As I overheard a conversation with a parent discussing her child’s routine and the late hour the child completed her homework the night before, I thought about how easily we allow our kids to slip into procrastinating habits that result in disastrous consequences. Instead of encouraging behavior toward meeting their responsibilities, we allow distracted effort or inaction.
If we teach our kids to overcome the temptation of procrastinating, we give them a valuable skill that reaches into adulthood. Here are a few tips to help your child complete required tasks without procrastinating.
Determine your child’s most productive period. Sometimes parents insist their children complete their homework immediately upon arriving home from school. However, it might not be the most productive time for your child, which encourages procrastinating his best effort. Talk with your child about how he feels when he comes home from school. Does he need a snack break? Does he want to shoot the basketball first? Does he want to immediately start his required tasks at home to allow more time to play later without having to think about the chores or homework that must be done. Be clear with your expectations. If your child doesn’t immediately start his task, make sure he understands why he’s allowed a break (so he will be more productive later) and how much time he has before he must begin the task.
Consider the why. Is there a legitimate reason your child hasn’t started his assignment? Does he have the resources he needs? Is there a clear goal in mind? Does he need some organizational help to get started? Does he have a quiet place to work? Every child has different needs, and as parents, we help our children succeed when we provide them with what they need to accomplish the task at hand. That doesn’t mean we dive in and tackle the assignment with them. It might mean we take them to the store to buy necessary supplies to get started.
Break it down. It’s easy to procrastinate a task that appears overwhelming. Our son had an assignment recently that required multiple tasks to complete the finished product. When he looked at the project all at once, he became overwhelmed with the amount of work to do. But as I helped him put together a step-by-step outline to proceed to the goal, it empowered him to tackle the assignment. Placing large projects into smaller assignments makes them more manageable to complete and, thus, less likely to be procrastinated.
Discourage perfectionism. Striving for perfection on every assignment and every test leads to stress and encourages procrastinating habits. When a child thinks he must make a 100 on his assignment, he has less motivation to even begin the assignment. Be realistic with your expectations, particularly in the early years as children are adjusting to new routines. We want our kids to enjoy school and the privilege of learning not labor over perfect grades.
Set a timer when necessary. When our son is having a particularly hard time settling in to work on an assignment, we determine together how long he must sit and work and then set a timer. When he knows he gets a break after a predetermined time, he more easily commits to beginning the work. A timer is a great tool to help kids develop consistent study habits as they get older and need to commit to longer periods of study.
Maintain a balanced routine. If we allow our kids to participate in every sport, music, drama, and school activity that occurs, we create an unmanageable schedule with little time left for responsibilities at home. When our children can’t visualize the satisfaction of completing a task when they begin, it’s likely they won’t want to start. So ask your children what activities interest them most and prioritize their desires to create a schedule that allows time for starting and completing other tasks as well. Rearrange the schedule as necessary to maintain balance.
Model good habits. Avoid procrastination in your everyday routine. Our children are watching us and will emulate what we do. I love the poem by Edgar Guest that captures the importance of example. Here’s a portion of it: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day. I’d rather one should walk with me than merely show the way. The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear. Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear.” If we want to raise young adults who will avoid procrastination, we must avoid it ourselves.
Procrastinating habits become harder to break the longer they’re practiced. But through intentional effort we can teach our children to avoid the pitfalls of procrastination.
Gayla Grace is an author and stepfamily coach with a his, hers and ours family. She loves helping nontraditional families learn to thrive in their relationships.