Help Your Kids Quit Procrastinating

When I was growing up I would often hear my mother say, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” As a child, I hated that statement. It often meant missing a television program or playing with my friends in order to finish my chores or schoolwork.

As an adult, I can now appreciate the importance my mother placed on getting a job done. Unfortunately, many parents encourage their children to procrastinate by allowing them to postpone such things as homework, music lessons or chores. When a child develops the “I’ll do-it-later” syndrome it is very difficult to grow out of it as an adult.

According to a research study conducted by Rhodes College, Psychologists found that parents can program their children to become procrastinators by being late to activities, putting off the signing of permission slips or canceling appointments. The key to remember is this moms and dads, if you want your children to get things done on time you must begin by giving them a good example.

I asked former elementary school teacher and therapist Kristen Weleba to share how parents can help their children learn better ways to stay on track and not procrastinate. Here are her suggestions:

  1. Get organized. If you are getting ready to walk out the door and you can’t find your keys, your child can’t find their left shoe and the field trip permission slip is missing, these little speedbumps can add frustration and stress to a busy morning. Taking a few minutes to get organized the night before can set you and your kids up for success. Have your child help lay their clothes out, put their homework in the correct folder, set their backpack by the door, and get the lunch box ready. Reinforcing this one habit can salvage an extra 10 to 15 minutes every morning and reduce the amount of stress you all experience as you try to get out the door on time.
  2. Give yourself a buffer. “Life happens” so, at any given moment there can be an unexpected delay. If you need to be out the door by 7:00 AM, create a standard that everyone needs to be ready by 6:45. (Pro Tip: You can even take it a step further and set the clocks 5 to 10 minutes ahead to help with this window of time.)
  3. Get rid of distractions. As you prepare for a particular task or project, it’s important to clear potential disruptions before you start. You either can set up a quiet place in the house or try listening to classical music or white noise to drown out constant chatter. To help children prepare for tasks or homework, have them turn off devices and give them the opportunity to settle down to work.
  4. Brain breaks. When it comes to schoolwork or household chores, most kids will fool around and procrastinate as long as possible because it’s “so boring” and it’s hard to focus for long periods. Scheduled breaks will help keep them on task and on time. Childhood development experts say your child’s attention span is about two to three minutes per year of their age. So, a 6-year-old child could typically maintain focus for 12-18 minutes. Have your child select an activity they would like to do once they have completed their time (dance party, go outside, grab a snack, etc.) and then set a timer to signal when they can take their break and do the activity they chose for 5-10 minutes. Repeat the schedule until the work is done. Consistency is key, so make sure when the timer goes off whatever is expected of your child is reinforced and followed through. 
  1. Establish priorities. We are often distracted by easier tasks while the important things fall to the wayside. One fun way to teach your kids priorities is to write a list of things to do and compare those items with cupcakes and sprinkles. The “cupcakes” are the priorities that must get done in order to stay on schedule – like putting completed homework in the backpack or finding both shoes before it’s time to leave for school. The “sprinkles” are the things you want to do or things that can be done later. Teach the children that the cupcakes must be done before the sprinkles can be applied.

Thank you, Kristen, for these great ideas for parents who want to teach their children to stay on schedule and avoid procrastination! We often find that the most effective way to teach our children is to teach ourselves. Better habits, better organization and a little planning can make life go more smoothly for all of us!

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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