Almost everyone procrastinates at one point or another: we spend more time on things we appreciate and ignore those we know we should be doing; we totally ignore doing some things and put them off until the last minute; we get “caught up” doing stuff and have to let other things accumulate.
Procrastinating is normal human behavior, but it can be a terribly hard thing to get rid of. It is even harder when the procrastinator is your child because children, it seems, have mastered the art of putting off things. This could look anything like:
- Having to be nagged to do homework
- Having to be nagged to brush their teeth
- Having to be nagged to tidy up
- Having to be nagged to do chores
Trying to establish how to effectively put an end to your child’s procrastination can be treacherous terrain, and you have to tread carefully to avoid coming across as a “nag”. But it is not something you can get around. Procrastination studies have linked the habit to poor academic performance and poor saving practices that span beyond the childhood years.
The good news is that procrastination is not innate! In other words, our children are not born, but rather become procrastinators, meaning that it is possible to unlearn procrastinating habits. Making your child know that he alone is responsible for doing what needs to be done is pivotal if success is to be achieved. Much of the available research on procrastination points in this direction. Here is what it says about establishing “habits that actually work”.
Six proven tips to raise a procrastinator
- Let your child be an active participant in the decision-making process
Parents consciously or unconsciously single-handedly make the decisions involving their child. That’s just the way it is. They alone decide when snacks will be eaten, showers taken, and homework done. But what if you were told that this actually sparks your child’s procrastination?
According to several researchers, encouraging your child to participate in the decision-making process is a powerful tool that can help deal with procrastination more effectively. The researchers have found that the more your child feels responsible for the decisions taken, the more likely she is to respect those decisions. They suggest that using parent-controlled processes to transfer autonomy to your child as she grows older can make it easier to control her behavior.
Concretely, this means setting limits or providing a broad structure then letting your child act within those limits/structure. Let’s take the example of homework – a parent-controlled process can look like specifying by what time homework should be done – “before 6p.m”, or “before watching TV” or “before your videogame”, then letting your child decide by herself when to do the homework.
- Give younger kids limited options
Limited options work particularly well with younger kids because they allow them to feel like they have control over their actions. You could say something like “homework now or immediately after your shower?” “shower now or in five minutes?” You could use an alarm to increase your chances of success “I’m setting the alarm to ring after five minutes – as soon as does, it’s shower time”.
- Ensure your child is aware of what is expected of him
When I’m working on a complicated or new project and I’m not quite sure how or where to begin, I often find myself procrastinating. The same is true for kids. Many children procrastinate when they are unable to clearly determine what is expected of them. One way to get around this is to make sure your child is aware of and understands the objectives of whatever he is expected to do. You can do this by asking him to tell you, in brief terms, what he is expected to do,
- “What’s the objective ?”
- “What three things can you do to get there?”
- “What will you start with?”
- “What will you do next?”
- Reduce distractions
Kids are not the only ones who find it hard to resist distractions, but distractions lead to procrastination. Reducing distractions can help your child focus on what she is expected to do. For instance, a clear desk or avoiding homework in front of the TV will increase her focus and attention.
- Positive reinforcement works!
Reinforcement is often wrongly associated with material gains. Positive reinforcement can be a hug, a high-five, a kind word, privileged time spent together with your child or privileges such as TV or video game time. Positive reinforcement can help you get the behavior you want. For instance, telling your child that she can play video games or watch TV as soon as her homework is finished might reduce procrastinating. Remember, though, to be specific about how much TV/video time she gets once the homework is done.
Positive reinforcement also works with younger children, but only if the reinforcement occurs immediately after the desired behavior. Among younger kids, delayed reinforcement loses value. Proposing smaller immediate rewards to younger children is thus more likely to be successful than expecting them to wait for larger but delayed rewards. The Positive Behavior Kit gives you the resources you need to deal with your child’s indesirable behavior.
- Reinforce your child’s self-management skills
Reinforcing your child’s self-management skills is related to the tip we saw earlier about encouraging him to participate in the decision-making process. This means allowing your child to make independent decisions about what he wants to do and what he has to do, and it can work with kids age 8/9 upwards.
Using a daily planner and asking him to plan his day/week by himself helps him practice his decision-making skills and increases his autonomy. Remember, though, that he needs to know that choices have consequences. What happens if he doesn’t do what is expected of him? What privileges does he lose?
When dealing with the procrastination challenge, remember that patience, and being willing to “let go of the driver’s seat”, is one of the key conditions that will determine your success.