We all have our own personal stories of procrastination. Most probably took place in a college dorm room, where we chose a midnight movie or a trip out with friends over prepping for a paper due the next day. While we may accept a degree of procrastination as normal in adulthood, it’s nevertheless important for parents to be on the lookout for this kind of behavior in their children. Procrastination, if left to its own devices, can grow with your child into an overwhelming problem.
Parents who notice their child is avoiding homework or chores should first check to see what underlying cause, if any, is behind the procrastination. Children can become anxious over tasks they don’t feel equipped to handle, get overwhelmed by the physical demands of a task, or simply be distracted by something else close by. Once you find a cause, you can begin to work with your child to remedy the situation and nip the procrastination.
I recently shared some of my thoughts on this topic in Charlotte Parent, and wanted to continue the conversation as fall approaches, likely bringing with it new responsibilities, chores, assignments, and other new challenges for your child.
There are a few things parents can do early on – between the ages of 3 and 5 – to help instill a sense of responsibility in their child and prevent the tendency to procrastinate from ever developing. Learning responsibility will also better prepare your child to concentrate on and persist through challenging tasks – one of the six emotional skills children need as they enter school.
Here are three actions that will help your young child become more accountable.
1. Assign a task that is simple and doable. Straightforward routine assignments are a fundamental stepping stone to teaching your child responsibility. Tasks you might assign include making the bed each morning; taking his/her plate to the sink after meals; or putting away toys after play time.
2. Be consistent. If you ask a child to make his/her bed each day, then be sure to have a bed-check right after breakfast. If you’re sporadic with checking, your child will be sporadic with chores.
3. Reward your child when they complete tasks on time. Rewarding the routine also enforces the routine. This can be as simple as adding a gold star sticker to a chore chart.
When older children procrastinate, the parents’ role becomes more complex. Tasks become more comprehensive, and there are often challenging decisions to be made. If your child has left a huge project until the night before, do you help him/her with the project to avoid a poor grade, or allow the child to receive the poor grade as a consequence? To avoid having to make this decision, parents should step in when a child is assigned his/her first large school project. This is the time to start teaching your child time management – one of the most wonderful gifts you can give him/her.
Consider these three strategies for tackling procrastination with your older child.
1. Take out the calendar. Time management begins and ends with the calendar. Just giving a student a deadline for a major assignment is not effective. Rather, parents should work with their child to reiterate the due date and ask him/her to mark the date on the family calendar. Then, star the three days prior to the deadline, and offer a reward if the project is done by one of those dates (give your child and yourself a big pat on the back if you accomplish this!).
2. Break the project down into smaller tasks. Ask your child to explain the larger scope of the project and the final expectations. Then, show him/her how to break it into three main parts and estimate how much time they’ll need to complete every individual step. Mark all those deadlines on the calendar. This practice will help your child realize the intensity of the project without feeling overwhelmed. More importantly, it will teach him/her the importance of spacing the project out over time and allotting time in the calendar long before the deadline.
3. Reinforce the project. To solidify your child’s commitment and understanding of the project and all its moving parts, take your child on a shopping trip to buy the necessary supplies s/he will need. Have your child make up the shopping list. By virtue of talking through his/her plan while writing the list, s/he will further understand the scope of the project and will be better prepared to tackle it. Not to mention, s/he will be less likely to forget any supplies!
If you don’t ace your first attempt at curbing procrastination, don’t be discouraged. Time management is a complex skill, and it may take time for your child to master. It’s critical to hold your child accountable and be consistent no matter what the outcome. If the night before deadline arises and the project isn’t done, then it’s time for parents to retrace their steps and think about why this is. Review all the actions you took to try to nail down where you went astray and identify areas for improvement.
And, in regards to the task at hand, it’s time to let the light stay on later and let the student learn the hard way that help won’t always be available when you’ve waited until the last minute. It’s time for him/her to face the music and accept the grade earned. S/he may not appreciate it now, but by the time college rolls around, s/he will thank you for the time management training!
To learn about Post University’s Early Childhood Education program, visit our website.