Saturday, May 28, 2016

5 Ways to Help Kids Who Procrastinate

Not now. Later. Tomorrow. That’s when many teenagers say they plan to complete their household chores or tackle their homework. To a certain extent, this is normal—many of us have a tendency to delay, to put off until tomorrow what we don’t want to do today.
There is a difference, however, between the occasional delayer and someone who has an established, disabling pattern of procrastination fueled by an underlying issue. For parents, dealing with either can be a frustrating challenge. Discerning between the two can be even more difficult.
“Anxiety and fear are better managed by attempting to succeed at the task at hand rather than avoiding it.”
Defining Procrastination
Procrastination comes in a few different forms:
  • Not starting a task until the last minute.
  • Failing to complete an assigned task in a predetermined timeframe.
  • Putting off a task in order to complete a more preferable, lower priority task.
For children, procrastination usually results in a negative consequence such as poor or failing grades, the inability to participate in extracurricular activities, or family consequences like loss of driving rights, screen time, or increased parental supervision.
If your child is encountering these negative consequences on a regular basis, then they likely suffer from procrastination. But, there are steps you can take to help break the behavior. In order to effectively parent a child who procrastinates, it’s first important to understand why your child puts off tasks.
Understanding the Behavior
There’s a common misconception that kids procrastinate because they are lazy or have low motivation. While low motivation can be a contributing factor, there are many others, including:
  • Lack of Relevance: Your child may not see the task as relevant to his or her current or future goals.
  • Boredom: Some tasks just aren’t compelling. For instance, most kids don’t find cleaning their room to be a fun or engaging activity.
  • Lack of Self-Discipline: Knowing you need to do something isn’t the same as being able to get started. Kids are faced with an increasing number of distractions, which can make it hard to prioritize and stick to plans.
  • Poor Time Management: Many kids underestimate how long it takes to do something, and do it well. They put off getting started, assuming there’s enough time to complete the task.
  • Anxiety and/or Fear of Failure: Some children are unable to start tasks because they are afraid that their performance won’t meet personal expectations, or the expectations of significant others. Taken to the extreme, this anxiety becomes perfectionism—the paralyzing belief that anything less than perfect is unacceptable.
To understand your child’s procrastinating behavior, you need to talk openly and hear his or her perspective. Typically, kids are willing to share if they feel like you’re being supportive—they need to believe that you genuinely want to understand their fear so you can help them, not issue a series of consequences that may exacerbate feelings of disappointment.
As you listen, try to identify which of the underlying causes may be at play. Just as a physician can’t effectively treat a headache without knowing the underlying cause—dehydration, allergies, concussion, or tumor—you can’t effectively help your child stop procrastinating unless you understand what’s prompting the behavior. For instance, offering or withholding a reward for completing a task won’t help a child who is delaying because they don’t see why the task is relevant.
So what can a parent do? When your child’s anxiety prevents her from tackling necessary tasks, you need to intervene. These five steps can help:
  1. Ask Your Child Questions: Get to know how your child views their self, the expectations placed on them, and the reality of the situation. Ask questions like, “What standards do you set for yourself?” “What do you think we expect of you?” “What will really happen if you don’t accomplish the task based on the standards you’ve set for yourself?”
  2. Understanding how your child is currently interpreting the situation will help you develop appropriate parental responses.
  3. Clarify Your Expectations: Kids tend to overestimate parental expectations, so make sure you are clear and realistic in what you expect from your child. For example, many parents may focus on the effort put forth on a school project or test, not the grade—but a child may think you expect them to earn straight-As in every subject.
  4. This may be realistic for kids who are consistently high-achievers, but for children who struggle with just turning in their homework, such expectations may be too much. In this case, lean toward setting specific, achievable expectations such as structured time to do homework, study, or do chores.
    Also remember to be clear and direct when stating your expectations. Doing so will help ensure that you and your child are on the same page—if your child still procrastinates after you have this conversation, restate your expectations and reinforce that they are accountable for their own actions and the corresponding consequences.
  5. Teach Problem Solving Skills: Consider this scenario: If I don’t excel on this paper, my grade point average will go down, which means I won’t be able to play football this year, which means I’ll have no friends, school will be unbearable and I’ll be a total loser.
  6. Is that scenario reasonable or likely? No. But kids who fear failure often spiral into a series of unrealistic, irrational, worst-case consequences. It’s called catastrophic thinking. In addition to contributing to anxiety and procrastination, this kind of thinking can lead to outbursts of bad behavior. A child may act out because they don’t know how to solve the problem appropriately.
    You can help coach your child by teaching effective problem-solving techniques. Try breaking tasks up into more manageable chunks or setting smaller, more attainable goals. By helping your child understand how to develop a plan for tackling a problem, they may feel less overwhelmed by the amount of work involved with the task.
  7. Point Out Positive Qualities: Ask your child to identify the attributes they think lead to happiness and success in life—integrity, creativity, people skills, passion, for instance. Getting your child to focus on personality traits they already possess, or will likely develop, will boost their self-esteem and shine light on unrealistically high standards.
  8. Use Your Experience to Relate: Self-disclose some of your own fears and describe how you’ve managed them. By acknowledging your imperfections and struggles, you may prevent your child from feeling defective—like s/he is the only one who can’t effectively manage tasks.
Attempting Success
Because anxiety can be paralyzing, you may have to help your child get started. Consider giving her a defined start time. For instance, “After dinner at 6:00, let’s get started.” You can also try setting some rules around the process, like working for a certain amount of time without interruption, or completing a specific body of work before taking a break. This type of structure can help children (and adults!) manage anxiety and generate a sense of momentum and confidence.  
Ultimately, your goal is to help your child learn to set reasonable expectations. Anxiety and fear are better managed by attempting to succeed at the task at hand rather than avoiding it. Said another way, fear doesn’t simply dissipate with the passage of time—it is only reduced through continuous effort, which leads to success. With parental support, a plan to tackle problems and a willingness to try, your child will be armed with tools to manage tasks effectively.

