Procrastination comes in a few different forms:
If your child is encountering these negative consequences on a regular basis, then they likely suffer from procrastination. But, there are steps you can take to help break the behavior. In order to effectively parent a child who procrastinates, it’s first important to understand why your child puts off tasks.
Understanding the Behavior
There’s a common misconception that kids procrastinate because they are lazy or have low motivation. While low motivation can be a contributing factor, there are many others, including:
- Lack of Relevance: Your child may not see the task as relevant to his or her current or future goals.
- Boredom: Some tasks just aren’t compelling. For instance, most kids don’t find cleaning their room to be a fun or engaging activity.
- Lack of Self-Discipline: Knowing you need to do something isn’t the same as being able to get started. Kids are faced with an increasing number of distractions, which can make it hard to prioritize and stick to plans.
- Poor Time Management: Many kids underestimate how long it takes to do something, and do it well. They put off getting started, assuming there’s enough time to complete the task.
- Anxiety and/or Fear of Failure: Some children are unable to start tasks because they are afraid that their performance won’t meet personal expectations, or the expectations of significant others. Taken to the extreme, this anxiety becomes perfectionism—the paralyzing belief that anything less than perfect is unacceptable.
As you listen, try to identify which of the underlying causes may be at play. Just as a physician can’t effectively treat a headache without knowing the underlying cause—dehydration, allergies, concussion, or tumor—you can’t effectively help your child stop procrastinating unless you understand what’s prompting the behavior. For instance, offering or withholding a reward for completing a task won’t help a child who is delaying because they don’t see why the task is relevant.
So what can a parent do? When your child’s anxiety prevents her from tackling necessary tasks, you need to intervene. These five steps can help:
- Ask Your Child Questions: Get to know how your child views their self, the expectations placed on them, and the reality of the situation. Ask questions like, “What standards do you set for yourself?” “What do you think we expect of you?” “What will really happen if you don’t accomplish the task based on the standards you’ve set for yourself?”
- Clarify Your Expectations: Kids tend to overestimate parental expectations, so make sure you are clear and realistic in what you expect from your child. For example, many parents may focus on the effort put forth on a school project or test, not the grade—but a child may think you expect them to earn straight-As in every subject.
- Teach Problem Solving Skills: Consider this scenario: If I don’t excel on this paper, my grade point average will go down, which means I won’t be able to play football this year, which means I’ll have no friends, school will be unbearable and I’ll be a total loser.
- Point Out Positive Qualities: Ask your child to identify the attributes they think lead to happiness and success in life—integrity, creativity, people skills, passion, for instance. Getting your child to focus on personality traits they already possess, or will likely develop, will boost their self-esteem and shine light on unrealistically high standards.
- Use Your Experience to Relate: Self-disclose some of your own fears and describe how you’ve managed them. By acknowledging your imperfections and struggles, you may prevent your child from feeling defective—like s/he is the only one who can’t effectively manage tasks.
~ By James Lehman, MSW