Cover image for The procrastinating child : a handbook for adults to help children stop putting things off
The procrastinating child : a handbook for adults to help children stop putting things off
Emmett, Rita.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Walker & Company, 2002.
Physical Description:
x, 180 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BF637.P76 E475 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Parenting
BF637.P76 E475 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
BF637.P76 E475 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
BF637.P76 E475 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Parenting

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Parents, grandparents, teachers, supervisors, even baby-sitters, can be driven to distraction by a child's repeated procrastination. However, their distress is nothing compared to the toll procrastination takes on the child--eroding self-confidence, undermining self-esteem and relationships, increasing anxiety, and paving the way for similar behavior as an adult that can be even more costly.

Helping a child stop procrastinating is one of the best gifts an adult can share, and Rita Emmett's informative and engaging new book is the place to start. Based on her own procrastination and parenting seminars and on interviews with hundreds of people about what works and what doesn't, Emmett offers proven techniques to defuse the frictions caused by youthful procrastination. Her central point is that, far from being a character flaw, procrastination--in children as in adults--is usually a habit that can be changed.

Whether avoiding chores or homework or neglecting goals--or in dozens of other situations--children of all ages procrastinate for many reasons:

- feeling overwhelmed or confused and not knowing where to begin
- lack of motivation
- a subversive desire to assert control by not doing what's asked
- a dislike of the task
- subconscious fears or anxieties about failure
- poor time management skills

In each case, Emmett provides strategies for breaking through a child's defense mechanisms or reluctance to talk, and for establishing rules and guidelines that encourage young children and teenagers alike to face obligations in a timely way. Lighthearted and rewarding, The Procrastinating Child is an invaluable resource.

Author Notes

Rita Emmett is a professional speaker who leads workshops on clutter and procrastination. Author of The Procrastinator's Handbook (more than 150,000 copies sold) and The Procrastinating Child , Emmett has dispensed advice on NBC's "Today Show" and in Time, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Family Circle, and Parents . She also publishes a monthly online "anticrastination."

