I won’t tell you how to parent your kids. I can think of fifty good reasons why that’s the case, but I think the best one is that I don’t have any children of my own, which… seems like a pre-rec to give out parenting advice. In some ways though, not having kids is a good thing. I work with teenagers every week and because I’m closer in age to them than their parents, or maybe just because I’m not their parents, the teens I work with open up to me in ways they won’t with their parents.
So today I want to peel back the curtain and tell you something you have probably never known about your kids: They procrastinate. (oh… that’s not surprising?)
Your children are prone to procrastination. I see it all the time. On Sunday, one of the most popular prayer requests goes something like this, “Would you please pray for me? I’m going to have to stay up really late tonight working on a huge project… It was assigned two weeks ago and I’m starting it when I get home.”
I recently was talking to a room of forty or so high school and middle school students, and when I asked them if they had a task they were currently procrastinating doing, all but two raised their hands. And I’m pretty sure the two that didn’t raise their hands were just procrastinating on lifting their arms. That’s epidemic proportions of procrastination. And it’s not without cost.
Our students who put off work until the last possible minute struggle with deep anxiety about completing the tasks set before them. They worry and fret, and many times wind up cutting corners or curbing their integrity to finish the project. Procrastination is costly for our kids.
So what are we to do? How do we help our children and students stay on task and motivated? And is it possible for us to help them actually enjoy doing it?
We help them by showing them that their work is more important to do than not to do. We show our students that the work they have before them, every last task and assignment, matters to God. The Gospel informs this view. It’s the reason Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He wasn’t putting some weird guilt trip on us. Jesus was making an observation. He was observing that we do the things we love to do. We are obedient to Jesus’ commands because we love him. Your children will be more motivated if they love the opportunity they have laid before them.
We need to show our kids that every last task and assignment matters to God. @ajwatson
To help our children fight procrastination, we need to help them understand and believe that schoolwork and being a son or daughter are exciting and important roles in the eyes of God.
Help your child understand that they bear the image of God
The truth is that we were all created in God’s image. Genesis is clear. But there’s a problem for you and I: who is it that looks like God? Who among us is omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent? Our God is far too big and complex for any one of us to bear his image fully. Each of us is just a partial reflection of our great God, so we each have a part to play in bearing his image.
Our students can understand this truth, and it’s huge for them They have the completely unique task of bearing God’s image in a way only they can, and it’s an important job. After all, you can’t bear God’s image the way they can, and even they won’t be able to bear it the same in a few years.
In understanding this truth, you get to teach your child that their specific set of talents and abilities can bring glory to God in a unique way – even at school or during chores. That’s an exciting task!
Teach your child that their specific set of talents and abilities can bring glory to God in a unique way. @ajwatson
There are a ton of examples I could give on how to make this practical, but let’s focus on a few.
- When we do the dishes, our children get to be like our God who cares about order and brought order from chaos. The chaos of the dirty sink turns into order of stacked plates, clean for use.
- When we practice our instruments, we get to be like our God who is masterful in his craft, the same God who orchestrates the sounds of the wind and the rain, or the birds singing in the morning.
- When we practice arithmetic, we get to be like our God who upholds the laws of physics by the power of his word.
Each subject and task, no matter the focus, becomes an opportunity to experience God and learn something new about his character or person.
Each subject and task is an opportunity to experience God and learn something new about him. @ajwatson
That’s motivating to our students! It gives meaning to the mundane. It’s not about doing the task just to do it. It’s about doing the task because it has eternal significance when done reflecting on the character of God and in a worshipful manner. “Do it because I said so” has a certain motivation. “Do it because it’s an eternal act that will allow you to see who God is more clearly” has a very different type of motivation.
Help your child understand that being a student is their calling from God
Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
If I’m a contract lawyer reviewing Colossians 3:17, I would think it’s pretty straightforward. Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. There are no caveats, qualifiers, or corrections. It’s all there plain in the text. Do everything. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, a parent, a grandparent, or a great grandparent. Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Most of our students can get that. So the natural question then becomes, “well… what am I supposed to do?”
1 Corinthians 7:17 gives us the answer. We’re supposed to do what we’re doing.
“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.”
In the letter we find that God assigns work, and the Lord calls us to it. The scriptures are saying that whatever a person was doing before salvation is what the person should be doing now. For our kids, that means they have a role: it’s to be your child and to be a student. And that’s exciting! Teenagers can uniquely reflect the wildly creative, brimming with energy side of God. The type of creativity and ingenuity that can take nothing and turn it into something is evidently displayed in our students.
Again, the goal here isn’t to guilt them in to obedience. The goal is to help them see that their school work and chores have eternal significance. They aren’t just menial tasks that no one wants to do, but they are important tasks. God cares about their chores!
Help your child apply these truths
For the kids I work with, knowledge is pretty cheap. They are smart kids and know a lot of things – I bet your kids are the same way. So it’s not enough to teach them this truth once. You’re going to have to help them tie every task in their lives back to this truth and the Gospel. You’re going to have to patiently remind them that even the boring things, the non-glamorous things, matter to God.
That can be done in a number of ways, but let me encourage you to try two:
- Memorize scripture – specifically, try memorizing Colossians 3:17. It’s 24 words, and can be applied to every event your child will face. No matter what situation they find themselves in, Colossians 3:17 is applicable. Just imagine for a second if your child took this verse to heart… imagine if you did. In his book, Future Grace, John Piper talks about fighting anxiety and he says, “When the motor of my mind is in neutral, the hum of the gears is the sound of Isaiah 41:10.” Imagine if the hum of the gears in your child’s mind was Colossians 3:17.
- Attach each task to truth – every task is an opportunity to interact with God, understand him more deeply in some way, and reflect a unique aspect of who he is to the world. But it’s not always obvious how. So you need to be prepared! Make a list with two columns. In the first column list all of the things your child does every day. Things like math homework, dance practice, text messaging, playing with friends, dealing with social drama. In the second column, next to each task, write down what character or aspect of God your child gets to reflect when they do that task. Answer the question, how does your child get to uniquely bear God’s image and fulfill their calling as an image bearer of God? I gave a few examples above, but I’ll give two more here:
- Tedious, boring, or repetitive tasks – God made every blade of grass, and clothed every flower in the field. That must have been repetitive! God cares about details, even when they seem small and repetitive. More on dealing with dull tasks here: http://taskandtoil.com/dealing-with-dull.
- Dirty tasks – Jesus got dirty on our behalf. The story of Jesus washing his disciples feet in John 13:1-17 gives a great (as you might expect) tangible illustration of Jesus cleaning.
What you didn’t hear me say
In addition to bearing God’s image and knowing him more, there are a lot of additional reasons we might choose not to procrastinate: good grades, money, better friendships, better performance in sports… on and on. While any of those reasons may work in a pinch, none of those compare to giving your kids’ tasks eternal significance. Knowing that God cares about their work helps to motivate all tasks and it should bring joy to even the most mundane chore. Applying these truths is a lifelong work, but you can set your kids on a path to faithful obedience by helping them remember that every act can be an act of worship. The answer to procrastination isn’t ultimately more of the wrong motivation; it’s a love for our creator.
Remember Colossians 3:17 – do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus… motivating your kids included.