“Procrastination is no secret. Like caution, hesitation, and indecision, it’s a slice of life.”
~ Not Now, Maybe Later, p, 19
Procrastination is intentional. Kids who procrastinate might delay, defer, or postpone tasks or activities. They may make excuses. Or withdraw. Or whine. Or prolong doing one thing to avoid doing another. These behaviors may occur at home, school, or elsewhere – as evidenced by toddlers, older children, and teens—and continue into adulthood. Procrastination is common. Honestly, who can say they’ve never procrastinated?
So, what’s the big deal?
Procrastination can be problematic because it can short-circuit productivity and obstruct learning. It interferes with skill-building and creativity. It can also affect a person’s self-esteem, and compromise relationships, leading to disagreements, conflicts, or power struggles. Procrastination can be stressful.
That said, there may be many—and understandable—reasons why kids procrastinate.
Procrastination: Why and When
“Children vary tremendously in their temperaments, their processing speed, and their most productive time of day.”
~ Bust Your BUTS, p. 53
In the award-winning book Bust Your BUTS, I discuss different reasons for procrastination. Some are personal. This includes having too much to do, boredom, lack of confidence, fear of failure (or success), perfectionism, confusion, and—yes—laziness.
Other reasons are skill-related—for example disorganization, time management issues, insufficient knowledge, disability, or problems with goal-setting, decision-making, prioritizing, or mitigating risks.
There are also external reasons for procrastinating, such as distractions, excessive screen time, lack of materials or structure, people who are influencers, and parents who pester—or procrastinate themselves.
And, that is only a sampling of WHY some children put off tasks or avoid them altogether. If a task is too easy, too hard, or not relevant, it may not be sufficiently motivating—and there are only 24 hours in a day to get things done.
Then there’s the WHEN part. Some kids are slow to start, others to finish. Some procrastinate at certain times of the day or year, others in specific situations, subject areas, or contexts.
Kids’ lives are increasingly hectic. There’s school, family, extracurricular activities, homework, friends, play… And, as kids get older they confront more choices and influences. Children may have difficulty carving out time-frames for meeting some demands. They may need assistance to know what to attend to—and when—and what strategies to use to empower themselves to succeed.
Parents can encourage and support kids as they learn to take responsibility for decisions, actions, consequences, and outcomes.
What Can Parents Do?
“The process of acknowledging the reason for procrastination, identifying if it’s problematic (a situation that could impede health, personal growth, academic achievement, or relationships), and talking about it together so as to figure out how to deal with it now, can help a child learn to manage and overcome procrastination.”
~ Not Now, Maybe Later, p. 12
Here are some ways to help kids who procrastinate:
- Create a framework for positive action. Regardless of age, this starts by being calm, and feeling able. Get comfortable, communicate openly, and share ideas about the reason for procrastinating, and how to create forward momentum, one step at a time. Think: awareness, thought, renewed focus, action!
- Assist children in recognizing their strengths and limitations. Consider together their questions or concerns, and discuss their previous efforts, difficulties, and successes. Then help children set realistic goals for themselves. Expectations should be fitting, fair, manageable, and attainable. Tasks should be matched to ability.
- Pay attention to children’s attitudes, influences, preferences, skills, and behaviors. Strive to be adaptable and reassuring. Reinforce effort. Show faith in them as they learn to deal with day-to-day opportunities and challenges. Remember, too, that kids need routines, breaks, and ample time for play.
- Is it meaningful? Help children understand the relevance of a particular task, and how it relates to their lives. Be patient as they work this out, including why (or if) they should do something—whether it’s now or later.
- Try giving children the reins. Children are in the throes of gaining independence. When they sense that have some ownership of their activities and decisions, and that their choices are respected, they are more inclined to commit to them and see them through.
- Share strategies you use to overcome procrastination. Demonstrate resourcefulness and initiative. Talk to kids about your experiences and learning curves. Work together to ease their concerns about procrastination, and to increase their motivation.
From Procrastination to Triumph
“Motivation is often associated with triggers such as need, instinct, curiosity, or encouragement. Learning opportunities should be interesting so kids can experience the kind of motivation that comes from personal engagement.”
~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p.95
Be available as needed as children learn to handle demands and responsibility, adjust to circumstances and change, and overcome procrastination.
Here are 2 final take-away tips:
- Help kids acquire knowledge about a task so they can see their way forward. Knowledge is a basis for learning and engagement; we build upon what we know. (See What Is the Connection between Prior Knowledge and Learning?) Task-related knowledge might include figuring out benefits, risks, relevance, ways to simplify complexities, and steps required for completion. Children can tap resources, use suggested procrastination-busting applications and approaches (see Bust Your BUTS), and connect with trusted others at home, school, and within the community.
- Encourage kids to reflect. This will help them clarify and consolidate ideas, explore new attitudes, motivators, and prospects, and define their own understandings of success. (See Reflective Habits of Mind—and Kids.) People can progress a little or a lot. With progress comes extended capabilities, confidence, and motivation to get things done. Kids who reflect upon and embrace the promise of possibility are better positioned to overcome procrastination now—not later.
Additional Procrastination-Related Resources
- How to Stop Procrastinating? at Roots of Action
- Those Procrastinating Kids! at Education News
- How to Move from Procrastination to Productivity – Podcast at HelpmeSara
- Strategies to Help Your Kid Overcome Procrastination – Podcast at Raising Entrepreneurs
- Helping Kids Overcome Procrastination: Why Wait? at The Creativity Post