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.

Dawdling drives us crazy - even when we are the ones dawdling.

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.

Dawdling drives us crazy - even when we are the ones dawdling.

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.

Dawdling drives us crazy - even when we are the ones dawdling.

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.

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  1. Thanks so much for the reminder that dawdling, laziness – any character flaw is an opportunity to disciple and train our children and ourselves! These are the hard yards I am in with an unwilling 9 year old. His natural consequence of ‘still doing school when you should be finished’ – when his sister is finished – and missing out on free time – is only met with anger, resentment and jealousy. The logical consequence is doing nothing to motivate behaviour, attitude or heart change. Any suggestions for consequences or lessons that might stir inner change, a desire to always do one’s best; to be faithful and diligent? To steward well? The other consequence of ‘do it well the first time and only do it once’ makes sense to me, but again isn’t leading to less sloppy, incomplete work, just attitude and anger at the injustice of having to do work again…

    1. At 9 he might still need more supervision and what Susan Wise Bauer calls “at elbow” time while he works, helping him correct it right away instead of waiting until it’s an overwhelming amount to redo. Although some might be ready, 9 is generally too young to expect independence.

      I often had my boys run a lap around the yard if they argued with me, or they’d earn an extra chore for a display, or tears over school indicated tiredness so they’d get an early bedtime. But that generally came with puberty.

      He will need to get up and move around and exercise and get fresh air to do anything well – so if no free time means he’s at the table all day, it’ll be basically impossible for him to do his work well. Perhaps losing a day of screens of any kind when school isn’t complete by a certain time and for each whining infraction? It’s a good consequence, because often screens are actually a root cause of lack of focus and bad attitudes. But still make sure he gets movement breaks regularly.

      What you’re describing sounds like a deeper issue than dawdling, but I’d start with examining expectations and making sure you’re not asking too much, and then I’d suggest a “training bootcamp” where you’re with him, watching and guiding on the spot for a few weeks to retrain habits, making it a cheerful time on your part. So hard! I was really helped by the advice on this site: http://www.raisinggodlytomatoes.com/

      1. Thanks so much for your thoughts. It is mostly a heart problem! But while I wait on the Lord to work there (must remember to pray first and foremost!) I want to train our habits and attitudes. We do have movement breaks and change it up with read alouds and non-desk work. I dropped my expectations last term to try and build some success and positive experiences, but that didn’t help with the dawdling or attitude. If he got stuck in, he would be finished by 1pm, free for reading/technology/outside/etc until 3pm. His response to still working when his siblings are playing is how unfair it is, or doing a quick rush job, instead of learning the lesson and applying himself the next day. Mostly we sit at a table together but there are times when I need to work with his siblings or hang out washing – he could get his maths page done in 20 minutes while I’m occupied but… it’s not ability, it’s willingness. He needs constant redirection when I am right next to him too, which is incredibly frustrating. I’m trying to praise what he is doing well so it’s not all correction. It’s exhausting. I smile when you say to make it a cheerful time to retrain him – I must remember this is an opportunity to share the gospel and pursue heart change in both of us. I’ll make sure he gets good movement breaks and food, and commit to tomato staking and retraining. It’s a marathon not a race. Thanks again for your willingness to share from your own experiences.

        1. Hang in there! It is exhausting and we do have more on our plates than one habit with one child. It’s ok. It will sink in, and he’ll get it – it might just take a year or two instead of a day or two! You’re giving him a gift, holding these lines now in his life. You might not be the one to reap the fruit in your homeschool day, but it will bear fruit in his life.

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