By: Dr. Cathy Moser
Procrastination for the nation – a problem that plagues many people, businesses, and even countries (who knows; maybe the decline in the Greek economy started off with an overdue bill that kept accumulating interest and penalties). I would estimate that over 50% of parents reading this column will be reading on because they are thinking ‘THAT’S MY CHILD!’, and the other 50% are thinking ‘OH NO.. THAT’S ME!’ In order to beat the procrastination habit, it’s important to understand the source. Here are the top sources and treatment recommendations:
1. SOURCE: Disorganization associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – one of the symptoms frequently associated with ADHD is procrastination. Sometimes, it is a cause of disorganization (the assignments that are left in the ‘to do later’ pile wind up with those socks that mysteriously disappeared from the dryer). Sometimes, it is a result of disorganization (the child can’t find that assignment that was crumpled up in into a tiny ball and socked away in one of those hidden pockets in their backpack).
TREATMENT COURSE: First, it’s wise to have your child assessed by their Physician and/or a Psychologist to determine whether they really do have ADHD. Deal with the disorganization by setting up target goals that can be monitored and rewarded at both home and school. I’ll never forget my friend’s response when I asked her how her child’s first weeks at the Laureate Academy were (The Laureate Academy is a school that is geared to meet the needs of children who have ADHD and Learning Disabilities). She told me that her child brought home index cards with assigned work every night. When she told him that it was time to do the homework he told her that he had already done it. She questioned him because she hadn’t seen him doing the work. He then told her that the assignment was to just remember to bring the cards home – they were going to start bringing home the cards AND doing the work the following week! Set up an agenda book system in conjunction with your child’s teacher, and reward your child for bringing the book AND necessary materials home. I run groups for children who have ADHD and we encourage children to develop life-long habits of efficiency with reward systems. One tool that we teach is learning to use the mantra ‘JDI’ (remember the NIKE slogan and checkmark – JUST DO IT!) and applying it to specific behaviour (e.g., putting their backpack away the second they come home). It is important to make sure that the habit is well-established before you move on to the next goal. BE PATIENT – this is a life long process, and old habits die hard.
2. SOURCE: Lack of focus associated with ADHD. If you’ve read my column before, you will know that it’s all about me! Here’s the story of my University life, which I share only because it will give you insight into what may be going on for your child. Scenario - Student has paper due December 18th….. Student starts two weeks before deadline, takes out one book on topic from library, finds three more in the stacks that look interesting, spends two hours browsing through the books…..Student reads through book, makes a few notes, and stares into space thinking about winter vacation for an hour……Student wakes up on December 17th and realizes that the paper is due the next day and panics, searches treatment for panic attacks, and uses treatment strategies effectively (although cuts into writing time by two hours)… Student takes out all the notes she had jotted down on little scraps of paper throughout the past weeks, and starts writing at 6 p.m. The adrenaline from the fear of missing the deadline keeps her up and focused throughout the night. The clock ticks away, and smoke rises from the lead on the pencil that is furiously running across the page. The clock strikes 3 a.m. – and voila, paper is done just in time to pack the suitcase, drop off the paper under the professor’s door, and head out the airport for the 7 a.m. flight to Florida. After years, the Student realizes that the adrenaline had been like Ritalin in that it helped her get into a highly focused state and stay there for hours (kind of like the focused state that your child goes into when they are playing video games).
TREATMENT COURSE: If your child only has two times – now, and some other time’, develop a ‘Pretend Then is Now’ strategy. Pretend that the assignment was due on the 16th of December, and fill in the rest of the week with fun activities. Once your child gets to the eleventh hour on the night of the 15th, the adrenaline will kick in and they will be able to resist the temptation of distractions for fear of not meeting the time deadline. In the worse case scenario (e.g., the computer crashes and they lose the whole project), at least they can cancel the leisure activities and finish the assignment.
3. SOURCE: Anxiety - anxious children are sometimes perfectionists and they are afraid of putting out a product that is less than what they deem as perfect. Often they have been told ‘if you are going to do a job, do it well or don’t do it all’ – so they choose not to do it all for fear that it will be judged as a job that was not well done. More often than not, they are their own judges and worst enemies.
TREATMENT COURSE: If anxiety is the source of procrastination, you should seek the help of a professional to deal with the anxiety.
4. SOURCE: Learning Difficulty – it’s possible that your child genuinely does not understand the material. Find out if this is the case by starting off the assignment with them.
TREATMENT COURSE: If the assigned work is beyond their competence level, talk to the teacher. Ask them to assess your child’s skill level and modify assigned work as needed. Work closely with the teacher to assign work that your child can easily complete without feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Increase the level of difficulty very slowly but consistently.