Dr. Joanne Foster: Those Procrastinating Kids!

Sep 13, 2017 by

An Interview with Dr. Joanne Foster: Those Procrastinating Kids!

      Michael F. Shaughnessy –

  1. Joanne, some of our readers may be familiar with you, but for the others—could you tell us a bit about your background, education, and experience?

I’m a parent, educator, consultant, gifted education specialist, and author. I’ve been involved in various capacities within the field of gifted education for over 30 years. I have a Doctoral degree in Human Development and Applied Psychology, and a Masters degree in Special Education and Adaptive Instruction, both from the University of Toronto. I enjoy reading and writing about intelligence, creativity, gifted/high-level development, and productivity. I hope that my books and articles are helpful to those who read them.

2. I read and enjoyed one of your previous books, “Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination.” Why did you write it?

I wrote “Not Now, Maybe Later” for parents of kids who CAN but WON’T do what they’re supposed to do—that is, capable children and teens who put things off; who have difficulty setting or meeting expectations; who don’t complete their homework, chores, or whatever; and who, for various reasons, don’t strive to be the best they can be. Sometimes parents aren’t sure how to provide the right kinds of support and encouragement. In “Not Now, Maybe Later” I cover a range of topics including avoidance behavior, self-regulation, goal-setting, motivation, and more. I suggest over 250 practical strategies that parents can use to help kids now, not later.

3. Your latest foray into this realm is a book entitled “Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate.” Why did you write this follow up?

I wrote “Bust Your BUTS” because I believe it’s important for kids to learn to be accountable for their own behavior, and to appreciate the value of putting forth effort—even when it’s challenging. (Or perhaps especially when it’s challenging.) I discuss what underlies procrastination, and what teens can do about confronting the various reasons for it. I refer to these as BUTS, hence the book title. I discuss 28 different reasons why kids procrastinate, and I have loads of suggestions for addressing each one.

I wrote this book with teenagers in mind, although the information is useful for parents and teachers, too. I provide understandings, examples, tips, and reassurances to help readers increase their productivity, make smart decisions, tap into their personal strengths, and succeed.

At the end of the day, individuals are responsible for their own well-being and fulfillment, and sometimes a helpful resource offers the gentle guidance they need. “Bust Your BUTS” is designed to be that resource for kids (and families) who are struggling with procrastination.

4. You discuss different types of obstacles that readers may encounter or want to address—that is, several personal, skill-related, and external reasons for procrastination. Can you tell us a little about these, perhaps by sharing a couple of examples from each of these three categories?

Personal reasons for procrastination might include being bored because a task is too simple or not motivating, being afraid of failure, lacking self-confidence, or feeling overwhelmed because there’s too much to do. Several skill-related challenges can lead to procrastination, such as disorganization, risk aversion, problems prioritizing, or issues with time management.

External reasons that affect procrastinators include distractions, lack of structure, over-involvement with tech devices, and friends, parents, and other family members who procrastinate. These are just some examples that I discuss in “Bust Your BUTS,” and I suggest lots of strategies for understanding and addressing them.

5. Are most parents really prepared to help their child with procrastination issues? Kids have various ability levels. How can parents ascertain how to provide the right kinds of support?

Parents who are attuned to their child’s interests, personality, moods, educational requirements, and other needs are in a good place to provide targeted supports when they’re needed. It’s important for parents to be attentive, patient, and flexibly responsive to what’s happening in the young person’s world, whether it’s at home, school, on a sports field, or in other areas of life.

Parents can also ensure that kids have opportunities to explore many, varied, and multi-sensory activities. Participating in different kinds of learning experiences can be motivating. However, it’s important to remember that children and teens also need ample time for reflection so they can consolidate their learning.

Finally, parents can help kids strengthen their work habits, emotional literacy, communication skills, and resilience—all of which will enhance their engagement and productivity, and lessen the tendency to procrastinate. The bottom line: regardless of age, the way parents respond to children’s actions can change how children feel about themselves.

