Put a Stop to Your Children's Procrastination


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We may not like admitting it, but many adults are champion procrastinators, notorious for waiting until the last minute to file taxes or get the oil changed. But when kids display these same behaviors, it's especially irksome. Maybe your tot drags out the morning get-dressed routine for a grueling hour, or your grade-schooler waits until the proverbial last minute to start an important school project. Whatever your child's procrastination problem, help him build important life skills, like punctuality and responsibility, that will pay off in school and in the working world. Here's how to replace procrastination with promptness.

Ages 0-5 Keep it simple

Though your toddler may sprint like the wind at her favorite park, young children generally aren't known for their swiftness. Tasks such as dressing, using the restroom or picking up toys simply take longer for young children to complete, says Jane Bailey, dean of the School of Education at Post University in Waterbury, Conn.

She encourages parents to be patient and to match tasks with a child's developmental level. "Parents often assume a procrastinating child is being willfully defiant, when in fact it's simply that the chore is bigger than the child can handle," Bailey says.

Avoid power struggles by simplifying the job. Don't expect a preschooler to know how to make hospital corners with sheets. Making the bed might mean pulling up the blanket and smoothing it out. Similarly, "setting the table" may entail folding and placing napkins, and "clearing the table" may mean a child takes his own plate and cup to the sink.

Ages 6-10 School rules

During grade school, book reports, science fairs and other school projects mean kids have no shortage of homework deadlines. This makes the elementary years a prime time to instill solid study habits in preparation for the more intense academics kids encounter during middle school, high school and beyond, says Dayle Lynn Pomerantz, a parenting educator in Chapel Hill and author of Secrets of Great Parents.

When a big project looms, think about time management, Bailey says. "Just giving a student a deadline for a major assignment is not teaching him or her how to 'chunk it.'" Write due dates on the family calendar, break the project into three manageable parts and set a deadline for each. Offer a reward if the project gets done on time, Bailey advises, and talk about how great it is to have an assignment done early.

Ages 11-18 Tough love

With heftier responsibilities, burgeoning academic loads and college admissions deadlines to juggle, teens pay a higher price for procrastination. Missing a scholarship application due date or falling behind on SAT prep brings lasting consequences, so it's natural for parents to push teens to meet deadlines. But pushy "helicopter parenting" won't help your overbooked teen build the skills she needs to thrive after high school.

If your teen is struggling with a packed schedule and missing deadlines as a result, have a weekly mini-meeting to help her organize her calendar. Then, turn over the responsibility to your teen.

"If something isn't done because of a student's procrastination, then it's time to let the light stay on later and have the student learn that help won't always be available when you've waited until the last minute," Bailey says. "It's time for the teen to face the music and accept the consequence."

Malia Jacobson is a nationally published health journalist and mom.

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