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Emmett follows up The Procrastinator's Handbook with a look at the price children pay for procrastinating, the reasons they do so, and how parents can help them stop. Each chapter is devoted to a particular cause: habit, poor time management skills, feelings of being overwhelmed, hating a task, lacking time to perform perfectly, fears and anxiety, and being swamped with other activities. Emmett uses vignettes to illustrate how children waste time and how parents can teach them to be more productive by setting firm rules, using rewards, and making lists. The book is aimed at helping parents determine when a child is procrastinating and when they're just being children, and how to achieve balance between being too controlling and being permissive. Emmett offers basic suggestions--no television until homework is done--as well as solutions spelled out in acronyms to help parents and children remember them. Emmett's lighthearted style makes this an easy-to-read, helpful resource for parents. Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Parents frustrated by their child's tendency to delay starting a book report or cleaning her room will find this guide by Emmet (The Procrastinator's Handbook) to be a valuable resource. Emmet points out that schools rarely teach time management; this handbook fills in the gap, helping parents understand why their children procrastinate and how they can help kids organize their schedules and assignments. While parents may find procrastinators to be frustrating, Emmet notes that kids who delay aren't doing it just to irk mom and dad; rather, the child may feel overwhelmed, distracted and helpless. Perfectionism and procrastination, she claims, often go hand in hand, so parents need to communicate that it's okay to make mistakes. Helping children break tasks into small steps will also waylay the daunting fear that often accompanies procrastination. Emmet's approach is practical (helpful summaries at the conclusion of each chapter keep readers on task) and her argument that procrastination is a bad habit that can be corrected will be reassuring news for young procrastinators and their parents. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Why Do Children Procrastinate? Children of all ages, nationalities, and races are repeatedly asked by exasperated adults, "Why didn't you do it when you were supposed to?" Wouldn't it be refreshing if just once the child gave an honest reply, such as, "I procrastinated"? More often than not, the adults become even more exasperated by the variety of excuses they receive: "Wellllllll, the computer ate my homework." "I didn't have time." "I dunno." "It's too hard." "I don't know how." "I don't get it." "You just don't understand." "No, really, you never believe me. The computer really did eat my homework!" Or from younger children they hear: "My brother made me go outside and play." "Well, you see, this big monster came along, and then, and then he made a mess, and then he threw stuff all over the room, and then, and then he went away." "I was afraid." "My sister wouldn't let me." Children put off the nuttiest things for the nuttiest reasons. Sometimes they spend more time giving us excuses than it would have taken to do the job itself. They make themselves crazy. They make parents crazy. They make teachers crazy. They make caregivers crazy. They make their families crazy. Well, there is hope, and there is help. I was born the world's greatest procrastinator. My mother claimed that she was pregnant for ten months with me-I actually put off being born for a month. My homework was perpetually late, my chores were constantly forgotten, our poor pets (which I always promised to care for) would have starved if my family hadn't bailed me out, and whenever it was time to get ready for anything-going to school, going to bed, taking a bath, visiting relatives-I would put it off until my parents got hoarse yelling, "Now! Do it now!" I felt that everything was out of my control, that I couldn't help the way I was; I believed that I never fit very well in this world, and that many significant people (including teachers, Scout leaders, and my family) didn't like me because I was never doing what I was supposed to be doing. I didn't want to constantly put things off; I didn't want to lie when I forgot to do something; I just didn't know any other way to be. I didn't even know there was another way to do things. Some people did things on time, but I thought they were born with something special about them that I just wasn't lucky enough to have. Then, after I grew up, I converted. I'm now a recovering procrastinator. Organized. Effective. Functional. Very happy. In a study by the National Institute of Education, in which 1,000 thirty-year-olds were asked if they felt their high school education had equipped them with the skills they needed for the real world, over 80 percent responded, "Absolutely not." So this is your chance to teach your child one skill that most schools never have time to teach-how to stop procrastinating. If a child has a procrastination problem, this book is here to help you help that child. Some people think a five-year-old procrastinates by crying, where a seventeen-year-old might procrastinate by storming out of the house. No, they procrastinate by putting things off. The crying or storming out is a result of communication problems, stress, anxiety, rebellion, or relationship difficulties within or outside the family. It's not our goal here to address those issues; the goal of this book is to help your child stop putting off what he should be doing. Rules to Prevent Procrastination The first step is, if you are in charge of the house rules or of any rules that could impact this child's life, establish rules now that support doing chores and tasks right away, and not putting them off. For example: ò Do homework first, then TV. ò Do chores first; then you can go on the computer. ò If you take too long getting ready in the morning, then you have to go to bed earlier at night. ò Put away jacket, shoes, backpack, and school things before doing whatever it is you like to do when you first come home from school (snack, call a friend, collapse in front of the TV). These examples apply to children of all ages, but an example of specific rules for teens might be: ò Get good grades, and you can occasionally use the family car; bad grades equal no car for that semester. These types of rules not only support children and help them to "do it now," they also establish good habits and break the frustrating habit of procrastination. Of course, your rules have to reflect your family's values. It's Simply a Habit So let's start there. Often procrastinating children believe that they were born with something missing. They believe they were born putting things off, that it's part of their personality, and that they can never change. They feel helpless and hopeless about the situation and about themselves. In addition, when children hear some adult refer to them as procrastinators, they believe it and then continue to behave accordingly. Whether you are a procrastinator or not, when you start this process with a child, it's your job to let him know that procrastination is neither a personality trait nor a character flaw. It is simply a habit, and we can all change our habits. If they have witnessed another child changing a habit, discuss that with them. ò Alberto and his friend Noah used to fight when they were four-year-olds because Noah would never help Alberto pick up his toys when they were finished playing, but now, one year later, Noah has changed and cooperates in cleaning up. ò Eleven-year old Corey has a friend who was always getting into trouble for talking in school, and now that friend has learned to control the chatter. ò Robin, a high school freshman, told of how impressed she was with a classmate who in eighth grade bragged that she never studied or completed assignments; now that classmate has become a good student who has developed terrific study habits. Most of us don't know the reasons people change, but we all know someone who has stopped or started a habit. If you've ever quit smoking or lost weight or started an exercise program, you can tell children your story about your struggle and success with changing that habit. Sometimes it's simple; other times