Kids Struggling In School? There May Be A Good Reason

You would be hard-pressed to find any parent immune to giving their kids constant reminders to get things done.

From homework to chores, we find ourselves gently reminding, then all-out nagging, them to take care of their responsibilities.

But if your child is always putting things off, it’s not laziness – there may be another reason.

Procrastination.  We all do it – some of us only once in a while, but for others, it may be constant.

Our children do the same thing, waiting until the last moment to begin a project they’ve had for weeks or being told over and over to complete a task we’ve assigned them.

It can be incredibly frustrating for parents.  We may see it as a character flaw or lose our cool when it seems like a regular occurrence.

But the author of Getting Past Procrastination has shared some of the underlying reasons we procrastinate.  And they’re likely the opposite of what we may think.

Ann Dolin is also a specialist in education and tutoring, getting to the bottom of struggles that kids may be having in school or at home.

“When kids struggle…there’s an underlying reason. It’s not that they’re not motivated — everyone wants to succeed — but as parents, we have to figure out where the procrastination is coming from in order to help them get past it,” the Washington Post reports.

Dolin has categorized the main reasons that kids – and adults – procrastinate.

Do you have a precocious and super intelligent child who can’t seem to “get their act together?”  These “bright but disorganized” kids may seem scatterbrained and unfocused.

They may know of a project well ahead of time, but don’t do well with the planning process.  They may not think ahead about materials and resources, and they may not even know the details of the assignment because they forgot to write them down or have lost papers from class.

For these children, it is important to remind them to ask the teacher and their parents for help as soon as they feel overwhelmed or if they don’t understand what they are supposed to be doing.

Parents can make sure the teacher is aware of their child’s tendency to procrastinate for this reason and keep in open communication about assignments.

Children should also be encouraged to advocate for themselves, perhaps asking to meet privately with the teacher or come up with coping strategies to help them become better organized.

It may seem ironic, but studies show that highly intelligent students often have trouble focusing and planning because there is always so much going on in their brains!

Then there are the “swiss cheese kids.”  When they are in class, they easily lose focus, going in and out of paying attention.  They may be interested, then go off into a daydream of sorts before becoming attentive again.

These kids often don’t know where to start when it comes to a project.  They feel overwhelmed, so they put it off until later.  But when later comes, they are behind in everything – and more overwhelmed than ever.

Dolin says these children most often struggle in cumulative subjects where each lesson builds on the next, like math.  When there are “holes” in their attention, it is difficult to get the full scope of the lesson.

For this, she suggests that teachers and parents work together to give kids an idea of what they will be studying next.  This preview can be done with the teacher at lunch or after school or with a tutor who can help give the child a jump-start at new material.

When they know what is coming up and what to expect, they lose some of the fear of being overwhelmed and are more likely to pay attention.

Another ironic type of procrastinator is the “anxious perfectionist.”  These children want so badly to do everything perfectly that they actually put off their work for fear of “failure.”  Often, this is pressure they put on themselves – “if I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t want to deal with it right now.”

This is another type of perfectionism that results in feeling overwhelmed.  They may not know how a task or project will turn out and think that everything is “immediate and important.”

These can be the kids who are always trying to multi-task, juggling too many things and refusing to ask for help.

One may not associate a perfectionist with procrastinating.  In fact, many perfectionistic people want to stay on top of everything precisely so it doesn’t overwhelm them and cause mistakes to happen at the last minute.

But an “anxious perfectionist” may not even recognize that they are procrastinating.  To them, they are simply prioritizing things in their brain in a way that causes less anxiety.

Dolin suggests that these procrastinators organize their priorities into three categories: “Must do today, should do today, could do today.”  They can also list deadlines and goals for beginning and/or completing the work that is not in the “must do today” category.

Parents can help these children by offering support and guidance without micromanaging the child.  For example, “I understand you’re overwhelmed.  What do you think would make you feel better about this project?”

While these are the most common reasons for procrastinating, Dolin and Rachna Varia, a diagnostic testing specialist, have other recommendations if you feel your child is really struggling.

They may need further clinical help, for example, if it is thought ADHD may be a factor or if the anxiety becomes crippling.

“The idea of starting something and not knowing how it’s going to look at the end sometimes causes kids to become paralyzed; they get almost stuck, or rigid. They get caught in a spiral in their head because they know they should get going but they can’t get started because what if it’s not good enough?” the Washington Post reports.

Varia does note that procrastination and trouble focusing are quite common nowadays.

There are far more distractions than in past generations, some caused by information overload from the mere fact that there are so many resources out there when kids are trying to complete school work.

It can lead all of us to become – there’s that word again – overwhelmed.

Varia suggests working on long-term project goals in the home.  Something as simple as putting together a puzzle or getting kids’ input on a remodeling project can show them that sometimes it takes days or weeks for that sense of accomplishment.

This can help battle the “instant gratification” idea that kids are always getting online.

Setting goals together and really spending time discussing plans are important for parents and kids to help overcome procrastination over schoolwork.

It is also important to be aware of your child’s unique learning style, which times of day they are most focused, what motivates them, and what helps them concentrate.

Experts express the need for structure and accountability while providing emotional support.

Make them prioritize and stick to a schedule toward completion of their assignment or goal. Create a routine that works – and that everyone can stick to.

But beware of rescuing your child too quickly.  “We want to give them the tools to succeed, but we have to be okay with them struggling,” says Varia, so they can learn to keep themselves on track as they grow.

It may take some trial and error to find what works for your child and your family – or even what the exact issue is that is causing their procrastination.

Above all, support and open communication will make all the difference.

Does your child seem to fit into one of the common procrastinator categories?  Or do you struggle with procrastination yourself?

Do you have any tips that have worked for your family?  Leave us your comments.

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