November 15, 2013
At long last, here is my response to the suggested topic of how to handle patterns of procrastination in children of all ages. The request specifically asked about Kindergarten age children getting dressed in the car on the way to school, which starts a pattern that results in teenagers not filling out college applications until two weeks after graduation. There isn’t a parent on the planet who hasn’t encountered these situations and yes, there is a solution!
You may be surprised to hear my solution resides within us, the parents. It is our job to lead and respond to our children in such a way that we help them develop a sense of self-responsibility and accountability. How do we do that? By setting boundaries and allowing them to experience the natural consequences of their actions and choices. Here’s the tricky part, we do this by saying very little…. difficult I know.
This may be easiest to explain by using the examples that were suggested. Let’s look at getting dressed in the car on the way to school. It is easy to imagine the events that lead up to this happening. A long tortuous morning of fussing, persuading, children ignoring, parents eventually ranting, ending with clothes gathered up, thrown in the car with the child and a lecture all the way to school with empty threats of “we’re not doing this again”.
If children keep repeating a pattern, it is because it is ‘working’ for them. There is something they are getting from the pattern playing out that meets a need they have. It could be a sense of power or a need for attention, even if it is not positive attention. It is our job as parents, to look at ourselves and how we can change our responses to shift the pattern.
Discussing the frustrating pattern at a calm time is a good place to start. Expressing your frustration, asking them how they feel when the pattern plays out, and asking them for ideas on how this can be made better gets everyone involved in creating the solution. It helps to prepare them for your change in behavior by telling them ahead time what you will do differently. This gives your child appropriate attention and power.
Your true power as a parent lies not in what you can ‘make’ them do, which is very little. Your power resides with you deciding what you will and will not do, communicating this in advance, and following through. No empty words without the resolve to stand behind them.
Maybe you decide that there will be no more dressing in the car. Instead you will take them to school in their pajamas and let them experience the consequences. This works best when you involve their teacher in the plan so you have the teacher’s understanding and cooperation. Parents I know who have taken this approach have experienced that it only happens one or two times before the child decides this is not how they want to go to school. Peers will tease or maybe they miss recess because they are not dressed appropriately. These are natural consequences.
There are also the options of no breakfast or privileges in the morning until they are dressed. This again gives them the power to decide. Although I am not a fan of TV, there are those families who allow it in the morning and use that as an incentive to get children up and rolling. No TV until you are dressed. You know what motivates your child. So risk a tantrum, which may come the first time or two you assert your power, to help shift a pattern that makes you crazy!
The approach is similar with teens, which in my opinion are very much like toddlers in bigger bodies with more hormones. They need boundaries.
Boundaries = being clear about what you will and will not do.
It is important for parents to be the adults and guide children to choices that will ultimately feel good.
You want your teenagers to fill out those college applications. You don’t want them to live with you forever. Use this to motivate you to face the fire when you tell them there will be no going out this weekend until they show you a completed application. It may be unpleasant being in your house with a disgruntled teen, and this is parenting. Ultimately, they will feel relieved when the dreaded task is behind them. You help them to get there by holding a line.
Again, discussion of this plan during a calm moment is usually best. It allows them to reason (as much as they can with an imbalanced adolescent brain) and not be surprised when you suddenly change your approach. It is also important that when the boundary is being held, you hold your tongue as well. The lecturing, ranting and raving are accomplishing nothing, I promise. They will tune out, shut down, and not be able to process their feelings. In order to begin to make different choices, they need an opportunity to process their experience. So hush, hold the line, get out of the way, and let them feel.
Next week, I’ll write about some of the unconscious motivators we, as parents, may be dealing with that lead to us ‘fixing’ everything and rescuing our children at every turn. Till then, I would love to hear from you!
What tactics have you utilized to shift patterns of procrastination?
How do you motivate your children to get out the door in the morning or finish their homework/college application?
We all learn from others experiences, so share yours with us today!