How to Stop Procrastinating


Your child bounds home from school, drops his books and heads for the door to play outside. You stop him to ask how much homework he has. “Just one quick worksheet,” he insists. After dinner, you have him pull out his agenda book — only to discover he has homework in four subjects, plus a quiz the next day. 

Most parents have been there, and it’s not a surprise that kids aren’t focused and organized, says Beverly Stewart, president and director of Back to Basics Learning Dynamics in Wilmington, DE. There are too many distractions with 
TV, video games, computers, Facebook, cell phones, afterschool activities and on and on and on. “It’s hard to prioritize, 
and unless an adult is helping, guess what they’re going to pick?” she asks. “Probably not homework.” 

Oftentimes, anxiety is at the root of procrastination — specifically “the fear of not being able to do the work,” explains Howard Stevenson, psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Ironically, putting off the thing that bothers you becomes a way to cope with that anxiety. Stevenson urges parents to discuss the situation with their children in an understanding way. “Don’t diminish it or punish kids for talking about their inner feelings,” he says. 

How does your child work best?

Procrastinators, adults and kids alike, always think there’s going to be more time later, says Rosie Blumenstein, 7th-grade guidance counselor at Carusi Middle School in Cherry Hill, NJ. Therefore, it’s never too early to start teaching your child how to be successful in school. 

“Children aren’t born naturally knowing study skills,” Stewart says. As soon as they start getting homework, in Kindergarten or 1st grade, teach them organization and prioritizing. Do it at an age-appropriate level and in a way that works for the individual child. Is he a visual learner? An agenda book or notes may be best. For an auditory learner, you may need to talk through the process step by step. Stewart advises starting with something as simple as, “When you get home, your book bag goes in a certain spot.” 

Some kids need downtime after school — a snack, playing outside, an activity. For them, pushing homework the minute they walk through the door won’t be productive. For other kids, it’s best to get their work done as soon as they get home, or you’ll never get them focused again. “That has to be an individual decision based on the parent’s knowledge of that child,” Stewart points out.

By middle school, when homework and projects mount, students must learn to avoid procrastinating. “That’s where they have to become more independent and can’t rely entirely on their parents,” says Blumenstein. Teaching them to make a plan is essential.

Next page: How parents can set a procrastination plan and solve homework dilemmas


Part of the stop-procrastinating plan

Your child needs to help make that plan and must buy into it, says Blumenstein. Together, look at assignments, extracurricular activities and any other commitments, and schedule when each task will get done. “Our mistake as adults is that we plan the schedule and they’ve taken no ownership,” she says.

The child must have accountability. “Give them consequences or incentives and be firm,” Blumenstein says. “Kids need to start to see the relationship of natural consequences.” That means, if you told your child he couldn’t go to the dance if his project wasn’t finished by Friday, you can’t let him go to the dance.

The parent homework dilemma

Many parents struggle to help their children with homework, either because they don’t understand how the child was taught to do the work or because there’s just too much emotion involved. “Parent expectations are so high,” Stewart says.

No matter how frustrated you get, or how “unfair” your child has convinced you the assignment is, don’t do the homework for them. “Teachers aren’t there to evaluate your knowledge,” stresses Stewart. “We need to know that the child didn’t understand it.”

Most teachers give parents their email address or phone number and are happy to help you help your child. The earlier your child starts homework in the afternoon, the better chance you’ll have of getting a response from the teacher.

“Teachers love being asked for help,” insists Stewart. “That parent is carrying on their daily mission.” If you still don’t have success, sometimes another adult — a guidance counselor, scout leader or private tutor — may be able to help.  

Terri Akman is a contributing editor to MetroKids.


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