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How to Stop Procrastination in Your Kid

Tired of harping on them to stop putting things off? Here are eight ways you can help your children increase productivity (and nip your nagging, too!).

Procrastination may be as much a part of our humanness as eating and sleeping, but adolescent kids seem especially vulnerable. In The Procrastinating Child: A Handbook for Adults to Help Children Stop Putting Things Off, author Rita Emmett explains that the bad habit is sometimes because we feel overwhelmed, become distracted or feel helpless.

Sometimes the feeling is a result of perfectionism – as it goes hand-in-hand with procrastination. If your child is fearful of failing an exam or a particular task, such anxiety may cause her to stall. She may feel stuck and unable to become mentally mobilized. The bad habit may continue into adulthood, jeopardizing future successes.

A consistent fear of failure can lead to a pattern of indecisive behavior author Neil Fiore notes as a warning sign in The Now Habit. He also identifies low self-esteem and lack of assertiveness as red flags for procrastinating behavior. Here are seven tips to help your child – and you – stop procrastinating.

1. Trick your brain.

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, but the attitude adjustment is powerful. In a sense, that subtle shift tricks the brain into a more productive mode.

2. Get comfy with mistakes.

Help your child understand how perfectionism stops 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.

3. Think smaller chunks.

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. These time-management strategies can go a long way in thwarting procrastination.

4. Set expectations for homework completion.

Parents can influence their child'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. Screen time may be suspended or offered as rewards for successful time management.

5. Remove the STING from feeling overwhelmed.

Here's a great strategy from Emmett's book:

  • 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.
  • No breaks. One hour is realistic for an 8- to 12-year-old student, but reduce the time if your child is younger or has a tough time focusing for that long.
  • Give yourself a reward once the task is complete.

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