Productivity and Kids: What Do Parents Need to Know?

Productivity and Kids: What Do Parents Need to Know?

Productivity and Kids: What Do Parents Need to Know?

There are many reasons why kids choose not to do things—including tasks that relate to schoolwork, chores, other responsibilities, and even creative endeavors. How can parents move children from I WON’T to I WILL?

Children may not be motivated to do what they’re supposed to do. Ever hopeful, parents (and teachers) may use various strategies to encourage them to get on task—sometimes to no avail. Indeed, a child might have one or more good reasons for not doing something. For example, he could be confused, tired, upset, hungry, or disinterested. Or expectations may be too high, low, pressing, or overwhelming. Or demands may be misconstrued or not perceived as a priority. Outside influences such as peer pressure, more appealing activities (sports, music, recreational games), or lack of organizational or time management skills can also affect a child’s productivity. In short, there are MANY reasons why kids avoid tasks. And, this may have nothing to do with making “excuses” or executing wily, willful manipulations designed to drive parents mad!

As reasons for avoidance behaviour vary so, too, do circumstances. For instance, there’s context (home, school, elsewhere); complexity and sophistication of the task; nature and relevance of it; supports in place for assistance and encouragement; and age, ability level, attitude, and temperament of the child. With all this variation, clearly there is no single slam-dunk approach that can be consistently counted upon to help kids get on track, let alone stay there. However, there are some basic strategies that adults can consider in order to empower children to become more motivated about tasks they’re confronting, juggling, putting off, or even avoiding altogether. Here are some suggestions to bust the “buts” and help children become more productive.

  1. Help kids develop a growth mindset. Emphasize that one step at a time is all it takes to get going, and that effort is imperative. Demonstrate an “I can do it!” attitude. Small accomplishments lead toward bigger ones, so provide children with direct, immediate, and constructive feedback so they can experience success along the way to task completion.
  2. Encourage accountability. Children have to learn to take ownership of what they choose to do (or not do), and face the consequences of their decisions. Chat about it. You might also share why you view challenges as opportunities to stretch, and why buckling down and taking control of a situation is not only gratifying but is good preparation for other eventualities of life.
  3. Make it meaningful. If a task is not relevant to a child, chances are it will not get done. If it’s interesting—that is, it relates to something important or intriguing, sparks the imagination, connects to the individual’s goals or aspirations, or has a perceived personal value of some sort attached to it—then chances are the child will be motivated to try it.
  4. Pay attention to skill sets. Some children need new or better strategies for pacing, organization, or self-regulation. Help them find solutions to the problems they may be facing. For example, homework-related issues might involve learning to use an agenda or study guide; finding a quiet and well-equipped workspace; removing distractions; participating in collaborative efforts; or co-creating a more efficient system for goal-setting and monitoring progress. A child may also need assistance dealing with instructions, clarifying expectations, or breaking a task down into smaller, manageable chunks.
  5. Strive for balance. Everyone needs down time—ample opportunity to relax, play, exercise, or just take a break. This is especially important for children, and gives them a chance to reflect, and to create and consolidate ideas. (For more information on this, check out articles by Dona Matthews at
  6. Believe in the child. Help kids develop self-confidence by appreciating their efforts and past successes, seeing them as stepping-stones to future positive experiences and outcomes. Let children know that you are available to listen, and to offer reinforcement and guidance as they continue to persevere.  

Parents are well positioned to provide all of this, and more, in order to facilitate children’s productivity. By being attuned to their individual needs and any patterns of avoidance, it’s possible for parents to find the best kinds of strategies for a given situation. By being patient, supportive, and resourceful (and by exploring informational sources on topics such as procrastination, self-regulation, motivation, and work habits), it’s possible to address avoidance situations as they arise. And, by being mindful of their own tendencies, including demonstrating why the above-noted six points matter to them personally, it’s possible for parents to create a family dynamic that is happily productive.


Information on motivation, productivity, goal-setting, mindsets, and more can be found online at and in the following books:

Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination (by Joanne Foster, Great Potential Press, 2015)

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster, House of Anansi Press, 2014)

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. (by Carol Dweck, Random House, 2006)

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens (by Sean Covey, Simon and Shuster, 2014)

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