Ah, dawdling, time-wasting, window-staring, day-dreaming children. Gotta love them. If we didn’t, we’d give up hope. Even though we do love them, sometimes it’s tempting to give up hope.
Before we can help them, though, we have to understand them.
And we do. Because we dawdle, too.
Have you ever procrastinated?
Drat. Yes, we have to go there.
If, as homeschooling mothers, we’re going to try to overcome our children’s bad habits and tendencies, we have to start with the same habits and tendencies in ourselves.
The good news is that not only does this keep us growing and maturing ourselves, it also enables us to reach our children more effectively.
When we see dawdling in our children, we must first see: “Oh, yikes, I do this, too.” Or, at the very least, “I remember when I did that.”
There is no temptation that is not common to man. When we can approach our children with the humility of admitting temptation and sin, and repenting alongside them, both of us are strengthened as is our relationship.
So although there are tips, strategies, and ideas that will help, it is ultimately the relational connection between parent and child, between motivating idea and independent choice that it is our job to spark.
When your dawdling child says, “I forgot.”
Forgetting is never an acceptable excuse. When God talks about people forgetting Him or His law, it’s always an additional sin on top of whatever it was they’d done because they had forgotten. It’s never a reason or justification.
It’s super convenient to forget what you’re supposed to do. It’s also easy to forget, too.
Our job as mothers is two-fold: 1) make our expectations and their responsibilities clear and straightforward, providing the structure and reminders that make getting it done possible without undo stress. 2) provide the natural consequences that teach them through experience that it is better to remember and do the work than procrastinate, forget, and leave work undone.
When the child claims to have forgotten, it is a problem but not an excuse.
We need to be able to point to something tangible that should serve as a reminder to the child, whether it be a bookmark in the day’s book, a checklist posted on the fridge or clipped to a clipboard, or a list on a white board.
Then we must hold the line and enforce the stated consequences for work left undone, not only coolly, but even cheerfully. It’s not a personal attack or insult that the work is undone. In fact, it’s an opportunity.
Little experience, by little experience, your child needs to learn responsibility. Feeling the effects of procrastination is a favor you are giving your children.
Don’t be stingy.
When your dawdling child says, “I don’t want to.”
Sometimes we have the blessing of a honest child – one who will openly admit that the reason he is not doing his work is that he doesn’t want to or he doesn’t like it.
When the honest response makes us mad, we tread on dangerous ground. Are we unwittingly teaching our children that it’s better to make something up?
No. Rather, we can deal with this honest truth with as much honesty in return: “It doesn’t matter” or “I didn’t ask you if you liked it, I asked you to do it.”
Is this response at odds with our goal that they love learning, that they care, that they want to know? Doesn’t it matter that they want to learn?
Yes, in the long run it does matter, and that is why we can’t let the short term moment distract us. We are training tastes. That implies those tastes are not now what they should be. So when we see desires not in line with truth and goodness, we shouldn’t be surprised or worried – we should just see our task at hand.
How can he come to love something he’s never done?
Let him finish the thing, let him get into the habit of doing it, and love, interest, and care will grow.
Hold the line. Enforce the task. Check the work.
When your dawdling child says, “It’s too hard!”
Now we tread on less firm ground.
Learning happens in that sweet spot of challenge – it is real work, but it shouldn’t be arduous or beyond the student’s ability.
So we must take such outcries with concern and with a pinch of salt.
We must lay ourselves out and pay attention. Go over it with them. Is it too hard? Can we help them over the bump?
Or is the exclamation a cover for wanting to be done without putting forth any effort?
Any student 10 and under most definitely needs a tutor – usually mom – at the ready to help with focus and interest. They really do need us right there with them to stick with their work. We might find it’s not the work itself that is too hard, but it is too hard to do it independently yet. That’s ok. Don’t force it on them too early. If they need us at their side, that’s why we’re there.
Once the student hits 11 or 12, it gets trickier, because we do need to start building their independence skills. It does take a building process – we can’t just give them books, a checklist, and time on the first day of 6th or 7th grade and expect good things. We shouldn’t even expect any thing.
Even if the material is difficult for them, they must learn to come with a question, take a walk and come back to it, or do a different task before trying again. Simply leaving the work untouched while gazing out the window, fiddling on a device, or meandering around vaguely looking for “something” is not an acceptable way to spend school hours.
So dawdling should never be the tactic when material is hard. It never makes it better or easier and it’s wasting time, which is a gift given by God to steward.
Learning this will take training – habit training – watchful, attentive training from us as mothers. Dawdling should not be allowed and should have a consequence we are not shy about doling out.
Teach them their options, strategies when they hit a roadblock, whether that roadblock is their own feelings, a lack of understanding, or a mistake.
What a blessing it would be to them to have conquered this one bad habit before it took root! That is a blessing we can bestow with careful tending and consistent consequences.
When you find a dawdler… in the mirror
Now is the time to nip the bad habit of dawdling in the bud and not let it grow into a monster they will have to deal with (or not) during their young adulthood. Now is also the time to conquer it in ourselves.
What a blessing for us, too! As we deal with their dawdling, we will inevitably see more clearly our own. As we disciple them in time management, we must also discipline ourselves along the same lines, at long last conquering our own procrastination excuses and bad habits.
When we forget, we must find hacks to remind ourselves of our work and train our attention to return to the task at hand on command.
When we don’t want to do our work, we must cheerfully tell ourselves, “Too bad! Buck up and be the grown-up.”
When we don’t like our work, we must cling to truth and ask God to change our hearts and our tastes. We must notice the goodness and beauty our work brings and learn to love what must be done.
When we think our work is too hard, we must beg for grace, look for creative solutions, but not let it turn to whining and grumbling.
When our children dawdle, it is an opportunity.
It is an opportunity to teach them while they are still young to have the strength of attention and will to stay on task.
It is an opportunity to grow ourselves, to remind ourselves even as we remind our children, that our feelings should not have power over our responsibilities, but truth should command both feeling and action.
If there’s dawdling in your house, don’t despair. It’s a project worth focusing on. It’s a training ground that will yield fruit. Work for the fruit. Persevere for the fruit. Watch for the fruit.
The fruit will come not only in our children, but in ourselves as well.
You’re not alone. We all struggle with the plank in our own eyes as we homeschool our children – and we should. Let’s walk this journey together and build habits and patterns that increase our depth of relationship and connection with our children.
For all members of The Art of Homeschooling, R3 (Repent. Rejoice. Repeat.) is a live community coaching accountability group starting up October 12. Join today so you can join this group of amazing women, working through the 5 modules of The Art of Homeschooling and digging deep with practical strategies that will strengthen our resolve and resilience.