Don't put off child's
By STEPHANIE DUNNEWIND
Last Updated: Nov. 30, 2002
Many parents tire of nagging
their children to do their homework, clean their room, write a thank-you
note to Grandma or get dressed for school on time.
Some dawdling is expected. But a chronic "I'll do it later" attitude
is a bad habit parents should - and can - eradicate, says Rita Emmett
in "The Procrastinating Child: A Handbook for Adults to Help Children
Stop Putting Things Off" (Walker & Co.; $10.95).
"Children are considered to be procrastinators if they frequently
need to be reminded, yet they still don't do what they're supposed
to do or they finally do it only after a nightmare of tears, arguments
or some other kind of emotional upheaval," Emmett explains.
Her book looks at the root causes, such as lack of motivation, feeling
overwhelmed, hating the task, disorganization and perfectionism.
While what kids balk on may differ, the whys remain the same regardless
of age, notes Emmett, who also wrote "The Procrastinator's Handbook"
"Procrastination is neither a personality trait nor a character
flaw," she says. "It is simply a habit, and we can all change our
Parents need to be willing to set rewards or penalties for kids
who might otherwise be indifferent to a task. "Your response has
to be, 'I'm not asking you to care. If you want the privilege of
watching TV, get your chores done. If you want the privilege of
driving a car, get your homework in on time and have it done well.
That's the deal. You don't have to care.' "
Besides making life easier for themselves, parents who help children
overcome procrastination probably will see a rise in their kids'
Some of Emmett's tips for curtailing kids' procrastination:
Set rules requiring children
to finish chores and tasks right away. For example, "No TV until
homework is done."
Reinforce positives so kids
don't procrastinate in order to receive negative attention.
For example, a child might learn that if he does his homework
when asked, it goes in his backpack with little comment. If
he waits, he knows he'll get Mom's attention when she helps
him finish at the last minute.
Let children suffer the consequences
of procrastination. Don't stay up late completing a science
project they put off, for example, or do their chores for them
because it's more work to hassle them about it.
Give them motivation for
completing a task or list of tasks without reminders. Let the
child brainstorm rewards, which could include TV or computer
time, car rides to activities, time with an adult, a trip to
the park, telephone time, toys or clothes.
Brag about your child's new
behavior of getting things done when he can overhear you.
Don't become defensive when
your child's school or other organizations enforce rules. If
the band requires members to practice and your daughter doesn't,
then help her either make that a priority or accept the results.
Help children break down
a large job into smaller tasks to do one at a time. A child
faced with a messy room is easily overwhelmed. Suggest he start
by picking up all the clothes, then toys, then papers, for example.
Make lists and encourage kids to cross items off when done.
Reward the steps. If a child
has a long-term project, such as reading a book and doing a
report, reward him for starting well ahead of time by taking
him out for a small treat when he's halfway through the book.
Set a timer and work on one
priority for a given amount of time. No breaks allowed, but
reward your child when he's done.
Let children do it their
own way, even if it's not your style.
When possible, make the task
more fun. Sing, work together, make it a game ("How many toys
can you pick up in 10 minutes?"), videotape or record a practice
Address their excuses. They
don't know how to do something? Show them how or hire a tutor.
They forgot? Buy a calendar or post a list of duties. Too busy?
Help them set priorities - schoolwork before playing with friends,
A version of this story appeared in the Milwaukee
Journal Sentinel on Dec. 1, 2002.