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Procrastination Busters for Our Kids

When our kids are in that faraway Zen place where they are hyperfocused on an activity that gives them clarity of thought, they will have trouble switching gears to something less compelling (read: boring).

We have a problem with our youngest. She’s a chronic procrastinator. Add a glowing screen into the equation, and she becomes a nightmare to deal with. Instant gratification. Pain in the neck. Whatever you think is the problem, you are likely as frustrated with your kids as most parents of kids with ADHD are. But aren’t all kids chronic procrastinators?

As with most ADHD symptoms, it’s not the symptom that is the defining characteristic, but the intensity of the symptom. Anybody can be forgetful and groggy when they first wake up, but to be truly absentminded, ADHD-style, you need to put the milk away in the cupboard, put the cereal in the fridge, get distracted watching the news, and jump on the wrong bus because you’re late to work.

Chronic procrastination for kids with ADHD works on the same scale. There’s putting off taking out the trash for Mum while they watch their favorite TV program, and then there’s putting off doing anything for Mum day in, day out, hour after hour.

[Preventing Procrastination 101]

The problem is that chores and doing homework are generally boring activities, and the ADHD mind avoids boredom at all costs. It’s hard to motivate any kid to stop having fun when their alternative is boredom. However, kids with ADHD can have a difficult time shutting off games and putting cherished tasks down. This is because Attention Deficit Disorder is more like an attention dysfunction disorder. The fun activity has engaged their hyperfocus. They are in that faraway Zen place where the activity they are doing is giving them clarity of thought. They will have trouble switching gears to something less compelling.

Many times, ADHD medication can help with this, but since kids can’t always be on those meds, and since some kids don’t respond well to ADHD meds, there are some things we can do to train our children to be functioning adults with ADHD.

Use a timer. This will teach children how to manage time, and also show them that the end is in sight. I picked up a hedgehog-themed timer that my daughter sets herself.

“Switching” practice. This is a new activity I’ve been doing with my daughter with some success. Find an activity your child loves, set a timer for one minute, and let her play. When the timer goes off, she stops. Do it off and on for about five minutes. Build up to longer periods. In the beginning this is easy, but as the periods get longer, your child will find this challenging — even mildly uncomfortable. This helps develop persistence of memory and faith that their favorite activity is waiting for them. Sometimes, kids don’t want to stop what they are doing because they worry it won’t be there when they come back.

[“I’ll Do It Later, I Swear”]

Make chores fun/build in compelling rewards — easy to say, difficult to implement. Some chores can be turned into games. This works really well when they are younger, but as children get older, cleaning a toilet is cleaning a toilet. You may find time-based rewards motivate them better. For example, the faster they work, the better the reward.

Print out the chore list. I place the chore list in a clear standee. That way my daughter can mark tasks complete with a dry-erase marker. This allows for easy updating and re-usability. A printed list also provides clearly defined expectations. Refrain from adding to the list on the fly.

Don’t overwhelm her. It’s easy to think of hours of tasks your kids need to do — cleaning, studying, exercise, practice… the list can go on and on. To prevent burnout and despair, limit the list to a set of tasks they can complete in 45–60 minutes — or whatever their current attention span allows.

Build in breaks. Kids spend all day at school and need a break just like you. When they get home from school, maybe they just need to unwind. Use a timer to regulate the time. Let them eat a snack and have time to themselves before starting in on the chores.

Give them freedom and choice. One reason kids procrastinate is that we ask them to give up control over time doing something that interests them for doing something that interests us. Add variability into the list so that they feel like they have some say in what they do — and in which order.

Pills don’t teach skills. Your child with ADHD will need you to help them develop coping strategies so that procrastination doesn’t rob them of success as they get older. If these tips give you other ideas, or if you have tips of your own, please share them in the comments.

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