Procrastination, phone (ab)use and social media madness?
One of the biggest challenges for us parents is finding clever ways to help our kids maintain some sort of motivation, resilience and good study habits, and simultaneously make sure wellbeing is not suffering. Kids are missing their friends and need to use their phone to ‘meet up’ virtually. But where do we draw the line? How much is enough?
There is no surprise that kids find the pressures of independent learning difficult, which in turn can have a detrimental effect on wellbeing, resulting in procrastination, overuse of social media, self-doubt, and other self-sabotaging behaviours.
But instead of getting cross with our kids for not starting their schoolwork or going to bed too late in the night (or early morning!), we can use a few simple coaching tools, to sneakily outsmart them, for their own good.
So, what can we do? How can we help our kids develop a better mindset during this period?
We can stop focusing on what’s wrong and instead we focus on what’s strong. We can help them see their strengths (they’re still there, just dormant), rather than voice our concerns about their habits. We can hand over (some) responsibility to them. We can ask them the right questions to help them think, rather than telling them what to do!
I recently started coaching an A Level student who had ended up in a rut during lock down. Her Lower Sixth exams were to take place in 3 weeks and still she managed to distract herself from starting work throughout the whole day, kicking off revision late in the evening.
I could hear the desperation in the mother’s voice. No work got done. She was getting up later and later and the frustration building up was loud and clear. Do something! Help her! Help us!
I’ve had two sessions with her. She is one week away from her exams and she is getting focused with her work. The first week I messaged to see how she was getting on and to encourage her, now she messages me to share the good news. She is working.
You may think this was flux. That her mother exaggerated. But, no. Not at all. This girl had not done any work for her exams and had no intention on starting to revise seriously any time soon.
What changed? I told her that procrastination is an emotion regulation problem. Not a time management problem. She had the time. She just didn’t use it! Why? Because her work made her anxious. She doubted her ability. She was in a rut. Others had got started already. Her mother’s concerns made her freeze in her actions.
So together we looked at that inner critic playing havoc with her confidence. Then we decided to ignore that critic and focus all our attention on her inner coach. I asked her what advice she would give her best friend if she was in the same situation. She wrote this down and I told her to start saying this to herself, every day. A week later she was still telling herself that ‘you can do this!’, ‘just get started!’, ‘it’s not impossible’. And what we tell ourselves we believe.
We brainstormed how she could use her Key Strengths to increase her performance and wellbeing. For Bravery she came up with ‘you’re brave, feel the fear and do it anyway!’, ‘believe in yourself’ for Forgiveness, ‘forgive yourself when you make a mistake!’, for Creativity, ‘design colourful mindmaps to help you learn’. ‘do flash cards and play Match Up with your English quotes’.
One week before exams and she is getting up at 6:30am, going for a quick run before sitting down to do her work. Her mother and I agreed. This is fantastic. What had changed? I introduced a couple of simple coaching strategies to help her change her mindset. That’s all.
10 Top tips for parents
1. Get your kids to do VIAS Character Strengths survey and brainstorm with them how they can use their top strengths to optimise motivation, focus and wellbeing! https://viacharacter.org/survey/account/register
2. Never ask if schoolwork is ‘completed’, get engaged with their schoolwork to check understanding! Let them teach you!
3. Ask them to rate their level of performance on a scale from 1-10. If low, write out specific and positive mini goals to improve performance, so that it aligns with their potential
4. Ask them what they can say ‘yes’ to and what they can say ‘no’ to increase performance. Ask your kids to write this down to increase engagement. Let them take control!
5. Ask them ‘what qualities they want to be known for’? Then ask them to act on these to become the person they want to be, especially in the current challenging situation.
6. If they procrastinate, ask them to try ‘5 minutes of positive action’ to make a deal with themselves to get started on their work, but to do it for just 5 minutes. This works magic with overcoming the psychological barrier of getting started. Once they have started, they usually find it easier just to carry on!
7. Encourage your kids to write a gratitude log. By focusing on the things we are grateful for, we spend less time ruminating on the things we worry about.
8. Ask them to share one of the biggest challenges they have successfully overcome. This makes them think of previous successes rather than possible defeats.
9. Start a ‘daily acts of kindness’ competition with your kids, implementing small acts of kindness. You will be happily surprised when you get an unexpected cup of tea! Increases positive emotions in the whole family.
10. Ask them to think about ‘what a wise person would say to them now’ and write this down. A simple activity to activate their inner coach!
By: Pepita Torbrand
Pepita Torbrand is a Chartered Psychologist, Academic Performance Coach, Educational Consultant and Experienced Teacher, having worked as Head of Psychology at Oxford High School for Girls.