Stop the Stalling: How to Help Kids Stop Wasting Time

"I can't do it."

Don't take a "can't" at face value -- find out what's really going on behind your child's negativity. If the project is something you know she can do -- say, cleaning her room -- she may be dragging her feet because the size of the task seems daunting and she doesn't know where to begin. But if she's perpetually putting off homework and seems to struggle with what she does do, you need to investigate. Procrastination with schoolwork can sometimes be a sign of a larger problem, such as a learning difficulty, according to Dr. Kapalka.

How you can help: First discuss the situation with your child's teacher. If you've ruled out a possible learning problem and "I can't do it" really means "I'm intimidated but totally capable," it's a matter of teaching Project Management 101. "Show her how to break things down into small tasks," says Rita Emmett, author of The Procrastinating Child. Instead of saying "Clean your room," help her identify each step along the way -- making the bed, picking up the trash, clearing off the dresser -- and then ask her to focus on one thing. "Tell her to ignore everything else," says Emmett. "If you're picking up clothes, this is not the time to stop and sort through your books." The same goes for multiple homework assignments: Ask her to pick one very specific task and forget the rest until that one is done.

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