A couple of months ago my son asked me if I could help him get more studying done. That was a weird request at first. “What do you mean help you?” I wondered. “You just have to sit down and study.” Now I didn’t say that out loud, of course. He was clearly concerned, his grades weren’t doing too bad but apparently he had been worried about his “lack of discipline”, as he put it. Long story short, he was frustrated about how often he procrastinated. And about how even when he was procrastinating he was still worried about homework, so he couldn’t quite enjoy whatever else he was doing either.
Truth be told, I had no idea how to help him study more. For whatever reason, that was never something I had quite struggled with myself, not until college, and I handled that by… well, I didn’t, I just procrastinated on the annoying stuff like he was doing. But when your son asks you for help you just can’t say no; I told him I’d look into it and got to researching. And now I am here to report on what we tried, what worked, and what didn’t, for any mothers, sons, and daughters out there who are dealing with a similar thing.
Study in the place for studying
That was one of the first pieces of advice I read online that resonated with me, and it worked for my son too. We like to think we all have an iron will and we can just ignore all the distractions around it, but humans are simpler than that. If you are trying to focus on a boring book and there is something more interesting within your field of view, you will focus on that thing.
I told him that, and I helped him set up a little study desk on the corner of the dining room where he could be alone and away from distractions. I also set up a desk lamp so we could turn off the room’s main light, further reducing the number of distractions in his field of view. He was skeptical at first, but it worked. He would still procrastinate on actually sitting down to study, but once he got there, he found himself studying much longer without stopping to do something else. His phone stays away from that room when he’s studying too, of course.
Negative emotions don’t help
Fear isn’t a good motivator, nor is self-deprecation. My son was trying to set up punishments for himself. Stuff like “if I don’t finish this chapter today I don’t get to play games” or “I won’t eat that chocolate unless I can do all these equations”. I don’t know where he got the idea, but it was stressing him out. I told him to cut it out.
There is no point in holding yourself to a crazy ideal and then feeling terrible when you don’t meet it. All that does is associate studying with stress and feeling inadequate, and then you want to do it even less. I told him to focus on studying the same amount of hours every day instead, and accepting there will be variations on how much he’ll accomplish during that time between days. That’s fine.
Focus on what works
Different methods work better for different people; that’s why some people find they can learn French up to 50% faster when working with a private tutor instead of just going to classes. I asked my son how he liked to learn the most, and he said he prepared video tutorials, so I helped him find more of those.
He now checks videos on a topic before reading chapters related to it. This allows him to get his first introduction to a topic through a method he enjoys, and he can then just skim the chapter to see how it differs from the video. Results on that have been great so far, although sadly finding good videos isn’t always easy.
Keep in mind that this is just what works for him. What works for you or your child may be totally different. But there likely is a method out there that works, and approaching procrastination as a problem you can troubleshoot is much healthier than treating it like a character flaw on your child’s part. There is a study routine out there that works for them; you just need to help them find it.