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The Truth about Children’s Procrastination

Over the past several weeks, families have adjusted to lots of changes in routines, social situations, schooling, and day-to-day dynamics. Along the way, many children (and adults, too) have been struggling with a lack of structure and procrastination. With summer approaching, and people craving more time outdoors, procrastination continues to be an issue. Here’s what to do about it—and why.

WHAT IS PROCRASTINATION?

“Procrastination is no secret. Like caution, hesitation, and indecision, it’s a slice of life.”

~ Not Now, Maybe Later, p. 19

Procrastination is a form of avoidance behavior. It involves willfully putting off tasks or activities or substituting them with ones that are more appealing. For example, instead of doing something that’s mundane or too challenging, children may prefer to do something that seems more interesting, exciting, fun, or readily doable. Procrastination can be recurring or sporadic. It may occur in certain situations or in relation to specific kinds of demands. It involves choice. Individuals choose whether to act, participate, create, say “no!” (or “later”), use their capacities, be the best they can be, or step forward, backward, or aside.

Is procrastination bad? Is there a positive spin to it? Read on…

WHAT’S THE UPSIDE?

“Procrastination can be a self-help mechanism that, for some people, provides a measure of control. Making a decision, even a decision to do nothing, may help them to feel calmer, especially if things around them seem to be spinning out of control.”

~ Not Now, Maybe Later, p. 40

People who chastise a procrastinator may be too quick to admonish. Perhaps they’re not seeing the whole picture.

Children may put things off as a way to seize the extra time to plan, prepare, or ponder. This can be time well spent. Procrastination may be like a window of opportunity—a chance for kids to think things through carefully or creatively, prioritize, regulate emotions, gain self-control, or develop skills.

Children procrastinate for various reasons. For example, they may lack self-confidence or feel unsure about how to tackle something. They might think expectations are unfair, inappropriate, threatening, risky, or unattainable, so procrastination may seem to them to be a very reasonable response. Simply put, avoidance is how some kids cope with uncertainty and adversity. However, when people procrastinate, there are generally consequences. Young children may not grasp that.

IS PROCRASTINATION POTENTIALLY PROBLEMATIC?

“There seems to be a moral dimension attached to procrastination;
dragging one’s feet is viewed as behavior to be criticized…”

~ Not Now, Maybe Later, p. 18

Procrastination can be detrimental to a child’s productivity, self-confidence, and learning. It can trigger feelings such as shame, guilt, embarrassment, worry, and anger. It can also lead to power struggles and conflicts and affect relationships with friends and family members.

Children may procrastinate when they feel bored, upset, disorganized, distracted, insecure, overwhelmed, or ill-prepared.

Procrastination can be difficult to eliminate and manage—regardless of age, but perhaps especially for children. Young people are still finding their way as they experience emotional upheavals, skill-related demands, various expectations, social interactions, and more. All of this can be stressful!

Procrastination can be frowned upon by others, particularly anyone who may be inconvenienced by it. There’s often an aura of laziness or disobedience attached to procrastination—for example, when children postpone complying with parents’ requests, resist following rules, or shirk responsibility for simple chores (like tidying up toys). Avoidance behavior is not always condoned or understood. There are negative connotations to it.

However, the reality is that children, like adults, are trying to get through all the demands of life, carving out their own approaches and time frames for meeting different challenges. The good news is that supportive family members can offer reassurance and help procrastinating children learn what they can manage and how to get things done. Fortunately, there are many ways to tackle procrastination!

NEXT STEPS?

“No matter how old you are, it’s important to steer yourself well. It’s also important to have faith in your ability to do whatever you set your mind to do.”

~ Bust Your BUTS, p. 140

Parents can help kids deal with procrastination by co-creating an action plan that’s fair and doable. Here’s a procrastination-busting framework …

Dr. Joanne Foster

Dr. Joanne Foster, an acclaimed author and educator, has dedicated over 35 years to gifted education and child development. With expertise in psychology and special education, her work empowers parents and educators, fostering creativity and high-level learning in children and teens.

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