See Ya Later, Procrastinator!

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You didn’t phone your mother-in-law today as you promised, and you’ve been putting off your exercise routine since 2003.

And now you’re driving your son around the mall parking lot at 8:45 p.m., searching for all the materials he needs to make a three-foot dinosaur for his presentation, due tomorrow.

How can you teach your kids not to procrastinate when you do it, too?

Karen Lewis was ready to give up. “By the time Tori was in Grade 6, I was accustomed to the constant notes from teachers asking for work she hadn’t completed. I nagged her constantly and had to give her the third degree about her deadlines for work.”

Karen knew that she shared more with her 12-year-old daughter than a nice smile and a talent for drawing. They both were afflicted with a bad case of procrastination.

Karen didn’t know how to get through to her daughter. “Nothing I tried had worked, and I honestly wasn’t convinced that she could change. I couldn’t shake the question of how I could expect to teach her not to procrastinate when I was struggling with the same problem myself. I finally realized that I had to accept that Tori was learning from my example, and that I had to change before I could expect a change in Tori. I had to start by doing what I was putting off and keeping to my own schedule.”

“Given that children learn by what we do more than by what we say, of course our procrastination will affect them,” says Dr. Timothy Pychyl, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa and Director of the Procrastination Research Group. “Modeling healthy behaviours is all we have as parents. Our children will learn from how they see us live and will incorporate this into their own unique selves.”

Procrastination is a learned behaviour, which means that you can change bad habits. Dr. Joanne Foster, researcher at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in Toronto and author of Being Smart about Gifted Children, has lectured on why children procrastinate. To help, she suggests:

  • working together as a family. Set clear routines for everyone.
  • setting schedules so everybody has time to work, time for chores and time for play.
  • teaching kids that routine and responsibility are part of life.

Talk to your kids about your responsibilities and theirs. This will help them make the connection between the behaviours of the family and the value that you place on reaching goals and completing tasks.

Kids will soon see that after you come home from work you and your husband:

  • prep food for cooking
  • put dinner on the table
  • do tasks you don’t want to do first
  • clean up immediately

You can point out your own system of rewards. How, for example, you and your husband pour a drink and settle in to
watch a good movie after the chores are done. Also, help your kids to fit in some unscheduled downtime. A balance of work and play is important for kids. This time has to be built into the game plan, so that children know that there is (a) time to complete tasks and (b) time to explore other things that may be of interest to them.

Ask why he or she is procrastinating and look for patterns. Is it only math homework that isn’t getting done or are they consistently late with all homework and chores? Armed with this insight, you can better address the issues at the heart of the problem.

Karen talked with Tori and this gave her a better understanding of what Tori did and didn’t put off. Daily assignments were usually completed on time, but larger projects were always left untouched until the very last minute.

They took action: “We began these projects with a list of materials and broke up the work into manageable pieces. We got immediate results. Tori was less anxious and less afraid of moving forward. Now she makes lists of what she has to do each week and we go over them together. Tori even helps me to keep on my workout schedule by jogging with me! We’re not perfect, but we’re getting better. And there’s a whole lot less stress and nagging in our house!”

When being supportive means letting go

Nagging about deadlines is likely to become less and less effective as our kids get older. “We can’t control kids all of the time and then wonder why they don’t have their own self-discipline,” says Dr. Pychyl.

  • Give children strategies to combat procrastination, and then give them enough room to explore their interests and abilities.
  • Teach them to identify personally with a goal – they are more likely to focus their energy and attention and less likely to procrastinate.
  • Communicate clearly that there are consequences for not fulfilling their responsibilities. They will soon learn this without you telling them.
  • If you suspect that they are not doing something because they got away with it before, take a step back and let them experience the repercussions for once, instead of doing it all yourself.
  • Let them experience consequences. If you aren’t sure how to do this without him or her failing school, start small, with the consequence of running out of clean clothing, for example. After they put off their laundry and have to wear their old, ‘ugly’ clothes to school, they might actually start doing the laundry regularly.


The way that you communicate with your child is key. Dr. Timothy Pychyl’s research has found that parenting styles affect a child’s procrastination habits.

  • Being inflexible and controlling can put more stress on your child and make them fear failure.
  • Acceptance, involvement, and supervision can help kids to be independent and have a strong motivation to achieve.
  • Praising a child’s honest effort and hard work can make them feel better about their accomplishments and encourage them to finish that tough assignment.


Dr. Joanne Foster has these tips for helping your child curb procrastination tendencies:

CAUSE: Fear of failing

your kids that you don’t expect perfection – from them or yourself.
Show them that you accept setbacks. Kids who are afraid of errors and
are uncomfortable with risk-taking can benefit from seeing that their
parents still learn from their own mistakes. It helps if they know that
you forgive yourself for stumbling along the way, because you are
focused toward a goal.

CAUSE: Feeling overwhelmed

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Let your kids know that it’s okay to ask for support when they need it. Help them to prioritize and get a game plan so they can break down a task by creating a to-do list. You also can show them how to create a broader schedule for not only the current project but also including the other obligations that will compete for their time. Avoid negative language. Acknowledge that a task may be tough, but that it’s not impossible.

CAUSE: Unrealistic deadline

ignore your child’s learning style. If your child is easily distracted,
create an environment for them with few distractions. If your child has
impressive multi-tasking abilities, a desk in a quiet room may not be
the optimal working environment. They may enjoy having music on in the
background. Let talkers collaborate with others on tasks when possible.
With younger children, make tasks into games that you can do together. A
dull task can be made more exciting if they have some freedom.

CAUSE: The task seems irrelevant or unimportant

can help to motivate your kids by showing them that knowledge is power.
Instill in them the importance of reaching goals and the short- and
long-term rewards. Let them know that there is value in doing what is
most important to them, but that they can do what needs to get done as
well as what they’re most excited about.

CAUSE: More information is needed

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Sometimes
they simply don’t have enough information to know how to complete a
task. Show kids how to communicate with their instructors to get all the
information they need.

CAUSE: The task is boring

a look at your child’s workload and determine if the amount of work
required and all of their activities actually allow for this work to be
completed. It may be necessary to pare down your child’s hectic

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