Kids Who CAN But WON’T: What Can Parents Do?

Kids Who CAN But WON’T: What Can Parents Do?

Education January 02, 2017 / By Joanne Foster, EdD
Kids Who CAN But WON’T: What Can Parents Do?

Resolutions? Expectations? The New Year is inevitably full of promise—and promises. However, kids’ resolve sometimes melts like snow… Here’s how parents can help children and teens meet responsibilities and challenges throughout the coming months.

Procrastination and lack of resolve are not just New Year’s concerns. And, regardless of whether you’re a grown up—or still growing up—there are numerous influences in life, and probably as many reasons why NOT TO DO something as there are TO DO it.

Many children, teens, and adults have good intentions, but run into difficulty seeing things through. This has to do with how people set expectations, perceive of success, and experience the world. Difficulties can also be related to a person’s resilience, feelings, motivation, and confidence.

For now, as we transition from one year to the next, let’s focus on how to help kids cultivate resolve and a stronger sense of industry for the months ahead. Here are several tips parents can use to empower kids to become more productive, carve out workable timeframes, and ultimately take pleasure and pride in their own accomplishments—today, tomorrow, and beyond.

1. Don’t make assumptions. A child’s lack of initiative is not necessarily willful disregard or purposeful idling. There are many possible explanations as to why people procrastinate or avoid things. For example, kids may need help dealing with feelings such as being overwhelmed, confused, upset, or apprehensive. They may lack self-assurance, or the requisite skill set to get a particular job done. Or they may be too shy or embarrassed to ask for assistance. Figuring out the underlying reason for task avoidance is a solid first step to overcoming it.
2. Respect your child’s individuality. Honor your child’s capabilities, developmental readiness, areas of weakness, preferences, interests, and temperament. Keep in mind, too, that kids’ lives are full and that they’re juggling a lot, and still learning how to do that. This learning is an integral part of personal growth and accomplishment. It doesn’t happen overnight.
3. Offer encouragement. Be genuine and timely. For example, reinforce a child’s effort at the outset of a task to kick-start it, or part way through to grease the wheels of progress. Help children visualize success, looking past the immediate moment to see the satisfaction that lies just down the road.
4. Watch for red flags. These include poor health, exhaustion, and other indicators that a child is experiencing stress or having trouble coping with demands. Promote wellness behaviors: physical activity, adequate sleep, a nourishing diet, and time for reflection and recreation.
5. Avoid arguments and power struggles. Be consistent with messages—without fighting. Try to be patient when your child avoids things or puts them off. Rise above any anger. Make time to talk, and to listen. Really listen. Keep calm. It doesn’t help the situation when parents pressure kids, or act judgmentally.
6. Set or co-create realistic expectations. If an activity or end-goal is not relevant, manageable, and attainable, chances are that kids will avoid it. Make sure demands or intentions are both fitting and fair, and that instructions are clear, understood, and appropriately challenging. Also, remember that flexibility around timelines and processes can be motivating.
7. Prepare. Gather together any materials and resources that may be needed for a task (or may be used as an excuse if not readily available)—such as electronic chargers, batteries, calendars, contact info, and so on. Routines, plans, and schedules can be comforting for kids. So, too, can a quiet, distraction-free zone for planning and thinking things through.
8. Get creative. Creative approaches and a positive spin can make a task fun and more exciting, bringing fresh perspectives to what might otherwise seem mundane or trying. Art, music, drama, physical activity, or innovative teamwork can be invigorating. Help kids tap their curiosity. Resourcefulness can empower people when they confront challenges. And, a little intrigue can dispel an inclination to procrastinate. 
9. Chat openly about procrastination and resolve. Share anecdotes about your own challenging experiences, or struggles overcome by people your kids admire. Help children understand that getting things done typically involves ups and downs. You can also talk about consequences that ensue when things are left unfinished. Pick a suitable moment for discussion, when emotions are not running high.
10. Connect with others. Think about who can support your child’s industry and responsibility. Encourage kids to accept and to appreciate the help that caring family members, friends, and teachers can provide, and to use any acquired advice to strengthen capabilities and to develop confidence.  
11. Model good strategies for getting things accomplished. Show kids how to organize, prioritize, and pace themselves well. Demonstrate how to chunk a task into doable blocks, assigning a workable timeline to each, going step by step, and staying focused. Kids can take short breaks, and reassess their progress chunk by chunk.
12. Don’t be a micromanager. Supporting and encouraging children is very different from trying to control their behavior. Try not to hover or nag. Let them take the lead, developing pride and accountability for their actions along the way. It may take time. There is always a learning curve involved—and, in the whole scheme of things, that’s what life is all about.  

Additional Resources

For more information see Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination (by Joanne Foster), and Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster), and visit 

For additional articles having to do with procrastination and productivity, check out the following pieces at "Fostering Kids' Success" at The Creativity Post:

Overcome Procrastination: Five Suggestions for Kids 

How to Help Kids Get on Track and Stay There: Eight Tips Revealed!

Helping Kids Overcome Procrastination: Why Wait?

Productivity and Kids: What Do Parents Need to Know?

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