5 Ways to Help Kids Who Procrastinate reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

Dr. Michael Kramer is a Clinical Psychologist and Nationally Certified School Psychologist who has worked with children, adolescents, and their families for over thirty years. Over the course of his career, he has worked in residential treatment centers, inpatient psychiatric units, community mental health centers, and public and private schools. In his private practice, he specializes in providing treatment to youth with anxiety, depression, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. He also works as a Sports Psychologist, providing service to high school. collegiate, and professional athletes. Dr. Kramer is the father of two grown children.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Disneyland Daddy

The Disneyland DaddyVicki is the single mother of Alex (12), Ryan (8) and Jessica (6). To make ends meet, she works two jobs—as a receptionist during the week and part-time catering on weekends. She has been divorced from Mike, a supervisor for a building contractor, for two years. Her relationship with Mike is strained at best, hostile at worst.

Mike gets the kids every other weekend and every Wednesday. The kids love going to Dad’s because there are “no rules.” They get to do pretty much whatever they want. Weekends are filled with video games, trips to the mall, pizza and movie outings. And candy. Lots and lots of candy. Wednesday nights are TV nights. The kids never do their homework on Wednesday nights because, after a long day, Mike wants to kick back; he doesn’t want to have to deal with questions about homework. Vicki resents Mike’s free-for-all parenting and calls him “The Disneyland Daddy.” 

When Mike drops off the kids at Vicki’s apartment on Sunday night, they are wound up, bubbling about all the things they did with Dad over the weekend and not wanting the fun to end. Within minutes, excitement turns to disrespect, when Vicki asks them to help with chores and get to their homework. They talk back, act out and tune their mother out. Sunday nights with mom turn into screaming matches and tears. The anxiety always spills over into Monday morning, when she has to get the kids out of bed and get to work on time. 

In her own words, Vicki’s life is “a wreck.” Her priority is to get the bills paid and provide for her kids. In doing so, she feels she is losing control of them at light speed. How can Vicki get back in control, when her parenting efforts are undone weekly by Mike? 

Mike doesn’t have effective parenting skills and tries to make up for it with deep pockets. He’s also perfectly happy that the kids go back to their mother’s and act out because it’s gratifying for him; it’s a way to act out his bad feelings toward his ex-wife. Vicki feels cheated, betrayed and resentful about her income disparity with Mike and for having to carry the whole workload of raising the children.
What they both need to understand is that in divorce situations, kids develop a sort of “extra sensory perception” about statements that reflect resentment, anxiety or jealousy. They already feel caught in the middle between their parents, and this heightened sensitivity to their parents’ words makes it even more so.

