Opinion and Editorial

Preventing your child from becoming a procrastinator

Marty Nemko
Filed on April 6, 2021
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Kids are more likely to emulate what their parents do than what they preach.

It’s hard to cure procrastitis — perhaps you know from personal experience. Indeed, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, as a parent, you can be invaluable in preventing your child from succumbing to that serious disease.

Alas, ironically, schools can create procrastinators: for example, because of grade inflation. So, kids often procrastinate and still get a good grade for their last-minute cram. Then there’s the extension: When the procrastinator falsely claims, for example, to have had a stomach ache or the proverbial “my dog ate my homework”, too many teachers say OK, turn it in tomorrow. Of course, like grade inflation, extensions reward the procrastinator, and one of psychology’s unquestioned tenets is that you get more of what you reward.

So, preventing your child from contracting procrastitis falls heavily on you. The following should be helpful:

Model good behaviour

Kids are more likely to emulate what their parents do than what they preach. For example, if you promise to take your child to a museum, and your child says, ‘When’? and you say, ‘Soon’, and ‘soon’ doesn’t come for a month or never, that speaks volumes to a child: that their most respected role model will procrastinate, even in keeping a promise to their child.

Enforce rules

Yes, there will be exceptions, but make procrastination a no-no. For example, you ask your child, “Do you want to do your homework now or right after dinner?” If s/he says, “Right after dinner”, and after dinner, says, “But there’s this great TV show now”! You might respond, “You should have done your homework before. It’s not negotiable.” (Of course, if you have a DVR, you can say: “DVR it”, and after your homework is done and done well, you can watch it.)

Prepare responses

We all become quite creative in making excuses for procrastinating our disliked tasks. For example, you tell your child to clean his or her room and s/he parries, “I have homework.” Sample answer: “Don’t pull that. You know you should have done that before. Now, clean your room well, then do your homework, well. Not negotiable.”

Say it pleasantly, perhaps with an impish twinkle in your eye, to avoid being unnecessarily oppositional, which would tempt your child to be even more oppositional. Remember, you can’t force your child to do much of anything — ultimately, control resides in the child.

The takeaway

We all procrastinate. In fact, my choosing to write this today is procrastinating working on my income tax return. But when procrastination becomes a common response to unpleasant tasks, the likely result is that your child will do worse, if not in school, then in life. The good news is that there’s much a parent can do about it. — Psychology Today

(Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in California, US)

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