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Dr. Joanne Foster: Solving the Procrastination Dilemma or Problem

Feb 19, 2015 by

FRONT COVER-not-now-maybe-later-cover-book-page

An Interview with Dr. Joanne Foster: Solving the Procrastination Dilemma or Problem

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1) Joanne, first of all, tell us about your latest book Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination.

Not Now, Maybe Later is a resource for parents whose children put things off. It may be homework, household chores, tidying up—you name it. Procrastination, which has a way of seeping into everyday life, can affect kids’ achievement levels, self-confidence, relationships with others, and experiences at home, school, and elsewhere. However there are many ways to prevent, manage, and eliminate procrastination tendencies. In Not Now, Maybe Later I talk about why children and teenagers procrastinate, and what parents and teachers can do about it. I discuss various topics that will help readers understand avoidance behavior, and I present hundreds of practical strategies, organized in ways to facilitate easy reference. (And, yes, lots of these strategies apply to adult procrastinators, too!)

2) Is it that kids today are procrastinating or are they simply more interested in technology and tuning into their electronic devices??

We live in a fast-paced, technological world, and we’re caught up in the BUSY-ness of it all. Children are often riveted to their screens. However, if kids did not have social media to grab their attention and gobble up their time then surely they’d be tempted by something else. Every generation has had its share of societal advances and media distractions, and regardless there’s always the possibility of doing something other than what one “should” be doing. When children and adolescents procrastinate it can help to turn off devices, and to designate time for tech-activities (and breaks) by keeping a non-digital log and monitoring time spent, then revising and co-creating a workable schedule. It’s also important for adults to clarify expectations, offer reinforcement, demonstrate a solid work ethic, and respect kids’ interests—including the use of technology. Chat about decision-making and how to make wise tech-related choices. Moderation is the way to go. The old adage, “There’s a time and a place for everything” is as true now as it was before the advent of computers, tablets, or other electronic gadgetry.

3) Are there things that kids should NOT be procrastinating about?

Yes—it makes good sense to be timely and responsible when it comes to health and well-being. For example, adhering to measures such as putting on sunscreen, getting enough sleep, or wearing helmets and lifejackets. Educational matters are also vitally important. Children should be encouraged to keep up with their schooling. And, of course, virtues belong in the here and now. Being honest, showing respect for others, demonstrating patience, caring, integrity—these should not be sidelined or put off till some other time.

4) You’ve worked extensively in the field of gifted education and you’ve written books and articles about gifted/high-level development. Is it that gifted kids have other values and priorities as to what is important?

Each individual has a set of values and priorities that develops over time, and in response to various influences. These include family, friends, learning opportunities, culture, and past experience. Personal goals and aspirations also factor into what any one person deems to be important. No two gifted learners are alike so one can’t generalize and say they have specific ways of thinking, acting, or prioritizing. However, children and teenagers who are actively engaged in creating their successes or who are committed to high-level achievement may value certain tasks over others or prefer particular ways of doing things (such as studying, establishing routines, or organizing resources and materials).

5) Some kids are voracious readers-and once they get into a book or series they shut out the world, until the book is finished. Is this good, bad, or does it just exemplify the way some kids are?

Reading is hugely important! In a recent article, Dona Matthews and I discuss many reasons why, along with ways to encourage children’s development through reading. There, and also in our book Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids we write about the power of reading and the impact on children’s learning and growth. We also encourage parents and teachers to provide children with lots of opportunities to learn the value of sustained periods of engaged time and task commitment. That said, compulsive behavior is counterproductive, and it’s important to strive for balance—to read but also to make time to do school work, to enjoy being with friends and family, and to stay active and play (preferably outdoors).

6) Are there times when a parent can say to a child ” You CAN procrastinate. I’ll understand. Honest “?

Absolutely! Showing flexibility and being understanding are two keys to effective parenting. Knowing when to step back or aside and to let children decide what needs to be addressed now, and what can be left to later, is a way to help them learn about pacing and about consequences. Parents can be available to offer support when needed, without berating kids if they choose to procrastinate. There are often good reasons why children put things off. For example, they may be prioritizing in their own way, or thinking through a task carefully before starting it, or feeling confused (or frustrated, unhappy, overwhelmed, or whatever…), and so may need some extra time or support before they feel comfortable. I discuss many reasons for procrastinating in Not Now, Maybe Later. And, by the way, many parents procrastinate, too (as in “can” but “won’t”) so they should keep that in mind when trying to understand and accommodate their children’s behavior.

