Procrastination is a common, persistent behavior in which one avoids or postpones tackling a task. Most people have experienced the anxiety and guilt that are often triggered by putting off a job that needs to be done.
At a recent workshop given at a private high school, over 80 students enrolled themselves. Teachers, students and parents alike report that procrastination is a pervasive problem at even the best prep schools and universities.
Students report myriad reasons for not completing or even starting important tasks. “The stuff is so boring. It doesn’t mean anything to me.” “I don’t know where to begin.” “I’ll probably do a bad job and my parents will be angry.”
Fear, boredom, anger or dislike generally indicates the use of procrastination as a survival strategy. So how can you as a parent help your child to develop attitudes and habits that will preclude the use of “the waiting game” as a means for dealing with difficult or onerous tasks?
Set Clear Expectations
Children may develop a procrastinator’s stance to deal with overly demanding or unclear parental expectations. Help your child by setting reasonable performance expectations based on their age, level of maturity and particular talents or interests. Make sure the child understands exactly what is expected and do not link the child’s level of achievement to their worth as a human being. Let your child know they are esteemed and valued for who they are not for what they achieve.
Even young children need meaningful goals to establish priorities in life. This is even more critical for adolescents who are developing independent identities and value systems that will serve them as adults.
Procrastination may represent a child’s way of establishing independence if parents don’t allow for choices based on the youngster’s own priorities and goals. Parents can help by encouraging a child to share ideas and help clarify their thinking about the issues and responsibilities they face.
Teach Time Management
Making the effort to teach time management and organization skills empowers a child to plan effectively and achieve success in the tasks at hand. It’s easy for kids to become overwhelmed with the demands of a long-term assignment or an activity with which they have little experience. Helping them break down a complicated job into small tasks makes a project manageable.
A project completed or a goal reached should be rewarded. Just as adults appreciate a raise, bonus or commendation children too thrive on receiving praise and special privileges. This is just as true for reaching the sub-goals as for completing the entire task. Keep in mind that the younger the child, the more immediately the reward needs to follow on the heels of completing the task.
Day-to-day life presents tasks that require persistence in the face of boredom, setbacks and unforeseen difficulties. If we can teach our children to recognize and reward themselves for each completion, they will learn that beginning and persevering in a task brings a sense of mastery and freedom.