11 – 18: Stop Procrastination

If you have a tween or young teen at home, chances are you sometimes sound like a broken record, reminding your student of the importance of studying well before the day of the math test. You find yourself preaching endlessly about allowing adequate time to rehearse that persuasive speech for English and how she should never wait until the last minute to start the required reading for social studies.

But do you practice what you preach? Do you put off doing housework, paying bills or getting that report into your boss’s hands before deadline?
Procrastination may be as much a part of our humanness as eating and sleeping. But what makes our adolescent kids so vulnerable? In “The Procrastinating Child: A Handbook for Adults to Help Children Stop Putting Things Off,” author Rita Emmett explains that procrastination is simply a bad habit we can correct. We fall prey to the behavior when we feel overwhelmed, become distracted or feel helpless.

Get Beyond the Fear of Failure
Your tween may seem lazy when she is actually overwhelmed. Sometimes the feeling is a result of perfectionism. Indeed, perfectionism and procrastination go hand in hand. So if your child is fearful of failing an exam or a particular task, this anxiety may cause her to stall. She may feel stuck and unable to get mentally mobilized. Such a bad habit may continue into adulthood, jeopardizing future successes.

A consistent fear of failure can lead to a pattern of indecisive behavior that author Neil Fiore notes as a warning sign in his book “The Now Habit.” He also names low self-esteem and lack of assertiveness as red flags for procrastinating behavior.

But there is hope. To combat the tendency to put things off, Fiore suggests transforming the thought “I don’t want to” into “I wonder what will come?” Sounds simple enough, but the attitude adjustment is powerful. In a sense, that shift tricks the brain into a more productive mode.

Accept Mistakes
It is important to help your child understand how perfectionism keeps him from greater productivity. Kids need to learn it is OK to make mistakes. Explain that “not perfect” is altogether different than “fail.” Plus, a certain comfort level with failure is necessary.
One of the best ways to foster this lesson is through modeling. Seeing parents acknowledge their own daily errors (and responding with humor and compassion for the missteps) is both a gift and permission for your tween to go for it.

Make Tasks Manageable
Emmett recommends helping children break overwhelming tasks into smaller chunks. If your child has an upcoming Civil War test and simply cannot get the gears in motion, help her get organized. Look at the task of test preparation as a series of baby steps. Help her make a short list for a plan of attack, such as reread two chapters of the text Monday, study notes Tuesday and Wednesday, and cover vocabulary on Thursday. Ideally, teachers would teach time management, but parents also can help children learn time-management strategies.

Set Expectations for Completion
Parents also may influence their teen’s productivity by setting firm rules at home, offering rewards and making lists. Do not put off making these rules. The basic rule of “no TV until your homework is done” is an obvious place to begin to curb the procrastination. Cyber time and iPod privileges may be suspended or offered as rewards for successful time management.

Make lists for everything so there can be no excuses. Adolescents are especially prone to selective forgetfulness, even when rules are clearly articulated. Notes are more effective than nagging for gentle reminders of chores, appointments and expectations. Throw in some fun messages, too: “Jonas Brothers called. They said good luck on the simplifying fractions test!”
Middle school is an optimal time to help the ones you love most shed some bad habits that could trip them up in high school and beyond. It may only take a few months to see positive results and begin celebrating your more productive child.

From Procrastinating to Productive

Author Rita Emmett offers these tips for helping children to overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed:
• Select one task you’ve been putting off.
• Time yourself and take one hour to accomplish the task.
• Ignore everything around you, such as the phone and other tasks.

Michele Ranard is the queen mother of two princes of procrastination. She is a professional counselor, math tutor and freelance writer.