by Rachelle Tannenbaum
"I'll do it later." How many times have your children (or you) uttered these words? Why do kids procrastinate, and what can parents do about it? That is the question addressed in this month’s ezine, written by Dr. Matt Yeazel. Matt is a psychology professor at AACC, and has a private practice in Annapolis. He is a licensed clinical social worker whose previous positions have included working with the Anne Arundel County Department of Health providing clinical services to children and adolescents.
If you’d like to know more about this month’s topic, you may be interested in our course “Helping Disorganized Kids Succeed in School.” Details about this and all our classes may be found on our courses page. Alternatively, you can bring us to your neighborhood and have us offer courses or workshops at your school, church, or organization. Contact us today for more details!
“I’LL GET TO IT LATER, MOM!”
PROCRASTINATION AS FAMILY FUN (NOT!)
by Matt Yeazel
Consider the case of John, an energetic 11-year-old who is incredibly creative but waits until the last minute to complete classroom projects. In fact, John is zeroing in on one of the most important projects of the school year: the Science Fair. At the beginning of the school year, when the Science Fair was months and months in the future (in April), John excitedly gave his parents a laundry list of potential ideas, such as volcanoes (“We could create this huge model of what might happen to Hawaii if all its volcanoes became active at once!”), oceans (“I could get this huge tank of mako sharks”), or even alternative energy (“I’ll make the first hybrid blender and make shakes for everyone!”). John’s enthusiasm is incredible and his parents encourage him to get to work. Who knows what he is capable of?
And then April arrives. Unfortunately, John never did get a chance to investigate any of his great ideas and is now faced with putting together a project for tomorrow’s Science Fair. It is 8:30 p.m. and John enlists his older sister to sneak out to the toy store to hopefully find something “science-y” that will allow him to get through tomorrow. What happened?
There are all sorts of generic remedies for procrastination, such as breaking up something into parts, or working through your child’s project with him. Though on the surface it would appear that procrastination is an easily-addressed issue, chances are it might be a little more complicated than that. Do all procrastinators have the same motivation? Do they all think alike?
Six types of procrastinators
Psychologist Linda Sapadin, author of Beat Procrastination and Make the Grade, identifies six different types of procrastinators:
- The Perfectionist. Recalling our earlier story, if John procrastinated because he was a perfectionist, he might have been working for all those months on his “attack of the mako shark” science project, but since he wasn’t able to secure the square footage necessary for his gigantic fish tank, he got incredibly frustrated and down on himself. Having a great science fair project becomes less of a priority since it can’t be done “exactly right.” For these types of children, it is important to help them see the importance of looking at things in perspective.
- The Crisis Maker. If John was a Crisis Maker, he would only become motivated when it was the last minute, doing it all at once. These types of children react best to challenges, so make them, with real “fake” deadlines.
- The Defier. As the Defier, John becomes incredibly argumentative and does not want to hear his parents tell him to do his work. Since these kids' goal is to separate themselves from everyone else by arguing, you can shock them by agreeing with them if they do make some good points. Instead of engaging in a power struggle, focus on the pros and cons of completing the project. Avoid the “do this or else” point of view-instead, stress the legitimate rewards that might come from completing the project.
- The Worrier. Some children become incredibly anxious when given assignments and projects. Feelings of potential failure and negative self-talk hamper their ability to create a vision for success. These type of kids present a steady stream of “I can’t’s”. A parent’s instinct is to cheer their child up and tell them that they can succeed, but with these children the “I can’t’s” will continue. Embrace the “I can’t” but encourage a “but I can…” as well. For example, “I can’t yet build a volcano that spews molten lava, but I can do research to see how other people did it.” Step by step is important.
- The Dreamer. This might best describe the John that we met at the beginning of the story. These kids have creative ideas, but lack follow-through. The most important thing to do with these children is to educate them on time management. Creative ideas can be implemented, but need time.
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