My son is a horrible procrastinator. I can't for the life of me get him to do homework or even 10 minutes of chores without a major fight. Things end up taking five times as long as they need to. Any advice?
Your son is not alone in his challenge with diving in to life's less enjoyable tasks. Just yesterday, I faced my own "Resistance Monster" as I tried to work on a book proposal. Suddenly, there were dishes to do, floors to sweep and random phone calls to make. Indeed, it is not easy getting through the muck and mire to tackle tasks that are difficult, daunting or just plain boring. Here's my advice.
• Help your son get some perspective on how long the dreaded tasks actually take. It was an eye-opener for me when I realized that emptying the dishwasher only took about as long as it takes to listen to a song, which is about three minutes. Lighten things up with a game that has him guess how long the task will take, then set a timer and let him discover for himself how much time it actually required.
• Create light at the end of the tunnel with music. Suggest that he simply do the thing he's putting off for long as it takes to hear three songs. (Play soft, instrumental music, if he's doing homework; rock and roll if he needs to tidy up in his room.)
• Use the 10-minute rule. I have mentioned this before; it's one of my favorite strategies for overcoming procrastination. Encourage your son to do the thing he's avoiding for just 10 minutes. (This happens to be the equivalent of three songs, per the prior tip.) When the timer goes off, if he doesn't want to continue, let him stop. Many times he will find that after 10 minutes, the thing he was avoiding isn't so awful and he may decide he would rather get the whole job done while he's already in the flow.
• Introduce him to the Instant Gratification monkey. I recently discovered a wonderful post that adorably (and oh-so-accurately) captures the mechanisms of procrastination. In it, the author -- a self-proclaimed procrastinator -- outlines the process we go through when we procrastinate in order to avoid The Dark Woods (the task at hand) which we have to pass through in order to get to The Happy Playground (task completed.)
• Consider what your son sees you doing with tasks you dislike. Have you been putting off cleaning out your closet? Perhaps the junk drawer has needed tidying out for months? Rather than lecturing your son, share with him the challenges you face with procrastination and let him see you tackle things in spite of your resistance.
• Care less. Many times, a child's procrastination is fueled by their parent's insistence that they do the thing they have been putting off. The less invested you are in your son carrying out the job you want him to complete, the better. This may be easier said than done, but try not to come across as desperate for him to do what you want him to do. It will probably only sabotage your effort.
Very few of us are not plagued by challenges with procrastination in at least a few areas of our life. What has worked for me in my personal life and parenting life has been to recognize this tendency as a challenge rather than a personal deficiency, avoiding blame and shame. Best of luck!
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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