How to Help Your ADHD Child Stop Procrastinating


ADHD children are prone to procrastination, which negatively affects school performance and life at home. Find out how you can help your ADHD child overcome tardy tendencies.

Children with ADHD and Procrastination

''I need to build a model of the solar system for science class,'' your child announces at 7 PM on a school night.

''When do you need to turn it in?'' you ask, a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.

''Tomorrow—third period, right before lunch.''

You spend the next five hours helping your child build a scale-model representation of the galactic neighborhood out of papier-mâché, super glue, and paint. While trying to get your fingers unstuck from the rings of Saturn, you bite back your disappointment that your child's procrastination has led to another last-minute near-disaster.

Does this scenario sound familiar? For the parent of an ADHD child, procrastination can be maddening. If you do not have ADHD yourself, it may be difficult to understand how the time on the clock or the dates on the calendar do not register with your child.

ADHD Time Zones: ''Now'' and ''Not Now''

People with ADHD tend to perceive time in a binary way. In the minds of many ADHD children, things happen either ''now'' or ''not now.'' Anything that's not happening in the present moment is usually ignored until it is imminent.

Procrastination can be frustrating for both the child with ADHD and the child

As husband-and-wife research team Donald and Susan Davis point out, for individuals with ADHD, time perception is usually not linear. While those without ADHD perceive time in a chronological way, with events following one another in the order they happened or will happen, many people with ADHD do not think of events as occurring sequentially. This nonlinear perception of time can cause much frustration for both ADHD children and their parents.

Downside of Deadlines

Children with ADHD typically find it more difficult to work on what they perceive as boring tasks. Sometimes, the only thing that motivates them to work in earnest on such tasks is the rapid approach of a deadline. When the pressure is on and adrenaline runs high, ADHD children often kick into gear and get work done. The downside to this approach is turning in shoddy work in order to meet a deadline, or possibly missing the deadline altogether.

Task Avoidance

ADHD children may find projects and tasks overwhelming and have difficulty indentifying which assignments should take priority. Often, the gut reaction in these situations is to avoid working on any task because it just seems like too much to handle.

Quest for Perfection

Sometimes children procrastinate because they're afraid of making mistakes. Between unreliable working memory and mistakes caused by impulsivity, ADHD children may feel even more frustrated than most kids. They may be driven to perfectionistic behavior by a desire to avoid poor performance and potential criticism.

Children with ADHD may procrastinate to avoid tasks that seem overwhelming, or take to long trying to reach perfection.

However, as this article from explains, perfectionism can lead to procrastination. Fear of falling short of goals can delay action.

Encourage Timely Achievement

Ideally, your child will use the tips and techniques presented in this article to acquire good habits and avoid procrastination. Chances of success will be greater if your child feels personally motivated to complete tasks on time, or even ahead of schedule.

Visualize Bonuses

Ask your child to imagine how much better it will feel to finish a task with time to spare. Try to frame this positive feeling in a context relatable to your child. If your child plays video games, for example, liken finishing tasks ahead of time to a ''time bonus'' for which extra points are awarded.

Help your child to understand that starting an assignment a little early, working steadily, and finishing before a deadline will create a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction—and result in much less stress.

Go for the Good

If your child consistently lags behind schedule while trying to attain perfection, explain that ''perfect'' is an unattainable ideal. Encourage your child to strive for a task done well, not perfectly.

A completed task done reasonably well is superior to a ''perfect'' goal that is late—or, worse yet, never achieved.

Map Out Projects and Tasks

Considering the executive functioning issues that are part of ADHD, it can be hard for your child to navigate through the starting and completing of tasks. It helps to get your child into the practice of mapping tasks out, so that it's easier to see a clear path from start to finish.

A to-do list can make projects seem more manageable, and lead to less procrastination for your ADHD child.

Count Down to Success

When new school projects are assigned, work with your child to figure out how much time is needed to complete each individual step. For example:

  • Build some extra time into your estimates to help manage unforeseen complications.
  • Based on the project deadline, work backwards to establish daily goals.
  • Help your child map out the time needed to complete other tasks due within the same time frame.

Work with your child to select useful tools for tracking time in linear units. Whether it's a paper calendar or a countdown app (such as Time Until for Android, or Countdown+ for iOS), make sure that your child has the means to visualize the passage of time and to understand how much time remains to complete a task.

Many calendars and countdown apps can be customized with your child's own photos or illustrations to help differentiate among various upcoming events. In personalizing these calendars and countdowns, your child may find some pleasure in the process and feel ''in charge'' of personal time management.

Make Tasks More Manageable

How can you keep your ADHD child from feeling overwhelmed, which often lead to procrastination? Here are some techniques your child can use to conquer tasks that seem insurmountable.

Start with a Break Down

Before beginning any assignments, break down projects into manageable tasks; this will make the work seem less intimidating. Include a timeline for exactly when various tasks will be done, and in what order.

Ease in Slowly

Usually, the inertia that occurs right before beginning a task is the hardest obstacle to overcome, so set a timer and ask your child to work for just a few minutes only. Sometimes, five or ten minutes are all it takes to get over the reluctance and to find the task feasible.

Avoid Multitasking

Ask your child to focus exclusively on the task at hand until it is done. If need be, clear your child's workspace of anything not related to the current task; with fewer visual distractions, it will be easier for him or her to concentrate on the designated activity.

Put it on Autopilot

Set chore and homework routines with your child. These routines will make repetitive tasks and actions automatic. The fewer decisions ADHD children need to make about scheduling and performing reoccurring tasks, the less they will tax their executive function. This will reduce stress and make procrastination less likely.

A table scheduling repetitive tasks can reduce stress and lessen the chance of procrastination for your ADHD child.

Act Now to Stop Procrastination

Procrastination can impact many facets of your child's life, from academic pursuits to everyday responsibilities. Once you understand how ADHD leads your child to procrastinate, you can use the suggestions offered here to help him or her conquer procrastination.

By Michelle Baumgartner
January 2020
k-12 adhd & school

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