Procrastination is one of the most common challenges students face, and it negatively impacts students both academically and emotionally. Procrastination can take many forms, from difficulty initiating tasks to failure to complete assignments on time to an inability to prioritize important tasks. These behaviors often lead to a decline in grades and in an increase in frustration, stress and anxiety. Over time, this combination of external and internal pressures may adversely impact a student’s self-confidence, which in turn may exacerbate procrastination tendencies. Not only can procrastination be frustrating for students, but it can also take a toll on caregivers, who often struggle to understand why their child procrastinates and how they can help.
While procrastination may appear to be motivated by laziness or rebelliousness, the reality is that students put off assignments for a number of emotional and cognitive reasons, often related to poor executive functioning skills or complex learning profiles. Some children have difficulty breaking assignments down into manageable pieces and become overwhelmed by the scope of the task at hand, which can prevent them from starting an assignment. Students who struggle with language-based difficulties, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, or visual-spatial and auditory processing issues, may have a feeling of low self-efficacy and may not feel confident in their ability to successfully complete a task. Students with ADHD are hardwired to avoid tasks that do not hold their interest, leading to distraction. Some students may have trouble managing their impulsivity and self-control, which can make focusing extremely challenging, even on small tasks.
Whatever is behind your child’s procrastination, you can help them develop skills to overcome it with a few key strategies and a focus on executive function development.
Why Do Students Procrastinate?
At Organizational Tutors, a key part of our approach is understanding student behavior. In the case of procrastination, we need to identify why a student is avoiding their assignments before we can assess how to help them. Once we understand the root of their behavior, we can work with them to build a toolbox of skills and strategies to change their actions and improve outcomes, both in and outside of the classroom.
Common reasons students procrastinate may include:
Fear of failure: Many children experience a fear of failure when faced with large or challenging assignments or looming deadlines. In response, they may become anxious and prone to avoiding their work altogether. We often see this manifest as an inability to begin a task, trouble focusing on studying, or difficulty remembering the details or due date of an assignment. Procrastination becomes a defense mechanism: if the student doesn’t attempt the assignment, they can’t fail.
Difficulty initiating tasks: If a student struggles with task initiation, they may often find themselves rushing to complete assignments at the last minute, and will inevitably have challenges handing their work in on time or being prepared for tests. Students may struggle to begin homework, projects or other tasks when they feel overwhelmed by the work at hand or inadequately prepared to begin a project. They may also struggle with executive functioning skills that support task initiation, such as time management, impulse control and working memory.
Preoccupation with or rumination on other things: Children deal with plenty of stress and anxiety in their lives, from pressure to get good grades, making friends, balancing extracurricular activities and schoolwork, and more. These sources of stress can dominate a child’s thoughts and cause them to lose focus on specific tasks, or distract them from their studies more generally. Ultimately, the stressors create barriers to task initiation and completion.
Misunderstanding or miscalculating: Often when children procrastinate, they simply don’t understand the assignment or appropriately estimate the time it will take to complete it. Time management is a vital skill for students of all ages to master. By learning time management techniques and strategies for estimating task duration, children can strengthen their internal gauges of time and plan more effectively.
How to Help Your Child Stop Procrastinating
Coaching through Organizational Tutors empowers students to take control of their learning success by teaching them strategies to overcome their personal challenges. For those struggling with procrastination, we focus on executive functioning skills such as task initiation, time management, planning and prioritization.
There are also many ways you can support your child at home to help them stop procrastinating. Here are three tips for parents and caregivers:
Tip #1: Use Time Chunking to Set Benchmarks for Success
Time is an abstract concept, especially for children who struggle with procrastination. When given an assignment, these students may have trouble conceptualizing how long the total project will take and how many steps will be required to complete it. Calendars and timers, whether digital or on paper, can be powerful visual tools for reflection and pacing that may help your child understand time in more concrete terms.
To aid your child in managing larger assignments, first start with the due date, and work backwards to set milestone deadlines for each related task. Then schedule each due date into a calendar that they can reference. For example, if your child has to write a research paper that is due four Fridays from now, set four Friday deadlines in your child’s calendar: Week 1 (outline), Week 2 (first draft), Week 3 (revised draft), and Week 4 (final draft, submitted). This way your child will have a manageable plan in place and will be well-prepared to submit the final paper on time.
Tip #2: Create a Homework Routine
Structure and routine can help students who struggle with task initiation and focus. Create a homework station for your child so they have a physical space to sit down and work. Stick to a routine that includes starting homework at the same time each day to keep your child on track. It is important to create realistic routines that set your child up for success and help improve their self-confidence. Students who procrastinate typically have difficulty staying focused, so be patient, start small and slowly build up to longer homework sessions over time. An important goal is keeping your child motivated, engaged and proud of their results.
Tip #3: Validate Your Child for Completing Little Milestones
Rewarding your child after they complete a project can be a valuable way to encourage positive behaviors; however, it can also reinforce the idea that schoolwork is transactional, which may have the unintended consequence of impeding motivation. Consider instead validating your child for micro wins as they work through assignments. Expressing your pride in their specific efforts and accomplishments while acknowledging the difficulty of changing behaviors lets your child know that you understand them and support them. These micro wins can also serve as a point of reference for future tasks by reminding your child how capable, in control and confident they felt the last time they pushed through procrastination and completed a similar task.
Curious to learn more about how executive function tutoring can help your child stop procrastinating?