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Help Your Child Beat Procrastination

If Not Now...When? The countdown is on:

  • A 10-page report on life in Colonial America, due next week.
  • A replica of a Navajo village made of toothpicks, chopsticks, pine branches, and glue, to be completed next weekend.
  • An oral presentation on the poetry of Robert Frost, due tomorrow.

Does your child often have "miles to go before he sleeps"? Is he always waiting until the last minute to complete an assignment? Or, does she refuse to even begin a project for fear it won't be "perfect"? Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., clinical psychologist in practice in Valley Stream, New York, is the author of Beat Procrastination and Make the Grade (Penguin Books). This is a practical guide to recognizing the various types of procrastinators in order to help kids "get going." See if any of the following personality traits look familiar—then try Dr. Sapadin's suggestions for helping your kids change their behavior!

The Perfectionist

How They Act:
Children who are perfectionists are very detail-oriented, and seldom satisfied with their work. As a result they have great difficulty completing assignments. They have an enormous need to get it "just right," and are easily upset with their mistakes. They tend to see things in extremes -- black or white, good or bad. Perfectionists tend to be very rigid about their work.

What They Say:
"It's not perfect."
"It's all wrong."
"It's so much work I can't even begin."
"It's not done yet; I still have to do this."

How to Help Change Behavior:
Perfectionists need to understand the difference between "perfect" and "excellent" or "very good." They also need help setting time limits. Since they never think anything they do is "good enough," they never finish trying to make it perfect. The Perfectionist has a difficult time putting things in perspective -- he might think that his entire academic future rests on the completion of a single assignment.

The Dreamer

How They Act:
Dreamers tend to be laid back, mellow kids who'd rather "hang out" than "get going." They tend not to think about the details and deadlines associated with schoolwork. They may get excited about "the idea" of a project or assignment, but often fail to follow through by beginning work or completing it. A Dreamer's sense of organization and timing is often poor. While they are not detail-oriented, Dreamers can be very creative, charismatic kids.

What They Say:
"I'll get to it."
"Mom, don't worry—there's plenty of time to finish it."
"But it's not due till next week."
"Don't hassle me."
"Can't I do my homework after dinner?"

How to Help Change Behavior:
Since Dreamers aren't great at timing, parents can help them estimate how long it will take to complete a project, then have them check their own estimates against what actually happens. A Dreamer might think it will take an hour to build a Navajo village, only to discover at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night that the project has taken 8 hours and isn't done yet! Help the Dreamer differentiate between trying and doing.


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