8 Ways to Stop Struggling With Your Kids About Procrastination

8 Ways to Stop Struggling with Your Kids Over Procrastination

Most people procrastinate, but when it’s kids who are putting off tasks, it can be a real point of conflict in the family. Here is some advice from educator Joanne Foster, author of Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate , that parents and kids alike can use to diffuse tensions over getting stuff done.

Kids procrastinate. Actually, adults do, too. It may be occasionally or often, and it may occur at home, school, or elsewhere.

Sometimes the reasons for procrastination make perfectly good sense. For example, children and teens may be overwhelmed, tired, confused, disinterested, scared, or distracted. Other times the reasons for putting things off are more of a cop-out. (“I can’t do my homework/clean my room/practice the piano because it’s nice outside and tomorrow it may rain.”)

Procrastination is willful avoidance. This can be problematic for children if it interferes with their productivity, learning and self-confidence. It can also affect their relationships with other people, including family. Not everyone understands procrastination, or condones a procrastinator. And, when tasks or chores are involved — and when parents and kids do not see eye to eye about what has to be done, and when — power struggles can erupt. Unfortunately, these kinds of confrontations can spiral out of control rather quickly, and before long everyone is upset. Power struggles are counter-productive for everybody within a family.

But… Disagreements are Part of Life. How Can I Diffuse Them?

Disagreements are inevitable. Nevertheless, it’s rarely helpful to let them smolder, and there’s no upside to acting defiantly or disrespectfully.

Here are eight strategies to defuse tension and conflict that can occur due to kids’ procrastination. An added bonus is that these suggestions will also help kids manage their avoidance behaviour. And, by the way, the points apply to parents and kids—that is, both parties who might become embroiled in a power struggle.

1. Strive to be calm.
Pay attention to what you’re feeling, and make an effort to regulate it. You could take a long pause, try deep breathing, or walk away slowly to collect your thoughts. A little time and space away from the “front lines” can be helpful, and enable you to re-set your thinking. Plus, a calm demeanor benefits procrastinators. That’s because people accomplish more when they think clearly and sensibly about what they have to do. By keeping your emotions in check you’ll be better equipped to concentrate, and less inclined to become riled or to put things off. So, what helps you calm down? Music? Exercise? Soft lighting? Punching a pillow? Doodling? Consider making a list of different ways to release or control your emotions, and then you can refer to it and tap into those calming techniques when you need to.

2. Figure out what really matters.
Family ties and connectivity are precious. Ask yourself: Is confrontation really necessary? Anger can be put aside if you resolve to move on. A consequence of fuming or staying upset is that nothing gets reconciled—neither the procrastinator, nor the person admonishing the procrastinator, gets anything accomplished. A first priority is to decide to de-escalate the conflict, or agree to disagree amicably. If procrastination has led to a power struggle, you can chat about the cause. Acknowledging the reason for procrastination can help mitigate it. Could it be daunting expectations? Not enough time? Too much nagging? Sometimes excessive demands or accusatory comments are misconstrued, and this may become clearer upon reflection. Misunderstandings can be averted by notching down the confrontation, and by focusing on being more thoughtful.

3. Communicate effectively. Watch your language, including body language (like scowling, or rolling your eyes), and tone of voice. Don’t be dismissive, argumentative, or blameful because those reactions and responses will serve little purpose. Be willing to talk (not yell), and to listen (really important). Don’t say things you might regret later. If you’re a procrastinator, try communicating by doing, even if just a little. It will show that you’re trying to get on track or make amends—by at least starting to tackle that messy room or that assignment, or by devising a schedule for completing those chores left undone. You can explain how you’re willing to work on becoming more productive, and how you’re amenable to resolving things together.

