8 Tips to Help Your Procrastinating Child

Not all procrastination is bad, but, when you’re a parent, nagging to get your kids to do even the simplest things can get pretty tiring. And let’s face it, nagging routinely backfires.

Nothing is more common than procrastination in kids. They’ll always be something more interesting to do than, say homework.

According to one study, all hope is not lost: people procrastinate less as they age. What’s more, procrastination research has consistently shown that you can teach your child to overcome procrastination: the more your child practices, the less likely he/she is to procrastinate. Here’s how:

1) Remove temptations

A few procrastination researchers have found that banishing signs that remind individuals of temptations are effective in preventing procrastination.

There is evidence that adjusting situational aspects and reducing the proximity of temptation helps reduce procrastination.

What can you do? If you want your child to watch less TV, propose other activities to distract him/her: you can give your child something else to play with, take him/her to a different room, ask him/her to ride his bike or play outdoors or show him/her a video that teaches him how to create something.

2) Foster automaticity

There is evidence to suggest that fostering automaticity is a powerful tool in the attempt to reduce procrastination.

Research has shown that the fewer the choice points a task requires, the less likely individuals will procrastinate.

Other researchers have found that using strict time schedules “fosters the formation of behavioural habits that circumvent conflicts with competing tendencies by establishing quasi-automatic trigger conditions.”

What can you do? Install a strict routine and stick to it.

For instance, when your child gets home from school she must first snack, then do her homework correctly, then watch TV.

Letting your child make decisions within a predetermined structure will also make it more likely for him/her to stick to the decisions made. For instance, you can make it clear that TV comes last but let your child decide what gets done first – snack or homework.

Try to be as specific as possible. “once your homework is done, you can watch TV for 30 minutes.” Failing to give specific instructions can lead to power struggles if your child feels like you’re taking away his hard-earned privileges.

3) Reward rather than punish

Rewards help to direct behaviour. Children, however, are more likely to pursue smaller and less distant rewards.

Delay discounting is when smaller and more immediate rewards are preferred over larger but delayed rewards. It is linked to the fact that the longer the delay, the less the subjective value of a reward.

Proposing smaller immediate rewards to younger children is thus more likely to be successful than expecting them to wait for larger but delayed rewards.

Additional reading: How you’re using positive reinforcement wrong and what you can do to get it right

4) Change tactics

Keep the end in mind but focus on the means.

If your child has problems with grammar – start reading together for 10 minutes every day or start writing a book together. Can’t spare 10 minutes a day? Spare 5 minutes.

You can also establish a read-aloud tradition. This is an awesome family tradition because everyone can participate.

5) Choose the when and how wisely

Task aversiveness is defined as the putting off of things perceived as undesirable.

It is hardly surprising that your child is more likely to procrastinate when he considers the task at hand to be boring.

Moreover, the likelihood to procrastinate is higher when your child is tired or has low energy levels. Asking him to undertake a task when he’s is tired or hungry is likely to lead to procrastination.

There is evidence to suggest that completing difficult rather than easy tasks leads to greater self-satisfaction. Too much failure, however, can lead to learned helplessness and thus increase procrastination. Set high expectations, not impossible ones.

6) Set goals

Goal setting reduces procrastination.

What can you do? Set deadlines. One study found that deadlines set by others helped prevent procrastination.

For instance, you can determine how long a given task takes, add a few more minutes, then limit the time your child has to complete the task at hand.

Give free reign to your child to decide how she will achieve the goals by the time set.

Explain to her the importance of effort and original thought. Be clear on the consequences of not putting in effort towards attaining the goal.

7) Increase the chances of success

Self-efficacy, which is a major theory advanced by Bandura, posits that individuals are less likely to procrastinate when they expect success.

Individuals need to demonstrate to themselves that they can be successful. According to Bandura, efficacy may be affected by verbal perusal, actual performance, modelling and successful performance.

What can you do? Set reasonable expectations. Explain how small steps – even 10 minutes a day – can go a long way in achieving goals.

8) Let go

Sometimes, the best way to motivate your child is to let go.

As children grow older, it is important for them to learn that actions have consequences. Be clear on your expectations and let your child know what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

Let your child experience natural consequences: “your son rides his bike without his helmet to impress his friends, you take the bike away for a specific period of time

Remember that different tactics will work for different kids and that the best are always those that feel right for you and your child!

For additional information about procrastination and evidence-based tips on raising independent and self-reliant kids, check out my Ebook Fifteen Days to Independent Kids.

I’d love to know what’s working with your procrastinating child. Let me know in the comments below!

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