Fighting Procrastination In Kids

24 Aug
Thanks to our guest blogger, Dr. Keith Kanner, psychologist, author, and radio host of Your Family Matters.
Background: With school just around the corner, parents once again have to deal with helping their kids focus on getting through daily homework, projects, and studying non of which are on the “top of the list” for most typical kids and teens. Procrastination, or putting off the completion of projects, schoolwork, and many other activities, is a common manifestation for children, adolescents, and adults alike.  The outcome can be devastating – poor grades, low self-esteem, and a lack of promotion are just to name a few, Breaking a procrastination habit or pattern is also not an easy task for the underlying causes are frequently hidden and not easily identifiable.  In fact, in certain cases, medication is prescribed with the determination that the cause must be traced to an Attention Deficit Disorder.  Interestingly, even in these cases, only sometimes does the effects of the medication help with the problem indicating that the etiology is often more complex than meets the eye.  Procrastination also seems to change and vary in appearance.  For example, many only procrastinate in certain circumstances and not in others.  For children, procrastination is higher when dealing with something that they either do not like, find difficult, or are related to some circumstance that they do not feel good about.  Procrastination is also at a peak just prior to and after vacations, such as Spring Break. Procrastination, like many other unfortunate occurrences,  such as Panic Attacks, is a symptom of something else going on inside of the person causing extreme conflict and anxiety.  These conflicts are typically unconscious and the person usually is not aware of the root of the issue.  This is especially true in children for they do not have the intellectual capacity to utilize insight to help themselves solve internal struggles.  Often times, when insight becomes available, the symptom disappears and the problem is solved.  In other cases, it may take time and may require professional assistance of it continues to cause extensive problems, like failing grades.In most cases, the root of procrastination is either anger, fear, or a combination of the two and are not immediately aware to the person.  Instead, they avoid the condition that they dislike or fear, and then their feared condition comes true because they were not able to help themselves through the struggle.  10 year-old Sam was a solid A/B student without any difficulties getting his work done, except in Math, where he always seemed to put off doing his homework and often forgot to even turn in completed assignments leading to a failing grade.  It turned out that Sam had some very strong negative feelings about his math teacher that  he did not let himself know about and instead, his uncomfortable angry feelings came out on himself through his procrastination and forgetting.  Why was Sam so uncomfortable with these feelings and why take them out on himself?13-year old Kim always falls apart academically just prior to vacations.  It seems that no matter what she does, her grades suffer just before a vacation and she struggles to remain focused on  her work.  The outcome  is her feeling ashamed and tends then to have a damper on her full enjoyment of her vacation.Such examples have the same underlying cause – strong feelings that are both unaware and uncomfortable to the person.  For both Sam and Kim, they are both uncomfortable with their angry feelings – Sam towards his teacher, and Kim having to wait for her vacation to begin – because both are unaware and uncomfortable, their feelings play out in another way – procrastination.

So, how can a parent help their child both better understand their minds and not compromise themselves for strong “normal” feelings?  The answer is that the parent needs to be both insightful about feelings in their children and help them both understand the normality of them and how to best manage them.  This process then becomes taken into the child and self-applied.

In Sam’s case, telling him that it is “okay” to feel mad (not get mad) at his teacher but not to let his feelings compromise his work, would be helpful to him.  Being empathic to Kim’s feeling of frustration about having to be patient about her upcoming vacation might have been enough to help her stay on top of her work prior to the vacation.  The point here is that feelings need to be recognized, not avoided, and managed in a way to promote success, not limit it.  Most children do not have this “automatic” capacity until late in their adolescent years and therefore need their parents to help them better understand and manage themselves, especially during times of the strong pressing of feelings.

Key Points:

1.    procrastination is a symptom of “uncomfortable” feelings
2.    anger and fear are usually the cause
3.    parents need to help their children validate their internal feelings
4.    feelings, not actions, need to be “normalized”
5.    forward incentives are also helpful to motivate staying focused

Dr. Keith Kanner
Anchor/Host Your Family Matters
Co-Host Ask The Doctors:  Relationship Edition
Fox5 News-San Diego
Columnist – Rancho Santa Fe Review

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