4 Ways To Stop Your Kids From Procrastinating (That Actually Work!)

Photo: iStock
Help Your Child Defeat Procrastination

Nip that bad habit in the bud now, before it destroys their future (and drives YOU insane).

How many times has your child said the following: 

"I'll clean my room tomorrow!"

"It's not due until next week!"

"I'll do my chores ... later!"

They resist. They insist. They persuade. But, they don’t act.

Watching your children go through the self-destructive process of procrastination is extremely painful. Your options are to either do nothing (watching the all-too-familiar bad habit of procrastination take hold), help out by doing some or all of the work for them, or play the "parent card" and make them do it, causing stress and bad feelings.

None of these are good options, of course. None of them actually improves your child's life, increases their resilience, or empowers them to take control.

We live in a society where 20% of adults self-identify as chronic procrastinators. (Casual procrastination affects an even larger group.)

If you evaluate the studies, or just spend time with someone who chronically procrastinates, the issue is not defeated by simple logic. In other words, procrastination goes far beyond just helping your child fix their schedule and prioritize better.

Chronically delaying tasks goes hand in hand with feelings of shame, guilt, and anxiety.

So, while your child may actually really want to accomplish their goals, mood and emotion interfere with the execution. In short, negative emotions derail self-control. As such, a key to reducing the procrastinating behavior has a large part to do with improving emotions.

Among others, Dr. Pychyl, author of the 2013 book, Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, explored and promoted the use of mood repair, using psychological strategies to defeat procrastination where it starts. Simply put, you can learn to recognize that you are procrastinating, acknowledge its negative consequences, and employ one or more of a variety of simple techniques to navigate through it and get back to being productive again.

This thought-pattern overhaul works for adults, correcting an established problem. But if we taught these skills to our children while they're young, imagine the potential we can open up in them. Imagine how much unnecessary stress we can remove from their lives.

Here are four simple, research-based ideas you can teach your child, which will help them steer clear of procrastination from the outset and measurably improve their chances of avoiding it later in life.

1. Teach your child self-compassion

"A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life." (Christopher K. Germer)

Let’s say your child delays a task. While they may feel temporary pleasure from the procrastination, in the end there are often lingering feelings of anxiety and self-criticism from the job left undone. Here's the thing: beating oneself up for procrastinating only makes things worse, as negative emotions inhibit self-control.

As an alternative, teach your child to forgive themselves, be kind to themselves, and treat themselves as they would treat their own best friend. Let them know this is a process of self-awareness. They realize they are procrastinating and it's time to make a change. Children will understand that the point of not procrastinating is simply to make their lives better.

2. Encourage your child to "time travel"

"Visualize this thing that you want, see it, feel it, believe in it. Make your mental blueprint, and begin to build." (Robert Collier)

A fun way for kids to think about how procrastination affects them is to "time travel." Have your child take a trip into the future and use visualization. Ask them to close their eyes and imagine how they will feel once the task is complete ... and how they will feel if it is not.

Sometimes, all they need is the realization that "if I don't clean my room now, that mountain of socks will be even larger when I have to clean it tomorrow and want to go out with my friends."

By imagining how much better life will be for them tomorrow, they realize what they have to deal with now isn't so bad.

3. Show your child how to get started

"You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

A large part of the problem of procrastination comes from feeling overwhelmed about the entirety of the task. A science fair project takes hours of work, but the first 20 minutes only take 20 minutes to complete.

Just getting started means taking a baby step. If your child knows that they only need to do 20 minutes of work, they are much more likely to start. You can help your child set up mini-goals in their overall quest to complete a larger goal.

Achieving each milestone can give your child a mood boost, making them more likely to continue or return to the task positively in the future.

4. Ensure your child starts with the easy things

"If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed." (William H. McCraven, U.S. Navy Admiral)

Starting a project or a task can often be the most stressful part. Perhaps it’s a side effect of the "work before play" mentality, but we often feel the need to start with the hardest part. This creates unnecessary stress, inviting procrastination.

Release your child from the grasp of this thought. Help them find the parts that they like, and make sure they know that they can start there! This level of control is empowering and it makes starting anything much more enjoyable.

Getting the ball rolling with an enjoyable part of a task often acts as a gateway to further, more complicated work.

Teach your kids simple research-based practices to relieve anxiety, procrastinate less, and live more resilient lives at www.gozen.com.

This article was originally published at Psych Central. Reprinted with permission from the author.