Updated: Jul 14
Procrastination is a really tough habit for your child to overcome, especially if they struggle with ADHD. Make sure you know the best way to respond to your child when they procrastinate so that you can help them develop the skills they need to overcome this impulse over time.
The first step in responding to your child is understanding what's beneath the surface of their actions.
Understanding the relationship between ADHD & Procrastination
One of the first executive functions that we develop is our ability to inhibit our impulses. This function allows us to think through to the consequences of our actions. It allows us to stop, think, plan ahead, and ignore distractions so we can reach our goals.
Unfortunately, for kids with ADHD, inhibitory control takes much longer to develop, and most need help directly learning and practicing this skill. For many kids with ADHD, there's a knee-jerk reaction to stress that causes them to impulsively avoid whatever it is that's causing it. They don't have the executive functioning to override this impulse.
What's beneath the surface of procrastination?
Kids who procrastinate are often labeled "lazy" or "underperforming," two myths that cause lots of shame, avoidance, and oppositional behavior.
Understanding what's at the root of procrastination helps parents approach this issue with more compassion and in a way that helps your child build the skills they need to develop their executive functioning.
Here are some things going on below the surface:
1. Your child's inner dialog
Everyone has an internal dialogue - a story that we tell ourselves about ourselves. If the story in your child's head is that there's something wrong with them, that they're not smart enough, or they're too lazy to get something done, then they will keep themselves stuck in this fixed mindset. Reacting to your child with judgement or punishment reinforces the negative inner dialog and causes shame. Kids need help developing their inner coach voice (their self-directed talk) that helps them steer their thinking and make better choices.
2. Your child's emotions
Behind anger, aggression, and opposition are a storm of emotions. Kids with ADHD do not have the ability to recognize their emotions or self-soothe - and often their emotions feel overwhelming. When your child's impulse to avoid pain kicks in, they'll do everything possible to avoid what's causing them to feel uncomfortable. Reacting to your child's emotions, or punishing your child at this moment makes them feel even more overwhelmed and misunderstood.
3. Your child's awareness
Kids who procrastinate don't seem to learn from their past mistakes. Instead their actions are guided by their emotions and impulses in that moment. The more they procrastinate, the more stressed out they feel, and more stress causes further procrastination. Building awareness of their thoughts, feelings, and habits is the key to helping them create cognitive space between their impulses and their actions.
To summarize, ADHD causes a delay in your child's development of inhibitory control - which is key to developing their executive functioning skillset.
Kids with ADHD have trouble inhibiting their thoughts, emotions, and actions, and often aren't aware of the consequences of their actions. Their impulse is to avoid stress, and seek the immediate gratification of a preferred activity.
To help your child overcome procrastination, you must address what they're experiencing beneath the surface. Responding with compassion and without judgement means they'll be much more receptive to your support. Kids need adults to be examples of self-regulation, impulse control, and executive functioning. With compassionate guidance and accountability, they too can learn the art of self-regulation.