There are times where parenting my teens felt like all I did was keep prodding them forward. Whether it’s encouraging my daughter to get a job or pushing my son to pick up his room, I felt like my teens would never outgrow their tendency to procrastinate.

But over time—and with a good deal of trial and error—I’ve been able to help my children move away from much of their procrastinating behavior and onto being self-starters.

  1. Consider What Is Triggering Procrastination: It would have been easy for me to brush my children’s procrastination off as them just being lazy. For one thing, it takes all responsibility off of me to do anything but call judgment down on them, and it provides a clear solution—make my teens stop being lazy. But in reality, children often have complex reasons why they procrastinate. Some children are held paralyzed by fear of failure, much like my oldest boy when it came time to tackle his major research paper for his English class. The project counted for 30% of his overall grade and English had never been his strongest subject. Luckily, his teacher held quick conferences with each student and notified me when it turned out that my son hadn’t gotten beyond choosing his research topic. By remaining calm and talking to my son about why he hadn’t started, I was able to understand that his procrastination had nothing to do with laziness and everything with fear of failing and potentially needing to go to summer school.
  2. Demonstrate How To Make Tasks Manageable: Procrastination can also be triggered by children feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand. In our home, Saturday mornings are usually spent tidying the house up after a long week. But while my other children managed to corral their rooms into order, my youngest daughter was crying in the middle of her messy room. She had had a full week of school performance and a small party with her friends to celebrate the end of their play. The result was that her room was a bigger mess than she knew how to deal with on her own. So, after an hour, there were only a few toys pushed around until she became discouraged. Instead of leaving her there and just telling her to hurry up and clean, I sat with her on the floor and helped her break down the task into manageable portions, from picking up all the clothes first, next the toys, and then making the bed. By helping my children see tasks as many manageable parts, rather than an insurmountable mountain, they are less likely to put off a task that seems too hard.
  3. Provide Time Management Techniques: Time management is a tough skill for many adults to master. But once a teen has the techniques they need to properly manage what needs to be done, they are far less likely to procrastinate. Some of the things I taught my son as he approached his English paper were:
  • Create an outline of dates when things are due like your outline, research bibliography, first draft, peer review, and final draft.

  • Once you see how many days are between each step, set aside time each day to get a bit more of the work done.

  • Talk to either mom or dad if you aren’t sure you have enough time laid out.

  • Do the English work first, then go on to other homework assignments.

Providing my oldest son with these management techniques especially helped, as he suffers from several behavioral disorders and greater structure helps teens struggling with these disorders.

  1. Help Your Teen Problem-Solve: A lack of problem-solving skills can be another thing that causes teens to procrastinate. Since I don’t want my children to become stalled by every challenge, I’ve worked to help them to develop strong problem-solving skills. My oldest son knew the basics of problem-solving when he had become stalled by his major paper, but he had allowed his fear to make him believe that the simple techniques wouldn’t work. So, I made it a point to walk him through the basics of problem-solving again:
  • Pinpoint the issue that is holding you back.

  • Start brainstorming solutions. Even if they sound dumb at first, the process can help kick out a real solution.

  • Choose the best solution from your brainstorming session.

  • Carry out the solution. If it doesn’t quite work, choose the next best solution.

With problem-solving steps broken down into manageable chunks, it is far easier to think clearly and tackle an issue that was previously a major roadblock.

  1. Reinforce Teens With Positivity: Providing my teens with positive reinforcement can be difficult at times, especially when all I want to do is ask why they can’t just get off their behinds and take care of their responsibilities. But, taking this negative attitude with children can lead to resentment, added stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Instead, to help build up my children, I opt for positive reinforcement. I am a firm believer that children—and people in general—respond best to positivity and will make lasting changes with the right support. So, while a snide comment about laziness may get my oldest daughter off the couch and off to do the dishes, finding a positive frame like, “Thanks for staying on top of the dishes most of the week. Do you mind wrapping up the stuff currently in the sink?” is a better option.
  2. Model Self-Starting Behavior: Lastly, I had to model this kind of go-getter, problem-solving behavior for my children. As I am self-employed, I usually am a self-starter, but I’ve had to step up my game a bit more when it comes to things like picking up my office and managing my own tasks around the house. Since I know that my children are unlikely to listen to anything I say about procrastination if I’m a procrastinator myself, I have done my best to continually model what I expect from them.

Now, I’m not saying my children became perfect. But, with the structure in place to help them succeed, all they need now are gentle reminders instead of the lengthy lectures and reminders that used to be required to get them moving on what they need to do.