7) Sports seems to be epidemic in the schools. If kids are really fatigued should they be forced into homework when their muscles are in pain?

Homework allows children to consolidate and build upon their learning. However, this happens best when the learner is ready, able, and willing to exert the necessary thought and effort. Someone who is “really fatigued” or “in pain” is not going to optimally absorb or extend information. And, children should not be forced to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Sports are an integral and positive aspect of in-school and extracurricular programming, and should be sensitively factored into children’s schedules of events and responsibilities. Kids can become planful by using an agenda, and sports activities can be followed by down time, work can be chunked in a sensible manner, and timelines, expectations, and due dates can be clearly recorded in advance. This will allow for contingencies as well as for adequate preparation and task completion.

8) Are there different types of procrastinators?  Do some really get to their chores later?

Reasons for procrastinating vary depending on the individual and the circumstances, and may have to do with fears and other feelings, personal perceptions about a task, outside influences, temperament, and more. In Chapter two of the book I introduce twenty-four different procrastination personas. For example, there’s The Perfectionist, The Ditherer, The Casual Cavalier, The Otherwise Occupied, The Analyst, and the Artful Dodger. Each exhibits distinctive character traits that coincide with or lead to procrastination, and I offer practical strategies for addressing the behavior. Throughout the chapters that follow, I incorporate short accounts of other very real procrastinators, along with rationales for what underlies their actions (or inaction) and some recommendations for getting on track. Anyone can choose to overcome their procrastination tendencies, and “get to their chores” sooner rather than later.

9) Why is the topic of procrastination important?

At the very outset of Not Now, Maybe Later, I indicate that procrastination is not just present in behaviors; we also see it in relation to thoughts and feelings about failure, success, responsibility, and, of course, motivation. Procrastination can lead to stress and be especially debilitating for children. It can compromise their self-confidence and their aspirations, and result in underachievement. It can be a game changer as they move from grade to grade, navigate family circles and peer relationships, mature, and develop a sense of self. Children and teenagers may need their parents’ assistance to help prevent and manage procrastination, and many strategies that I describe are ones that they can work on together.

10) Should family come before the completion of homework or room cleaning?

Family time should be a priority in children’s lives. Family members provide the love, encouragement, guidance, support, and buffers that are foundational as kids grow. The best family dynamic is one wherein everyone shares ideas and responsibilities, and acts flexibly, fairly, and respectfully. Informal family get-togethers can be a way to establish times for everyone’s needs, to make sure that everybody feels valued, and to address any issues having to do with the scheduling of homework, chores, or room cleaning. Open communication, careful listening, and compromise help to smooth the way.

11) Time IS a precious commodity. How can parents communicate this to kids?

You’re right. Time does not stand still and so it must be used wisely. Very young children may need help understanding the complexities of time, including the concept that tomorrow never really comes, that today is comprised of nows, and that there’s a difference between tidying up their toys later, and LATER. As children get older, time-related concerns are more about pacing, and deciding what needs doing—and when. Parents can chat with children about the importance of routines and being mindful that procrastination and tardiness can affect others. Scheduling can be taught and practiced. Parents can communicate efficiency by demonstrating how to prioritize, organize a work-space, and set a framework for attaining goals, and by being supportive of children as they learn and hone these skills.

12) What are some effective strategies for enforcing ” deadline seriousity “?

I really like your term “deadline seriousity.” Some people take deadlines very seriously and fret when unable to meet them, whereas others adopt a more casual approach and feel they can probably manoeuver or negotiate somewhere along the line. Children learn whose deadlines are firm and whose are more flexible, what kinds of consequences may be in store, and when they’re supposed to apply themselves versus when they can take their time or delay. Consistency on the part of parents and teachers helps children learn to meet expectations and timelines. It’s helpful if children use interim checklists, desk organizers, and an agenda, work in an environment with minimal distractions, create a support group (comprised of friends and family), and find and tap motivators designed to keep the momentum going. Parents can also emphasize relevance—instilling a sense that a task is meaningful and thus merits effort and timeliness. In Not Now, Maybe Later I offer over 250 suggestions to help children and teenagers overcome procrastination, winding up with summary lists of practical do’s and don’ts for parents and kids.

13) What have I neglected to ask?

You asked thought-provoking questions, and I enjoyed answering them. Thanks!

For more information, people are welcome to visit my website at 

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