Busting Procrastination

Busting Procrastination

Education January 02, 2021 / By Joanne Foster, EdD
Busting Procrastination

Why do kids procrastinate? When is procrastination problematic? Is there an upside? How can parents help? Read on for answers and resources for 2021 and beyond!


“The word procrastination (which by definition means putting forward until tomorrow) implies avoidance and opting out…”

Procrastination is a form of willful behavior. It can be sporadic or recurring, depending upon situations, timeframes, or demands. Not doing something (or doing it) is a choice. On any given day, kids choose whether to act, participate, and use their intellectual, creative or other capacities—and whether to stand still or step forward, backward, or aside.

The COVID pandemic continues to affect families around the globe, and young people are striving to find their way through tangled, ever-evolving challenges. These include re-envisioned and physically distanced social interactions; emotional upheavals and uncertainties; altered academic programs and different requirements; and the juggling of responsibilities. Add to this the pressures that typically occur at the outset of a new year or semester. Any of this can be stressful.

Understandably, kids (and adults, too) may be inclined to put some things off or even avoid them altogether.

However, when people procrastinate, there are generally consequences.


“There seems to be a moral dimension attached to procrastination; dragging one’s feet is viewed as behavior to be criticized…”

Procrastination can short-circuit children’s productivity, creativity, self-confidence, and learning. It can also trigger strong feelings such as guilt, worry, anger, and shame; lead to power struggles and conflicts; and have a negative impact on relationships with friends and family members. Reasons for procrastination vary and may have to do with a child being fearful, disorganized, distracted, insecure, upset, overwhelmed, ill-prepared, tired—or there may be other issues. Procrastination is complex and can be difficult for children and teens to manage.

Kids may admonish themselves for procrastinating. Avoidance behavior can also be frowned upon by others, particularly those who may be inconvenienced by it. There seems to be an aura of laziness, lack of ambition, and shirking of responsibility attached to procrastination, and it is not always condoned or understood.

In many respects, however, and especially given the COVID reality, people of all ages are just tackling the demands of life, carving out their own approaches and timeframes for meeting challenges. Supportive family members, teachers, friends, and others can help young procrastinators learn what they can manage, and how to succeed.


“Procrastination can be a self-help mechanism that, for some people, provides a measure of control. Making a decision, even a decision to do nothing, may help them feel calmer….”

Is there a positive spin to procrastination? Yes. In fact, people who chastise procrastinators or think less of them (including those who berate themselves because they leave things undone) may be too quick to lay blame. Perhaps they’re not seeing the whole picture.

Putting things aside and taking extra time to plan, prepare, or ponder may be time well spent. Moreover, procrastination may be perceived as a window of opportunity—a chance to develop skills; to prioritize and do what needs to be done most urgently; to acquire resources; and to think things through more carefully or creatively.

Kids often procrastinate for sensible reasons. For example, past experiences can influence their decisions about how or even if to attempt something. And, sometimes expectations are quite rightly deemed to be unfair, inappropriate, too risky, threatening, or unattainable, so procrastination is actually a reasonable response. Some kids choose avoidance as a way to cope with adversity or lack of confidence.


“No matter how old you are, it’s important to steer yourself well, and to have faith in your ability to do whatever you set your mind to do.”

Here’s a concise, fair, and doable procrastination-busting framework for parents to share with their kids:

1.) Acknowledge the reason for your procrastination.

2.) Identify if it’s problematic (for example, whether it could impede health, personal growth, academic achievement, or relationships), and if it’s something you choose to address.

3.) Get involved in co-creating or setting the expectations for tasks and activities for which you’re responsible. This will help to ensure that they’re manageable, worth doing, and have realistic timelines. There might even be flexible options to explore.

4.) If you really want to eliminate procrastination and become more purposeful and productive, you can explore resources and strategies. (See the information and links below, and at www.joannefoster.ca)


“At the end of the day, you are responsible for what happens in your life, including what gets done. and what doesn’t get done.”

Helping kids overcome procrastination involves understanding that putting things off is not necessarily bad. However, it also involves thinking about to how to get things accomplished. That means considering reasons for procrastinating, as well as developing a willingness to put forth effort—changing “I can’t” or “I won’t” to “I can” and “I will.” Proactive starting points include paying attention to personal behavior patterns, thoughts, and feelings; connecting with others in meaningful and collaborative ways; becoming action-oriented; and being persistent.

Parents can also encourage kids to learn about motivation (because people who are motivated are less likely to procrastinate); and time management (because using time effectively helps kids get things done); and fortifying strengths (because that’s empowering). Now is a fine time to start!

Author’s note: The first quote in this article is from Beyond Intelligence, p. 203. The second and third quotes are from Not Now, Maybe Later, p. 18, and p. 40, and the last two quotes appear in Bust Your BUTS, p. 140, and p. 1.

Procrastination-Related Resources

Some additional articles by the author:

The Truth about Children’s Procrastination at First Time Parent Magazine.

See How to Stop Procrastinating? Draw on Your Personal Strengths! on the Roots of Actionwebsite.

Those Procrastinating Kids! Interview by Dr. Michael Shaughnessy for Education News.

And, see Dr. Foster’s column at The Creativity Post, including the following procrastination-busting pieces:

Overcome Procrastination! 5 Suggestions for Kids

Helping Kids Overcome Procrastination: Why Wait?

Suggestions for Teens (And Others) Who Procrastinate

Kids Who Can But Won’t: What Can Parents Do?

Productivity and Kids: What Do Parents Need to Know?

For more on procrastination, see the books Not Now Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination and the award-winning Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate. Learn more at www.joannefoster.ca

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