it can be hard. But it is always possible to change a habit. Younger children love hearing stories about your struggles. Teenagers just roll their eyes. That's okay, they still hear you. Eye-rolling is just something they have to do. Remember the Bumblebees Tell your child about aeronautical engineers who claim-beyond a shadow of a doubt-that the way bumblebees are designed makes it impossible for them to fly. But nobody told the bumblebees, so they fly anyway. No matter how old children are, this story seems to resonate. When your children feel helpless or hopeless about their procrastinating ways, you can remind them of that bumblebee. It doesn't matter what other people say about them or what somebody might call them or what they have been calling themselves. They can change this habit of putting things off. Working with your child using these new concepts can help reduce communication difficulties within the family, and it's a terrific way for you to let your children know that you value them regardless of how they perform their chores and tasks. Of course, communicating these "stop-putting-things-off" ideas with a child will take time and energy. But the payoff of having a responsible, happy child who can do what she sets out to do and who experiences success will certainly make it all worthwhile. It will also reduce stress on you and the family. Is Procrastination Inherited? Parents are always asking, "Why does this child put everything off? Did she inherit a procrastinating gene from me because I'm that way?" or "Nobody in our family is a procrastinator. How did this happen to this child?" Children often decide-sometimes before they can even speak or think logically-that it is beneficial to procrastinate. To understand how a child might make that decision, it is important to understand the oddities of children's logic, which most of the time does not even remotely resemble our logic. For example, a baby who crawls to the edge of a sofa and falls might be afraid of heights, but the baby could think, Last time I was on a sofa, I experienced pain. Therefore, sofas are bad. Another example of children's logic: Kailey tells the story of when, on the day they installed their first extension phone, her brother Kevin called and her four-year-old son answered the phone. He saw Kailey walk past him, and when she went into the next room, she picked up the extension and said hello. Her son, in a very bewildered voice, asked her how she got to Uncle Kevin's house so fast. And one more example of how bizarre a child's logic can be: Jan said when her father passed away, she explained what a wake is to her five-year-old daughter, Sandy. Jan said that Grandpa's soul-the part of him that lived and loved and laughed-was up in heaven, and just his body would be in the coffin, and the family would go to see his body one last time and to say a prayer. Jan thought she had done a pretty good job explaining death to her daughter, but Sandy became hysterical about the wake and refused to go. Later, Jan overheard Sandy describing a wake to some neighborhood children. Sandy said, "You know how when you draw a person, you draw the body and then put on the head and arms and legs. Well, just my Grandpa's body is in the coffin. I don't know what they did with his head and the rest of him." Jan was stunned. After she reexplained and straightened everything out, she asked Sandy, "Didn't you think it was strange that we would go to see Grandpa's body without his head?" and Sandy told her, "Yes, but parents do strange things." Children become procrastinators not in response to some traumatic moment but as a result of normal family experience processed through their odd logic. Some of what we do as parents inadvertently leads children to procrastinate. For example, it's important to raise children who don't expect instant gratification at all times. So we have to tell them on occasion: "Not now. Later." "I can't stop in the middle of bathing the baby to read you a story. You'll have to wait." "I can't listen to you play the piano now, I'm late for work. Let's do that later." Some children learn to be patient, to anticipate gratification. But others internalize another lesson altogether. They decide, I'm going to put things off, too. Imagine that at age six, you picked up your toys while your brother just sat and watched TV. Dad comes home distracted about a business problem and says nothing about the toys. What conclusion might a six-year-old draw? Some might think nothing of it, but others might think, Hmmm, I might as well sit and watch TV and not pick up my toys anymore. Of course, this decision takes place in the subconscious mind, but this is where habits begin. Who knows why two children can be raised in the same house, and one turns out to be the world's greatest procrastinator, while the other never puts off anything? Attention! Sometimes children will procrastinate simply to get attention. A high school teacher described an experiment from her classroom that helped everyone understand the power of "getting attention." She was leading a discussion with a class of "gifted" sophomores; these were bright, well-behaved, perceptive teenagers. A student said that the opposite of love is hate, and the teacher responded that some say the opposite of love is indifference. As the class explored what this meant, the teacher said to them, "We know that most of us prefer `positive attention' such as smiles, kind words, and friendliness. Now, let me ask you, if you could not receive positive attention, which would you rather have-negative attention such as frowns, hollering, and punishment, or no attention and just be ignored?" Every single student in the class agreed they would prefer to be ignored than to be yelled at or punished. One student said, "Nobody in her right mind would ever prefer negative attention!" So the next day, when the students entered the classroom, the teacher was sitting at her desk, reading a book. After everyone sat down, she ignored them and continued reading. After waiting a while, the students started to call to her, "Hey, Mrs. G, what's up?" Their voices became louder, hollering. "Yo, hey, Mrs. G!" At that, the teacher turned her back on them and continued reading. Gradually the students shouted louder and louder, and eventually these well-behaved, cream-of-the-crop teens started throwing pens, pencils, and wadded-up paper at the teacher's desk. Finally, someone threw a book that hit the wall with a loud crash. The teacher jumped up, slammed her book shut, banged it down on her desk, then smiled at her startled students and said, "You just did exactly what I suspected you might do. You chose to try to make me angry-and maybe punish you-rather than allow me to continue ignoring you. Now let's discuss why you decided to behave the way you did, inviting negative attention instead of just letting me not give you any attention at all." When children do their chores, we don't usually give them thanks or praise. Why should we? They're doing what they are supposed to be doing, right? Some kids feel a sense of satisfaction in completing a chore without receiving any feedback. Others feel ignored, so they put off their chores. Then we parents rave and rant and fuss and punish, and although it doesn't seem to make sense, that child actually prefers negative attention to being ignored. A child may deliberately misbehave to get attention or may get his parents in a fury by doing nothing, by simply procrastinating. Make every effort to catch children doing good or behaving well, and reinforce that behavior by giving that child attention and appreciation. Try to "head off at the pass" procrastination that's aimed at pushing your buttons. Of course, as any parent knows, no advice works 100 percent of the time. Katrina, an intelligent mom who has read many parenting books, is very loving and encouraging toward her son. When her son was about two years old, Katrina was in her last month of pregnancy. She was sitting on a couch and told her son to put a toy back where he found it. She repeated, "Put it back," at least five times, and kept threatening, "Don't make me get up and make you put it back." He just stood there, looking at her and holding the toy. Continue... Excerpted from The Procrastinating Child by Rita Emmett Copyright © 2002 by Rita Emmett Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.