Age-by-Age Advice to Nipping Procrastination, from Tots to Teens

Need help motivating your child who has a procrastination problem? Here are some tips, listed by age groups, for parents.

Maybe your child drags out the morning routine for a grueling hour, or your grade schooler waits until the last minute to start on a big 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.

Preschool years

Though your toddler may sprint like the wind at her favorite park, young kids generally aren’t known for their swiftness.

Tasks like dressing, using the restroom or picking up toys – things adults can handle in minutes – take longer for young children to complete, says Jane Bailey, Ed.D, dean of the school of education at Post University in Connecticut. She encourages parents to have patience and 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 notes.

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

Elementary years

During grade school, book reports, science fairs and a plethora of other school projects mean kids (and parents) have no shortage of deadlines to meet.

This makes the elementary years a prime time to instill solid study habits in preparation for the more intense academics of middle school, high school and beyond, says Dayle Lynn Pomerantz, a parenting educator based in North Carolina and the 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. 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.

Tween and teen years

With heftier responsibilities and academic loads and college admissions deadlines, 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.

Some 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 missed deadlines, make time for a weekly mini meeting to help her organize her calendar. Then, turn over the responsibility to your teen.

Illustration by Mino Watanabe


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