Procrastination: that vexing time thief so many gifted children face. You watch as your bright, curious child, passionately engaged in so many interests, comes to a screeching halt when a project is due. You coax, cajole, demand, bribe, threaten, and stand on your head, yet nothing will budge. What gives?
While most people procrastinate from time to time, some develop a chronic pattern fraught with avoidance, disorganization and frantic efforts as deadlines loom. Before you nag your child one more time, rush out and buy yet another self-help book, or hit your head against the wall, you may first want to sort out the reasons for the procrastination. Usually there are one or more contributing factors, and if you sort these out, you may be better prepared to tackle the problem.
Here are some possible reasons for procrastination:
1. Distractibility - Some gifted children are so immersed in their interests that they have difficulty focusing on the task at hand. They become easily distracted by more engaging ideas or projects. Overscheduling can exacerbate this problem; however, distractions can arise even without competing demands once the child's passions and interests take hold.
2. Disorganization - Gifted children can struggle with poor organizational and planning abilities and can lack time management skills. Despite motivation to complete a project, they may become overwhelmed when it involves more attention to details or long-range planning than usual. Difficulty managing their time and structuring how they will work is frequently the root of this problem.
3. Apathy - Sometimes gifted children have become so bored and disgusted with school that they lose interest and don’t really care about the quality of their work. They delay completing assignments because the work seems meaningless. They would rather engage in a multitude of other activities than “waste” their time on rote paperwork or assignments that seem too easy.
4. Past success - Some gifted children procrastinate because they can get away with it. Many have learned that completing assignments at the last minute does not diminish the quality of their work or harm the outcome. They know they can do better, but with a track record of excellent grades behind them, they realize they don’t have to work very hard to just slide by.
5. Rebellion - Procrastination can be an expression of resistance or quiet rebellion against completing an assignment a child resents. It is a means of devaluing the project, minimizing its importance, and expressing anger about having to work on something unappealing. Even if the project is eventually completed, delaying it until the last minute is a form of silent protest that may feel empowering to the child.
6. Perfectionism - High expectations of achieving success can create anxiety and a desire to delay that which is distressing. When gifted children worry that they might not excel on a given task, they may put it off until the last possible minute. Clearly, this can be a recipe for increased anxiety and inevitable 11:00 PM melt-downs.
7. Self-sabotage - Some gifted children (and gifted adolescents in particular) try to hide their abilities from others. In an attempt to blend in, they may disguise their talents, perform poorly, and disengage from academics. Procrastination may reflect their ambivalence about confronting this dilemma and uncertainty about whether to minimize their abilities or live up to their potential. And if the quality of their work suffers, then they can perpetuate the image they want to convey.
8. Insecurity - Despite their apparent skills, some gifted children doubt their abilities. They may feel like "imposters" and worry that their inadequacies will be "discovered" at any time. They believe that they have an image to uphold and if they fail in some manner, they will be outed as a fraud. Delaying completion of a project is a means of avoiding the inevitable anxiety that arises when they confront this fear.
9. Shame - Along with insecurity, some gifted children experience feelings of shame if they fail to excel. They react as if this is an indictment against their intelligence and suspect that others will view them as inadequate. As a result, procrastination can be an excuse; if a less than perfect grade is attributed to a rushed, last-minute effort, then the child can believe that actual ability was never to blame.
10. Depression - Occasionally, procrastination may be a symptom of depression. However, it usually coincides with other signs, such as withdrawal and isolation from peers, apparent sadness, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and irritability. In these situations, procrastination may be a reflection of feelings of hopelessness and a perception that school work lacks any meaning.Sorting out the cause of your child's procrastination is the first step toward working on the problem. A one-size-fits-all approach based on the latest self-help ideas may not work for your child's specific situation. Clearly, a child whose procrastination is the result of perfectionism and shame will need a different approach than one whose primary concern is apathy.
Gather information, speak with your child, listen to what your child thinks. Make a decision about whether the problem is behavioral (habits, distractibility, time management), school based (boredom, apathy), and/or the result of anxiety or depression. Determine whether intervention needs to occur at home, school, or both, and whether a counselor, school psychologist, or therapist would help to address the problem. (More on treating procrastination in a future blog post.)
Let us know what you think about procrastination in the comments section below.