There are many students who put off work until the last minute. Although their reasons vary, one thing is for sure – procrastinators underestimate the time it will take to complete their work and overestimate how much time is available to do it. When procrastination impacts academics, students need parental intervention in order to change the behaviors that are limiting their success.
Procrastination was a real issue for Julie, a second grader, and her seventh grade brother, James. Their parents came to see me because the issues surrounding homework were causing a serious divide in their parent/child relationship. The suggestions I gave to the Anderson family can work for your family, too.
Tip # 1 – Establish a Start Time Routine
The most significant problem facing Julie’s family was a lack of routine. Mom and Dad had few expectations for when, where, and how homework would be done. We discussed easy ways to establish routines, including the time at which the children would start homework.
The first step in setting up a routine actually begins with an after-school break. Most students, regardless of age, need some downtime after school. About a half hour is usually sufficient time to grab a snack and relax, but it’s not enough time to become overly involved in another activity. Beginning homework after this break is often a good idea for younger children. This way, if they have after-school activities, their routine is the same. They are still allowed a break following the activity, and then, homework is to begin. Older students may want flexibility, and for them, consider giving a choice of beginning homework after school, before dinner, or right after dinner.
Once you’ve established a start time, put it in writing, and for even more reinforcement, color code it. Visual reminders are far superior to verbal ones and also al¬low students to adhere to a routine more independently. Review the schedule and post it in a prominent place (the refrigerator, homework area, or desk). The Andersons found that a written schedule alone helped to take the emotion out of their requests to begin homework. Now, it was the posted schedule that conveyed the start time, not just Mom and Dad.
Tip #2 – Play Beat the Clock
Another easy and entertaining way to curb procrastination is a simple game that has been around for a long time – Beat the Clock. It works especially well for procrastinators. I encouraged Julie and James’ parents to introduce the game by saying, “This game is a fun way to get home¬work done so that you have more time to play.” They first determined how long it would take them to complete an assignment and then set the timer. They said, “If you can get this worksheet finished before the timer goes off, you earn a token. If you collect four tokens this week (Mon-Thurs) then you can trade them in for additional screen time, pizza dinner, or additional allowance.” Both kids thought Beat the Clock was a great idea. It motivated them to start homework on time without argument.
Of course, each child’s reward will be different. You may find that tokens and a larger reward at the end of the week do not motivate your child. Sometimes, daily rewards are more effective. Discuss this openly and then negotiate a com¬promise if the ideas suggested are too lofty.
Tip # 3 – Try the Tolerable 10
Timers are excellent tools for older students as well. My middle and high school students frequently lament that they just can’t muster the energy to get started. Enter the Tolerable 10. By setting the timer for only 10 minutes and sitting down and getting to work for this short amount of time, these students often realize that the task isn’t so overwhelming after all. They often find that once they start, they can keep on going.
At first, you may have to set the timer for your child, but after awhile simply leave it in the study area as a visual reminder to use it independently. There are many timers available on the market, but my favorite is the Time Timer (www.timetimer.com) shown here. Julie and James liked this timer better than the traditional kitchen timer because it provides a visual depiction.
Tip # 4 – Order Assignments Easy to Hard and Then Repeat
Some procrastinators are more than willing to start and complete their easy homework assignments, but put off the work they dread until late in the evening. For these students, a different approach to prioritiz¬ing daily assignments may be necessary. If your child has only one or two simple assignments, agree on the time at which she’ll begin and insist that the work be done before anything else. Homework, typically an unpleasant task, is rewarded with free time, the pleasant task.
If your child has multiple assignments, coach her to start with a tough task followed by an easy one, and to repeat this sequence (hard, easy, hard, easy). Prompt her to label the order in which she will do the homework (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) next to the assignment in her planner. Following something particularly challenging, encourage your child to take a short break by grabbing a snack, playing with the cat, or shooting some hoops. Avoid anything with a screen, such as video games, because they tend to pull kids into another world and the momentum will be lost.
By providing a posted schedule, an easy to hard list of tasks, and a few interesting strategies like Beat the Clock and Tolerable 10, most child will be on their way to an on-time start!
Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections, Inc., a comprehensive provider of educational services in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her new book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make homework less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at anndolin.com or ectutoring.com.