Can Vicki stop the disrespect and chaos in her home and can Mike learn to be a responsible, effective parent? Yes. But here’s what has to happen:
  • 1.) Manage your feelings. The hard pill for parents, especially mothers, to swallow, is that they have to manage their feelings of resentment and anxiety. Kids do sense when daddy returns them that mom is resentful. This raises their anxiety and contributes to the acting out. I recommend that mom sit down and talk with the kids when things are going well. Make a plan that when they return home, there should be a half hour transition time, where they just go to their rooms and unwind and unpack and have a snack. They don’t talk about the visit with daddy. They don’t talk about the chores. They don’t do anything. They just unwind. After that half hour of transition time, that’s when she meets with the kids and sets up the structure for the night (homework, chores and TV time before bed) and the week (getting up, getting to school on time).

  • 2.) This mom needs to have a structure in the home with rules and very clear expectations. She needs to establish a culture in the home that says, “You’re accountable to me.” What happens at Dad’s house is irrelevant. Mom needs to say this: “You’re not at your father’s anymore. The rules here are these.” Then turn around and walk away. Mom can establish a structure by saying, “It’s eight o’clock. You need to start getting ready for bed. The clearer that structure is and the more it’s backed up by expectations, responsibilities and accountability, the better the chances the kids will respond to it. The simple fact is this: When the kids come back from Dad’s, they need a structure to come home to.

    3.) Use a reward system. At the same time, mom can set up a reward system. The kids who do their homework on Wednesday nights when they’re at Dad’s get something extra. It doesn’t have to be something that costs a lot of money. It can be extra computer time, extra phone time or staying up half an hour later the night they get back. There’s also a much easier way to get the kids to do their chores. Give them a certain amount of time to complete a task. If they get it done, they get a reward. For example, if Ryan does the dishes within 15 minutes after supper, he gets an extra half hour on the computer that evening. Vicki should set the limits and make it the kids’ responsibility to meet them. Why? Because they can do it. Kids show us this every day. Why do you think they go home and act out, then go to school the next day and behave themselves? It’s because they can manage different environments effectively.

  • 4.) Try to work out a fair arrangement with the other parent. I think the “Disneyland Daddy” in this case needs to be challenged to become a more responsible parent. If these parents are involved in family therapy or counseling, accelerating Mike’s responsibility needs to be part of the structure. I’ve known families who have worked out an arrangement in therapy that if the child is acting out after being at Dad's house, the father has to come over and help calm him. It puts some responsibility back on the father and discourages him from creating the problem. This can only happen if parents are empowered through the divorce decree and custody arrangement or through regular or court-ordered family therapy. But it’s important for parents in these situations to have that empowerment, so that the family has a structure for the co-parenting task.

The Disneyland Daddy reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

Good Cop/Bad Cop Parenting

Good Cop/Bad Cop ParentingIf you and your spouse take opposing roles in dealing with your kids, you’re not alone. Many parents take on the roles of “good cop” and “bad cop” in the family. For instance, Dad is the kid’s best buddy, and mom is the nag. Or dad is strict and mom is a sympathizer.

Which “cop” is right? And should you be a cop at all?

I see two problems with the notion of good cop/bad cop parenting. First, is the very idea that somebody has to be a “cop” all the time. Parents don’t need to be cops. They simply need to be coaches and teachers for their children.

Second, what’s really happening when parents become good cops and bad cops is that the kids have learned to split their parents. The area of the split is where kids go to get out of meeting their responsibilities.

For example, Tommy goes to mom and says, “Dad’s making me clean my room before we go to the mall.” Or he says to mom, “Why do I have to clean my room? Dad doesn’t make me do it.” When your child makes complaints like this, both parents have to be supportive of each other. You have to be able to say, “These are the rules Dad and I both have, and you have to do it or you’re going to be held responsible for the consequences.” Then turn around and walk away. That’s it. Give simple statements of support. The more unified you are as parents, the more likely your child is to complete his responsibilities, because he doesn’t have another way out. The only way out is to act responsibly and do what’s asked of him.

But what if you don’t really agree with what Dad is asking Tommy to do? If you have a problem with a rule or limit your spouse sets or a request that’s being made of your kid, don’t make a face. Don’t sigh. And, by all means, don’t argue with your spouse about the issue in front of the child…or even indicate that you are going to argue. Just tell your child he has to do what’s been asked of him. Then talk with your spouse later, after the kids have gone to bed and out of earshot. This is important, because kids pick up on non-verbal cues from their parents a lot more than you think. If your child sees that you disagree with what’s being asked of him, he’ll bring up the issue again and again, to split you and your spouse and to avoid meeting the responsibility.

