Is there a project your child knows they should start, but they can’t seem to motivate himself to begin? Are they delaying work that really needs to be done for school? Do you find yourself nagging at them repeatedly to get things done around the house, or to get their homework done? Or possibly you notice that your child starts something, but can’t seem to finish it? Maybe they have a lot of energy when they start work on a task or project, but then they run out of steam and the work is left undone? Perhaps you have noticed that your child seems to lack motivation, regardless of how much encouragement you give them or even if you get upset or frustrated, not understanding why they won’t just get started.
Is this lack of motivation causing tension in your relationship with your child? Perhaps you’re even concerned because you’ve noticed that your child is even very anxious about their procrastination, which makes the situation all the more befuddling. If their inner voice is screaming at himself to “get busy,” why does he ignore it? Why can’t he just seem to get himself going?
Often, the underlying and surprising reason of procrastination is perfectionism.
Have you heard the expression “Do it right or don’t do it at all?” Perfectionists set unattainable results and standards for themselves, always expecting themselves to produce at the “best” levels. So, oftentimes, perfectionists are opting to “not do it at all.” Perfectionists will often procrastinate and not start a project or task because of their fear of not being able to achieve perfection. They put so much pressure on themselves that they subconsciously decide that if it can’t be done perfectly, they would rather just not start at all. They would rather not do something than do it and not have the outcome be “imperfect” according to their very high standards. There is too much risk that the outcome will wind up with subpar results.
Have you noticed that your child spends an incredibly long time on a task or an assignment? More time than seems necessary?
Because perfectionists want their results to be “just so,” they tend to spend inordinate amounts of time on tasks. As such, they are prone to mental or physical exhaustion. They will spend a large amount of time mentally prepping before even beginning to work, then move painstakingly slow when they do work because of their immense focus on getting the work done “right.” Even when the project or task seems like it is finished, it isn’t, because the perfectionist feels the need to revise, edit or improve.
Since perfectionists know deep down how much of their energy they are going spend trying to get everything “perfect” they don’t start. If they do start, it’s very common to quit or stall out because they become so drained from all of the efforting. If you recognize these patterns in your child, you may have just had a big insight. So, this is your opportunity to help in the best way possible, helping her break her perfectionistic tendencies.
How can you help?
Encourage your child to lower his standards. Their standards are “above and beyond,” but they don’t realize it. They will actually be operating at a “normal” level compared to non-perfectionists if they lower their standards.
The easiest way to do this is to ask them to look at lowering their standards with a simple task or project. Once they do a simple task or project “imperfectly,” he’ll see that the world didn’t end and nothing bad happened. Once your child has completed these easy tasks or projects, they can then move onto other tasks or projects where the stakes may actually be a bit higher (perhaps a school project). In this case, she should allow herself a specific, reasonable amount of time to do the work. She will be astounded at the amount of high-quality work that she can get done in that “time-boxed” amount of time.
Encourage your child to figure out what they consider the “bare minimum” success level is for a certain task or project that they have been procrastinating over. Tell them he to work on getting the bare minimum done as quickly as possible. While he is working, as them to remember to tell themselves “This need to be good enough, not perfect.”
If your child adopts this method (and perhaps you should too?), they will discover that their procrastination tendencies may melt away, because they are breaking old perfectionistic patterns by rewiring their brain for success.
Your child will realize that by spending less time on tasks and projects, they will be more motivated to set goals and then be able to finish them. They will be happier overall, and you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel as a parent too.