How to help your child stop procrastinating (It works for adults too!)

by Shaya Kass, PhD

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one." -Mark Twain

Now that your child is on summer vacation, they might have a summer reading assignment. The question is how long should you allow your child to wait before they get started. This is true for projects during school as well. It also might apply to getting ready for life events like a confirmation or bar- or bat mitzvah. So how can you help your child overcome procrastination?

Firstly, whatever you do, whether it is one of my suggestions or some other idea, make sure you do it in a loving manner. Chances are, your child is already a little nervous, anxious or annoyed about the project. If you come in and start dictating a plan of action, the level of tension may only rise.

The first strategy I want to share with you is one that is a classic special education strategy. And any good teacher will tell you that you should use special education strategies with every child, as needed. The strategy is simply to take a complex task, break it down into small steps and give one step at a time.

An example of how I used this strategy was when I was teaching and I had my students write a report. I could have simply said, “Choose a topic in science and write a report about it.” I would have had 5% of my students do it well and the other 95% would have failed at the task. Instead I gave as a homework assignment to write down one question that science could answer for you. After the students completed that successfully, I told them to find three articles about the topic either on the Internet, in encyclopedia or in a newspaper or magazine. The next step was to summarize each article, write a first draft of a report, get a friend to proofread and write a final draft.

You should be employing this strategy with your kids whether they are 3 years old or 13 years old, obviously with different levels of sophistication. For a three year old cleaning up their room, you might say, “Pick up all the Lego pieces”. Then, “Pick up all the doll clothes.” For a thirteen year old it might be, “Empty all the clean dishes from the dishwasher and put them away.” Then, “take all the plates off the table, scrape them and rinse them.” Notice that these are two or three requests packaged together. Some thirteen year olds can handle that, others would have a harder time. So break it down!

The second strategy is to talk to your child about their goals and moving closer to their goals. I just read a great article (I wish I remember where!) that said anytime you are procrastinating, ask yourself a simple question. “Is this really what I want right now?” If you were really clear on your goals, you would be motivated to do what it takes to achieve those goals. If your child is not motivated, you should really be thinking about how to motivate him or her instead of forcing or bribing.

Let’s think forward a few years to when your child has a job. You know people who go to work and do what they have to do just to get a paycheck. You also know people who go to work and really enjoy what they do. They would almost be willing to do it for free. Which kind of employee do you want your child to grow up to be? They have to start learning now to be that way.

So you could motivate them with something external like a treat when they finish, or you can help them to build some internal motivation. Internal motivation for cleaning their room might be being able to find things. Internal motivation for finishing a school project might be the satisfaction of learning. Or the long-term goal of getting a degree.

So the way to stop procrastination is (1) to break the task into “bite-sized” pieces and (2) to be really motivated to do what you are doing. This is no small task, but most worthwhile tasks are not easy. Unless you are really motivated to do them!

Shaya Kass, PhD has a life mission of inspiring people to live in happiness and in gratitude. One of the ways this is accomplished is by helping parents be inspired and helping them to raise inspired kids. Get a very special report for free - The Secret to Having the Absolute Greatest Kids - at http://www.TrulyInspiredParent.com

Contributing Author for MyOutOfControlTeen.com