Anne Lamott is an American novelist and non-fiction writer who wrote a book called Bird by Bird which gives people instructions on life and writing. You might wonder how she came up with this title. She explains it in a TED talk she gave.
She talks about how when she was a child, her father was trying to help her brother write a report on different types of birds. It was very last moment, and her brother was feeling overwhelmed. To this, their father responded and said, “Just do it bird by bird.” He told Anne’s brother to go over the characteristics of one bird, understand them and write them down in his own words. Then he could move on to another bird and then write about that one. Eventually, all the birds would get done.
This one sentence stuck with Lamott into her adult years, and it forms the core of her life and writing instructions. The fact is that you can’t try to do everything all at once. You have to break it off into little parts and do it little by little.
Why Do Students Procrastinate?
Often, students get overwhelmed by the large amounts of information they have to take in. They may have hundreds of pages of reading to do, a number of different papers to write and also some tests to take. In addition, a child is expected to participate in extracurriculars as well if they want to get into a good college.
At times, it’s really difficult for children to keep up with everything and they get stressed out, just as adults do. And this results in procrastination. They might do certain things in time and procrastinate when it comes to other things. Or they might just give up altogether and spend their time watching TV because they can’t focus on anything.
Validating a Child’s Feelings by Listening
What are parents and teachers to do in this case? Obviously, scolding the child is not going to motivate them to do the work. Or it might work in one case but it’s unlikely to have any kind of long term effect. Instead, it’s a good idea to ask the child exactly what the problem is and listen to what they have to say. Are they feeling overwhelmed? Do they feel like they will never get it right? Do they feel like everyone else is doing a better job than them, so there’s no use even trying?
When you listen to what a child is saying and actually pay attention to their problems, it already gives them a feeling of validation. They might just want to hear that they are not alone and that everyone has problems of the same kind.
Helping Children Understand That No One Is Perfect
In this age of social media, it’s easy for a child to believe that everyone else is perfect, but they’re not. So it might help to make your child understand that everyone is, in fact, imperfect, even perfect-seeming celebrities. So be sure to tell them that they don’t have to be perfect. No one is perfect in this world even if they present a perfect appearance.
In cases where the child is not doing quite as well as they like, they need to be encouraged and told that it’s ok if there is room for improvement. Turning in some work is better than not turning in anything at all.
Breaking Down the Work and Doing it “Bird by Bird”
Above all, you might encourage your child to do what Anne Lamott’s father did. Tell them to break the work down into manageable chunks. If they have to do 100 pages of reading, at least they can start with 10. If they have to write five pages, they can at least start by writing one. At times, it’s possible to finish all one’s work in bite-sized chunks. And at times, once you start reading or writing, it starts to flow and you get more done than you thought you would. By teaching your child to work in small increments, you’re actually helping them to develop an important life skill.
Contact us for more information to help you come up with a solution for student procrastination.