleaning her bedroom is the challenge, perhaps she can start by putting books on the shelf, next put clothes in drawers, and finish by put ting toys in totes. An older child could write the tasks and check them off as they go. A younger child could do one task then come to their parent for a high five or hug and the next step. Another option is to set a timer for 15-30 minutes and encourage your child to work hard on the task for that length of time before taking a break. Then set another timer for the break and get back to work. As kids get older and have more practice they can have longer “on task” times and shorter breaks. Some kids will even forget to take a break after they’ve become engaged in the task at hand.
- Create a schedule that allows for tasks to be completed in a timely manner. If a big homework project is due, ask your child to estimate how long the project will take in total (guess a little high.) Next, set aside some smaller doses of time on the calendar so that he can focus on keeping ahead of the task. If there is time left over, use it for something fun!
- Be a good example. Perhaps the fact that I often wait until twenty minutes before guests are coming to frantically clean my house makes me unqualified to give this advice. However, when you find yourself procrastinating, talk about it in front of your child and problem solve so that they can learn with you as you improve.
- Teach your child good goal setting. Help them make goals that are realistic, specific, and motivating. When they have more than one thing to attend to, help them make a list of priorities. Congratulate your child when they meet goals. Point out how fun it is to have time left for fun when we don’t procrastinate. You may even let kids pick rewards for themselves for goals accomplished.
Remember, all kids occasionally struggle with a project or task so don’t panic if your child is procrastinating here or there. Be consistent and positive. I should probably stop writing for today. I have a long list of tasks to complete today and blogging is one of my favorites! When it comes to my advice on procrastination, do as I say, not as I do! 🙂
Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education Services