6. I would say that some procrastination issues revolve around a failure of executive functioning. Am I off on this?

  • You are not off. There is certainly a connection between procrastination and executive functioning. The executive function part of the brain is like its control center. It looks after processing activities such as planning, responding, and focusing. Kids can learn to pay attention to their own ways of functioning. For example, if they think about how they tend to respond when things get confusing (or, alternatively, overwhelming, dreary, annoying, or scary), they may realize that they typically tune out, or procrastinate, or yell, or behave in a certain way. Becoming aware of how they respond to challenges is a solid step toward coming to terms with the difficulties they might be experiencing.
  • That awareness can inspire them to start using strategies that are calming, or motivating. The brain is constantly undergoing changes, so it’s possible to break old patterns and develop new ways of functioning—and this includes changing patterns of avoidance or procrastination.

7. What about emotional issues—an illness in the family, divorce of parents, death of a family pet, breakup of a teen romance…. Are these legitimate reasons to procrastinate (or grieve)?

Emotions guide behavior. For example, it can be difficult for children to come to terms with sadness, jealousy, guilt, fear, embarrassment, or frustration, and as a result they might cry, vent, procrastinate, tune out, quarrel, or exhibit other reactions. Clear, strong messages of encouragement from respected adults can be powerful motivators for children to learn how to self-regulate their emotions. People are welcome to read an article I wrote for The Creativity Post on how to fortify children’s emotional well-being. Here’s the link: http://www.creativitypost.com/education/childrens_emotional_well_being_eight_practical_tips_for_parents

8.  The pages of “Bust Your BUTS” are filled with tips for teens who procrastinate. Should teachers be addressing these problems as well?

In the whole scheme of things, kids have to learn to take control of their own behavior. And if they procrastinate, ultimately the onus is on them to decide to turn things around—or not. However, teachers are well positioned to provide guidance, and reinforcement, and to demonstrate the kinds of strategies that will be advantageous both in the short term and the long run. For example, these strategies might have to do with helping kids develop organizational skills, discover how to set appropriate goals, and appreciate the benefits of being collaborative.

Teachers can also work with parents to provide flexible options for kids who find it hard to meet expectations or deadlines, and to encourage procrastinators who need self-confidence boosts in certain subjects areas or dimensions of their lives.

9. What have I neglected to ask?

People often ask me whether the strategies in my books are also applicable for adults. The answer is yes. Issues relating to time management, motivation, and the many and varied reasons for procrastination that I discuss can be just as problematic for adults as they are for kids. “Bust Your BUTS” and “Not Now, Maybe Later” are loaded with practical suggestions, reassurances, and resources that will resonate for anyone who wrestles with avoidance behavior. There are also ideas for cultivating a strong work ethic, a love of learning, responsibility, and more in “Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids” (co-authored with Dona Matthews).

Another question that I’m frequently asked, and that perhaps your readers are wondering about, is whether there is a best or “surefire” way to overcome procrastination. The answer is no.

There are many reasons why people procrastinate, so resolving it involves coming to terms with what’s causing the behavior in the first place, and that process will differ from one person to the next. However, there is one important strategy that all procrastinators can embrace, and it has to do with volition. This is a two-pronged tactic, involving willfulness and choice. Firstly, people have to cultivate the desire (or will) to move forward; secondly they have to deliberately decide (or choose) to take action to do so.

Procrastinators—and those who seek to support them in their efforts—can think carefully about how to fortify will, and how to foster opportunities to make good, productive choices. They can work together, and preferably now.

Thank you for prompting this conversation, and enabling me to express my views. I’m always happy to share information about the work I do relating to nurturing children’s intelligence, well-being, creativity, and productivity. I invite readers to check out all my books at www.joannefoster.ca, my articles at The Creativity Post (http://www.creativitypost.com), and the resources posted at www.beyondintelligence.net

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