4. Collaborate. Cooperate with one another to find a way to overcome procrastination as well as any conflict. Ask questions if you need to in order to try to understand, adjust, and settle matters—working as a team. Parents and kids who strive in tandem to co-create understandings and expectations, consider possible resources, or come up with creative approaches to issues or disagreements, experience less clashes and more positivity. Look for collaborative options—that is, opportunities to share ideas and strategies, and propel one another forward.

5. Compromise.
Demonstrate a willingness to be flexible, fair, and to meet other people partway. It’s important to be respectful of their viewpoints, timelines, and preferences, even though they may not be the same as your own. If, for example, you are procrastinating because a task seems too difficult or a timeline seems unreasonable, you might consider dividing the work into manageable segments and embarking on one. Showing some initial effort and good will is generally an acceptable starting point for determining if there’s legitimate reason to negotiate for more flexibility, or possibly an extended due date. A strong start can set the tone for experiencing some give and take along the way. Compromise is also an age-old, tried-and-true means of easing conflict.

6. Make an action plan. When procrastination lies at the root of a power struggle, it helps to get to the bottom of it. What is the underlying reason for the procrastination? In my new book Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate (2017), I discuss 28 possible reasons, and I provide hundreds of practical strategies so kids can prevent, manage, or eliminate those BUTS. In Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination (2015), I suggest ways parents can offer support and encouragement. In both books, I emphasize the importance of thinking through the reasons for procrastination, then planning how to proceed, step by step. These will differ depending on the reason. For example, if too many distractions are causing procrastination, steps could include becoming aware of what the distractions actually are, prioritizing, and then getting rid of each of them in turn. If fear of failure is the issue, find out how other people overcome their setbacks and obstacles. If procrastination is due to boredom, think about how to incorporate art, music, drama, dance, or other interests into an activity so it becomes more personally relevant. It’s better to take responsibility for managing procrastination rather than fighting it — or fighting about it. An action plan can be as creative, formulaic or flexible as you like.

7. Be resourceful. When people stop procrastinating and start to become more accountable, it lessens the tension and helps to diffuse power struggles. Procrastination can be confronted directly — wham! Or it can be ameliorated over time. There are many established and also innovative approaches to explore in order to improve time management, increase motivation, acquire organizational skills, and learn to set goals. Become familiar with available resources. I invite you to check out the material in my books and on my website. I suggest different kinds of apps, organizers, and agendas, helpful articles and reference books, and lists of tips. I share inspirational quotes, and give lots of examples that illustrate practical tactics for getting things done, and with less of a struggle.

8. Stay on track. Don’t be goaded or tempted into becoming derailed or taking steps backward once you’ve achieved a positive vibe. It makes no sense to regress or to rehash whatever upset you. It will not be productive. Set a course forward — slowly, steadily, deliberately and comfortably. Determine what you need to keep advancing (assistance? encouragement?), and acquire or ask for it. As you proceed, pause if need be to establish equilibrium, gain solid footing, take a break, or possibly readjust expectations or momentum. Be considerate by staying attuned to those around you. Prepare to change your world for the better, one action at a time.

Getting Past Power Struggles AND Procrastination: Final Thoughts

Once people indicate they’re willing to try to overcome confrontations, procrastination, or challenging situations — and then make some headway — it’s reinforcing if others acknowledge this progress. A hug or a few kind words can be very motivating. A little warmth can go a long way toward improving difficult circumstances. Someone has to make the first move. It might as well be you. Procrastinators know that time has a way of disappearing. So why procrastinate in making amends?

Think beyond just the present, and consider the long haul. Be purposeful, and tap your personal strengths. This may mean becoming more caring, productive, patient, forgiving, responsible, resilient or whatever else it takes to establish a balance in your interactions with others, within your own life, and over the course of time. Strive to be the best you can be. Do what it takes. Now.

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About

Dr. Joanne Foster is an expert in gifted education and high-level development, and she is an award-winning author. She wrote Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate (2017), and Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination (2015). She co-authored (with Dona Matthews), Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (2014), and Being Smart about Gifted Education (2009). She lives and works in Toronto.


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