Parenting styles predict procrastination in children

Parenting styles predict procrastination in children

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SALT LAKE CITY — Is procrastinating all that bad? We all do it.

Any parent with a child who habitually avoids doing his or her homework or chores knows the frustrations it brings to family life and the negative consequences it may have in his life. So yes, procrastination is a silent, maniacal Frankenstein wearing cement shoes. But did you know the cause of that procrastination might just be your own parenting style?

First, it would be helpful to define two of Diana Baumrind's classic parenting styles affecting child procrastination that are the primary focus of research. The words look similar, but in practice they are very dissimilar.

Authoritarian: Parents are overly strict, unyielding, unresponsive, punitive and cold.

Authoritative: Parents are balanced, warm and responsive. They set appropriate, flexible boundaries.

Authoritarian parenting: 3 negative aspects of child procrastination

1. Fear of failure

Researcher Esther Rothblum suggested that children with overly critical, controlling and demanding parents might learn to avoid tasks rather than risking failure. Parents who are hard on their kids more often have kids who are hard on themselves. They fear to risk. Other studies have confirmed these findings.

It makes sense. We put off what stresses us out. Parents who raise children with the expectation that they won't be able to do it right the first time, or it won't be good enough, result in children who tend to put off what they cannot achieve. Discouragement might look like procrastination, and vice versa.

Failing and trying again takes time and often requires early efforts — way before the deadline. It resembles the process of making multiple rough drafts of a paper. Many elementary school teachers outline a writing system that includes a step called a "sloppy copy." Students are encouraged to turn in a rough draft that would be refined later. Authoritarian parents don't tolerate sloppiness.

2. Quiet rebellion

Psychologist Dr. Joseph Ferrari explained another reason for children to procrastinate.

“We have found that chronic procrastinators report having parents who were cold and demanding — authoritative," Ferrari said. "It’s the child who can’t really rebel, so the only way to rebel is to delay doing what the parent is asking them to do.”

This resembles a passive-aggressive reaction to overbearing parenting. It's not uncommon to find a child dragging his or her feet, à la Frankenstein, after a parent demands, "Get in here right now and clean up this mess! No talking back or you'll find my back hand on your back side!"

Not that a child shouldn't be held accountable for his or her actions, but the approach matters and respect is critical.

3. Blame game

Children of controlling parents do very little thinking for themselves. The parents do the thinking for them. In consequence, these kids struggle with problem solving. They rely instead on their parents telling them what and how to do it.

When children put it off waiting for the parent to micromanage them, the parent interprets this as procrastination. When the project goes wrong as a result, the child can dismiss responsibility by saying "It's not my fault, you didn't tell me how to do it right."

Authoritative parenting: 5 positive approaches when addressing child procrastination

This approach controls a child's behavior age-appropriately, with the child shouldering reasonable power and responsibility. Research studies confirm this balance between giving children independence but providing suitable conditions reduces procrastinating behaviors.

1. Rephrase it.

Change "I don't want to" into "I wonder what will happen if..." Help your child imagine the "what ifs" by taking risks, if only mentally at first. What's the worst thing that could happen? What good might happen?

2. Teach that mistakes are good.

When you make a mistake in your own life, point it out and how it's usually no big deal. What will you do to fix it or learn from it? The process is more important than the product. Help your child understand how perfectionism stops him or her from greater productivity. Explain that "not perfect" does not mean "fail." Their best effort is good enough in most cases, and they need to be comfortable with that.

3. Break it down.

Outline the task with specific, concrete steps for your children. Make a "goal" sheet they can check off. Many people respond to a checklist, feeling good at the end of the day that one more thing is crossed off toward a larger goal.

4. Support, not smother.

Maintain firm rules on self discipline, such as TV after homework is done or a weekend reward when they have done their chores faithfully throughout the week. A supportive parent will get a child started on a task, then leave, allowing him or her to finish. For example, you may help a son do the first two math problems, but he does the rest. Help children find the right "expert," such as driving them early to meet with a teacher or to a study group.

5. Kiss the frog.

My mother vividly taught me this analogy. She explained that if a princess has to kiss a warty, slimy frog, better that she do it quickly. The longer you look at a frog, the uglier it gets. The harder it will be to kiss. Consequently, we put off the gross task in favor of the easier, prettier ones. And it never gets done.

Consequently, teach your child self-discipline of doing the dirty task first. When they start to procrastinate, say, "Just kiss the frog already."


Julie K. Nelson is the author of "Parenting With Spiritual Power," a speaker and professor at Utah Valley University. Her website is www.aspoonfulofparenting.com where she writes articles on the joys, challenges and power of parenting.

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