Simple statements of support work when you use them consistently. When Tommy complains that Dad won’t let him play Runescape before he does his homework, and you say, “Your father said you can’t play Runescape until you do your homework. That’s the rule,” you can bet Tommy will stop trying to split you and your spouse.

Good Cop/Bad Cop Parenting reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Ripple Effect of Defiant Behavior: When Parents Pay the Price

The Ripple Effect of Defiant Behavior: When
        Parents Pay the PriceJames Lehman, creator of The Total Transformation Program, examines the effects of acting out behavior on parents and the family, and reveals how to calm the storm in the home.

Q: A child’s behavior problems can cause disturbances in a family beyond the relationship between the parent and the child, can’t they? I’ve had friends whose marriage suffered when their child started acting out. Is that common? 

James: One of the unseen costs of an acting out kid is all the different ways that the child’s behavior affects the family. Unfortunately, the effects on the family aren’t viewed by society, the courts or the school system as really relevant. So there’s not a lot of support built in for the family. They’ll determine that the family is “sick,” and then the family has to go to therapy. But I’ve met many families who were feeling the effects of behavior problems, and the family wasn’t sick. The problem was all the repercussions from the kid’s behavior. 

Picture what happens when you drop a stone into a pond and you see the ripples. Now picture that stone being dropped in again and again so that the ripples keep expanding and expanding. A child with behavior problems is like the stone in the pond. Every time he acts out, it’s like another stone being dropped into that pond. The ripples get bigger and more frequent in the family. He can’t solve problems any other way than acting them out. His main skills are defiance, manipulation and dishonesty, because he doesn’t know any other way to solve his problems or to deal with the realities in his life, which are, admittedly, often very painful. But no matter how painful his problems are, a child still has to take responsibility and learn to solve them.

Marital conflicts emanate from child behavior problems almost always. One parent blames the other. What happens is that parents tend to look at each other through the “window” of the child. Instead of looking directly at each other, they look at each other through the kid’s behavior. When you’re in pain and uncomfortable and you look at somebody else through that kind of pain and discomfort, it distorts how they look to you. And it distorts how you feel about them. So you often find one parent blaming another or thinking the other parent isn’t doing it the right way or not doing enough.
When this acting out occurs, it can start to push parents toward the edge of their relationship, testing how strong it is and how solid they are. Ideally you would like to think that it bonds parents together, but it doesn’t happen that way. The behavior tends to split the parents.

Q: And the more split the parents become, the more problems develop in the family around that division. When this is going on, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the chaos in the family. How do you get through that chaos and get to the root of the problem?

James: What parents need is a process by which they can be unified. I recommend that parents agree on certain principles and look at the actions that come from those principles. If our principle is, Johnny has to take responsibility for his behavior, then let’s all act that way and not worry about all the other issues that ripple out from that. Johnny has to take responsibility for his behavior, so let’s focus on that one thing. Let’s teach him problem solving skills. If there is a crisis, let’s handle it responsibly and productively. Responsibly means nobody gets hurt. And productively means that everybody can learn a lesson from it. 

Once the family starts to deal with the child’s problem, the problems secondary to his behavior start to settle down. Whether the secondary problems are the parent’s communication, the other children’s safety and behavior or the financial strain that occurs when you have a kid who’s acting out, those things tend to subside, once you focus on the behavior problem.

So parents need to be able to communicate and not look at their relationship through the child. Rather, begin to look at your child through your relationship. See yourselves as a team. Parents find that the behavior calms down when they start working more like a team. First, because they find the common solution. They find something that works and that’s helping their child. Second, the family stressors go down. They’re able to deal with the normal stress of taking kids to soccer, taking kids to guitar practice or whatever they normally do. And they’re not dealing with the stressors of crisis, calls from the school, going down to the police station, or trips to the hospital or the emergency room.
When I work with parents and talk to them about being a team, I find they get really in touch with that. They're eager to find a way to enjoy each other’s company again. Because they realize their kid is like a loaded gun in their midst, firing whenever he wants. And they know that nobody can live peacefully with that. No marriage can work really strongly when that’s going on, because people are fatigued, angry, frustrated and afraid. The outcome of changing the child’s behavior is that parents communicate better. They feel better about their marriage and they feel better about themselves. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and it can happen for you.

The Ripple Effect of Defiant Behavior: When Parents Pay the Price reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."