Beat Procrastination: 5 Tips for Teaching Kids to Complete Tasks Well and On Time

Procrastination. I have a love-hate relationship with this concept. For example, sometimes, when I just can’t get my creativity flowing, procrastinating creates this urgency that seems to stimulate and inspire me. There are times when I find that I just work better under pressure.

But there are other areas in life where procrastination really concerns me. Chores? Get them done quickly so you have time with friends or family! Homework? Knock it out so you can enjoy other things. Project at school or work? Hold up your end of the bargain so that the whole team finds success.

Most humans find themselves favoring one side of the “taking initiative <--> procrastinating” continuum, though very few people spend all of their time completely on one end over the other.

When I look at my children (teenagers), I see this continuum in motion on a regular basis.

On one hand, our daughter is a planner. She always has been. When large projects are first assigned, she puts together her mini-goals and figures out what she needs to get done between now and the due date. She lays out her clothes the night before, and rarely do we need to do last minute laundry to wash a soccer or volleyball jersey.

Our son is less of a planner. As long as he meets the due date, does it really matter when it was done? For years, he has underestimated the amount of time it takes to complete some work. The thing is, he doesn’t mind staying up late to get something done. He’s not intimidated by the likelihood of missing sleep. Once he turns in the assignment, he almost always does well on it – even if he had to rush to get it done.

So why is it important that children learn the importance of getting started right away?

Getting things done on time (or early), and well, is more than just learning not to procrastinate. It’s about establishing pride in yourself and your work. It’s helping teach children the value of quality. It’s also about helping kids learn to follow an instruction the first time. Because there will come a time in a person’s life when doing so keeps her safe from harm. And when she is an adult, following an instruction the first time, and completing a task well, may just help her stay employed.

Use the steps below to teach your children or students to get started!

1. Give very clear, concise instructions. Make certain the child understands your expectation – what needs to be done, by when, and to what level of completion.

2. If a child is not getting started, try to figure out why. Did he understand your initial instruction? Does he know how to do it? Does he have the skills and abilities to complete it, or does he need more assistance?

3. Reinforce progress and effort! A child may initially struggle, and may not get all the way to the end of a task. Set expectations reasonably, and reinforce realistic progress. Keep in mind, what success looks like for one child may be different than success for another child, depending on individual abilities of each. And adjust your expectations – and accountabilities – accordingly.

4. Teach her to fish! The goal is to have a child fully complete tasks (according to her ability), on time, autonomously. Sometimes that means you will need to provide assistance along the way. But balance the assistance with the goal of teaching her self-reliance. If she knows that you will come in and “save the day” every time, she may not put forth the effort to develop the necessary skills and complete tasks on her own.

5. Breathe, and let the child experience earned consequences. At any age, it’s hard to watch a child fail when you know he is fully capable of successfully completing a project or task. But our job as parents and educators is to help build those skills within our kids. And, sometimes, that means we need to let the natural, logical consequences of missing a deadline or not fully completing a task or assignment happen. It’s an important lesson, and one that most children will work to avoid in the future. 

Regardless of the natural tendencies of your children, kids can be taught to take initiative. Help them understand that being able to complete a task or assignment on time, and to the level expected, is a lifelong skill that will increase their likelihood of success in school, in relationships, and in the workforce.

For a great children’s story (and more educator and parenting tips) on the importance of taking initiative, checkout Time to Get Started by award-winning author Bryan Smith.

Oct 29th 2018 Erin Green, Director of Boys Town Press

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