Have you watched your child procrastinate lately? Have you given a good, solid lecture AGAIN on the virtues of time management? Have you nagged or shamed this past week? Excellent! You live in a normal family. Kids procrastinate, we procrastinate. Even before the invention of the SmartPhone people procrastinated. As parents we can get in a nagging/power struggle spiral over procrastination and that cycle becomes a real relationship drainer. Instead, try one of these three Nifty Tips:
Offer up a Five Minute of Fury or Tolerable Ten Minutes. I get this from a must-read book, “Getting Past Procrastination” by Ann Dolin, a former school teacher and found of Educational Tutoring. Getting started is the HARDEST part, you know the analogy of the rocket ship uses almost 50% of it’s fuel just to TAKE OFF and climb into the air. This theory works for homework too (and exercise!). Hand a timer over to your kid and ask - “What can you handle right now, FIVE MINUTES OF FURY or the TOLERABLE TEN?” Then accept which one they choose - you will find that SOMETIMES the starting is just what they needed, and sometimes they stop when the timer goes off. Remember, we are more concerned with giving them life long tools then getting tonights homework done. I used the Tolerable Ten just this weekend to get me started on the dreaded seasonal mulching project and my front yard looks fabulous!
Diagnose the cause of the procrastinating. This comes from Julie Morgenstern, author of the new “Time to Parent” and the perennial favorite, “Time Management from the Inside Out”. Lazy is not usually why anyone procrastinates. See if you can help your child identify any of these root causes of procrastination:
You’ve Set Aside the Wrong Time: Parent might want kid to finish homework right after school, child might do better after dinner. Remember, especially teens, are actually more alert later in the evening. I had one kid who would stay up late to do homework and slept in and the other kid preferred to go to bed on time and wake up at 5:30 am to finish homework. If I set aside my ideal time for them we would have 4 long years of power struggles.
You’ve Miscalculated How Long Tasks Take: Kids are usually too pessimistic (ugh, this is gonna take forever, I don’t wanna) or too optimistic (awww, this is no problem, I’ll wait awhile, until I’m in the mood). Helping kids estimate how long a task will take, and then taking the time to track it will help your child become a time realist. That might find that getting all their supplies out takes longer than they thought and that packing up the night before is shorter and less horrible then they thought. Either way, our kids will begin to have their own sense of time and urgency, rather than waiting until we, or the teacher, is angry or annoyed.
Task is Overly Complex: Our kids pre-frontal cortex is not fully formed so time management is actually hard for them. Breaking down tasks to teeny, tiny bite sized pieces makes it much more appetizing and appealing to get started. Again, looking at the big project and learning, and practicing how to break it down is a skill for a lifetime!
Your Space is Disorganized: Oh, this one I LOVE because parents have almost 100% control. Create a homework space, clear table, in the communal part of the house, a few supplies near them, easy to access and fun to put away. I like to have an open shelf and closed cabinet for each kid near the homework area - they could easily shove things on the shelf, and I could easily stow them behind closed doors. Win and win. Homework and screens are best kept out of bedrooms. We all sleep better without our responsibilities looming over us or that darn blue light and social media to keep us awake.
Consider that procrastinating is about protecting and controlling our emotions. Take a minute to read, Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control). “Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.” Self-Compassions and forgiveness is the quickest path out of the weeds of procrastination. (Makes our shaming parental lectures, that haven’t worked yet, seem even more futile). “In fact, several studies show that self-compassion supports motivation and personal growth.” We can lead our kids here by asking compassionate, curiosity questions - “That project seems large and unwieldy, did you do anything similar last year?” or “I wonder how you will feel going to sleep tonight if you get 4 paragraphs done?”
Watching kids procrastinate can be painful, especially if we have struggled (or currently do struggle) with procrastination ourselves. It’s so easy to spot it when you got it! Remember, nagging or shaming relieves our anxiety in the short term, but the price we pay is a diminished relationship with our beloved child and usually undone homework. Experiment with any/all of these tips and see if stuff gets done AND the relationship flourishes.