How to Prevent Your Child from Becoming a Procrastinator

Procrastination 315

We may loath admitting it, but adults are champion procrastinators, notorious for waiting until the last minute to file our taxes or get the oil changed. But when kids display these same behaviors, it’s especially irksome. Maybe your tot drags out the morning get-dressed routine for a grueling hour, or you grade-schooler waits until the proverbial last minute to start on an important school project. Whatever your child’s procrastination problem, you can help him build important life skills like punctuality and responsibility that will pay off in school and in the working world. Read on for expert advice on replacing procrastination with promptness.

Ages 2-5
Keep it Simple
Though your toddler may sprint like the wind at her favorite park, young children generally aren’t known for their swiftness. In fact, they can be downright poky. Tasks like dressing, using the restroom or picking up toys — things adults can handle in a matter of minutes — simply take longer for young children to complete, says Jane Bailey, dean of the school of education at Post University. She encourages parents to have patience and to match tasks with a child’s developmental level. “Parents often assume a procrastinating child is being willfully defiant, when in fact it’s simply that the chore is bigger than the child can handle,” she says.

Avoid power struggles by making the job simple and doable. Don’t expect a preschooler to know how to make hospital corners; making the bed might mean pulling the blanket up over the bed and smoothing it out. Similarly, “setting the table” might entail folding and placing napkins, and “clearing the table” may mean that the child takes his own plate and cup to the sink.

Ages 6-11
School Rules
During grade school, book reports, science fairs and a plethora of other school projects mean that kids (and their parents) have no shortage of homework deadlines to meet. This makes the elementary years a prime time to instill solid study habits in preparation for the more intense academics kids will encounter in middle school, high school and beyond, says Dayle Lynn Pomerantz, a parenting educator based in Chapel Hill and author of “Secrets of Great Parents.”

When a child has a big project looming, think time management, says Bailey. “Just giving a student a deadline for a major assignment is not teaching him or her how to ‘chunk it.’ ” Write due dates on the family calendar, break the project into three manageable ‘chunks’ and set a deadline for each one. Offer a reward (like extra TV or video game time) if the project is done on time, advises Bailey, and talk about how great it is to have an assignment done early.

Ages 12-18
Tough Love
With heftier responsibilities, burgeoning academic loads and college admissions deadlines to juggle, teens pay a higher price for procrastination. Missing a scholarship application due date or falling behind on SAT prep brings lasting consequences, so it’s natural for parents to push teens to meet deadlines. Some parents even step up and take on some of their teen’s duties themselves, or resign themselves to constant nagging. But this type of pushy “helicopter parenting” won’t help your overbooked teen build the skills she needs to thrive after high school.

If your teen is struggling with a packed schedule and missing deadlines as a result, make time for a weekly mini-meeting to help her organize her calendar. Then, turn over the responsibility for meeting commitments to your teen. “If something isn’t done because of a student’s procrastination, then it’s time to let the light stay on later and have the student learn that help won’t always be available when you’ve waited until the last minute. It’s time for the teen to face the music and accept the consequence.”

Malia Jacobson is a nationally published health journalist and mom. Her latest book is “Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.”