The Procrastinating Perfectionist

Nagging won't help your perfectionist kids finish their projects. But these six tips might.

Procrastination may be a natural tendency many adults experience, but some children are particularly vulnerable. They need our help. In The Procrastinating Child (2002), Rita Emmett explains that procrastination is simply a nasty habit both children and adults can correct.

Why do we put things off so frequently anyway? Sometimes it is because we feel overwhelmed, or become easily distracted or feel helpless. Whatever the cause, as parents, we tend to respond with nagging when we see it happening in our kids.

Only here’s the rub about THEIR procrastinating and OUR nagging: are we actually practicing what we preach? Or are we just as guilty about putting off housework, bill paying, and turning in the report before deadline?


Procrastination’s BFF

It’s possible your child seems lazy when she is actually feeling overwhelmed. Perfectionistic kids are especially vulnerable. Perfectionism frequently goes hand-in-hand with procrastination. So if your child is fearful of failing an exam, anxiety may cause her to stall and not study. She may feel stuck, unable to mentally mobilize. Unfortunately, this bad habit may continue into adulthood, jeopardizing future successes.

A consistent fear of failure can lead to a pattern of indecisive behavior author Neil Fiore notes as a warning sign in The Now Habit (2007). Fiore identifies low self-esteem and lack of assertiveness as red flags for procrastinating behavior.

Here are some tips to increase productivity gleaned from the expertise of Fiore and Emmett.


Trick the brain.

To combat the tendency to put things off, expert Fiore suggests transforming the thought “I don’t want to” into “I wonder what will come?” Sound simple? This sort of attitude adjustment is powerful. In a sense, the subtle shift in mindset tricks the brain into a more productive mode.


Get cozy with mistakes.

Help your child understand how perfectionism robs productivity. Kids need to be reminded it is okay to make mistakes. Explain how “not perfect” is altogether different from “fail.”
 One of the best ways to help them become more comfortable with accepting mistakes is through modeling. Seeing a parent acknowledge their own daily errors (and responding with humor and compassion for the missteps) is both a gift and permission to be more accepting.


Think smaller chunks.

Emmett recommends helping children break overwhelming tasks into smaller chunks. If your child has an upcoming test and simply cannot get the gears in motion to prepare, help her get organized. Look at the task of test preparation as a series of baby steps. Help her make a short list for a plan of attack.


Set expectations for homework or chore completion.

Parents can influence their children’s productivity by setting firm rules at home, offering rewards, and making lists. The basic rule of “no TV until your homework or housework is done” is an obvious place to begin to curb the procrastination. Screen time can be suspended or offered as a reward for successful time management.

Make lists like a bandit.

Make lists for everything so there can be no excuses. Adolescents are especially prone to selective memory even when rules are clearly articulated. Notes are more effective than nagging for gentle reminders of chores, appointments, and expectations.


Remove the STING from feeling overwhelmed.

A great strategy for older kids and their parents from Emmett’s book:

* Select a task you’ve been putting off.
* Time yourself and take one hour to accomplish the task.
* Ignore everything around you, such as the phone and other tasks.
* No breaks.
* Give yourself a reward once the task is complete.
It may only take a few months to see positive results, nag less, and begin celebrating your more productive child.


Michele Ranard has a husband, two children, and a master’s in counseling.

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