We have a 6 year old son, attending 1st grade. He is doing well academically, socially and physically. However, we have a major problem that he takes too long to do anything by whiling time away.

He is given 20 mins at school for lunch. Spends all his time talking with his friends, and will bring home the lunch as-is. At home, we give him 20 mins to finish his dinner, if he does not finish in that 20, he will loose 20mins of screen time that weekend. He will while away time for 19 mins, start stuffing his mouth, choke/not finish in 20 mins, loose TV time, and then starts whiling away time again.

Same with any school work. It will probably take him 2 mins to finish the math worksheet. However, he will sit in front of it playing with the pencil, or saying that he cannot sit up straight for hour or so and will not start till one of us gets super angry and yells at him (real, red in the face anger).

It does not matter if the task is mundane (wearing shoes, eating), easy (math homework), moderate (writing) or hard (learning a new language). He always finds something else to while away time with. He has been this way always, we were hoping he would eventually understand that its better to get done with the task at hand first.

We are out of ideas on how to motivate him. we tried saying that he can go play only after he is done. Does not work. For example, a few days ago, I asked him to write something that'd take him 15 mins. He spent the morning not doing it. His friends came over, and I asked them to come back in an hour so that the kid can finish his writing. They came back in an hour, still the same. They waited at our door, and this kid was still rolling on the floor. This was a task of moderate difficulty for him. His friends kept knocking on the door every 2 mins and checking if he was done. Finally I gave up, cut down the task a bit, insisted he complete whats left, and then he went to play with his friends.

We have put a timer for some of the tasks (like toilet, brushing, food), but still need constant reminders that time is running out and pushes along the way.

The only thing that seems to work is to get really angry and threaten spanking. And once in a few weeks the threat becomes reality. I am not happy with this way of handling things, and am looking for suggestions.

  • I can't tell from what you said, but you might want to look into ADD. The situation described here sounds very similar to someone I know who has ADD but didn't know. ADD isn't just hyperactivity like many people think.
    – Justin
    Jan 6, 2017 at 5:31
  • @Justin Thats interesting, I will bring it up the next time we talk to the pediatrician. However, it also seems depend on his will/mood. Yesterday, he just did the (difficult) writing and (easy) math work I gave in a snap. The bed time routine was very slow but he got ready and ate his breakfast normally this morning. Lets see how well this holds.
    – user61034
    Jan 6, 2017 at 16:29
  • The homework part sounds like a friend of mine who has a genius IQ. Everything was so easy why would he start now when he can start later and finish on time? The rest like toilet and such makes me wonder if it's something else. Sounds like a lot of IT types though, some who tend towards aspergers. It's worth asking someone, but hopefully he'll just snap out of it when he's ready - which may not be when you're ready :)
    – Tim
    Jan 19, 2017 at 22:09
  • 2
    Why give him a time limit at dinner?!? I understand having a time limit at school, but that is a painfully short period of time in which to eat dinner at home with one's family.
    – L.B.
    Jan 23, 2017 at 20:29
  • 1
    @user61034 My family sits at the table for like an hour during dinner.
    – L.B.
    Jan 24, 2017 at 20:35

4 Answers 4


This is not easy, but with my own kid, we stopped asking and just allowed her to face the consequences. So if she was late for school, we did not defend her from losing privileges at school. If she did not finish homework, her marks went down and so she lost rewards for good marks. (We gave a different reward for A, B and C or improved marks.) If friends were waiting, she dealt with them and had to explain she could not go. We were abundant with praise for stuff she did. We said nothing when she did not. We let her deal with it. It took about two weeks ( and sometimes we had to follow up if she procrastinated again,) and it was very difficult because we were also late for work. (We took turns.) Often behaviours get worse before they improve, but we cannot make others do things. Being punitive, especially spanking, is often the root cause for bad behaviours. LINK -- effects of spanking.

Choices are so important. Yes, perhaps your kid has to wear a uniform -- but maybe they could wear superhero underwear. They can choose the veg (between 2) for dinner, or the dessert. They get a choice for a TV show, or the music during a car ride. Red shirt or green. Walk or ride the bike? Weekend activity, after school snack -- all benign choices that do the parent or family no harm. Giving your child the power of choices is a great way to build him up and to give him the power he seems to be looking for. Make sure they understand they are getting a choice. "Your choice: Do you want pudding or cookies for dessert?"

Please stop spanking. When you are frustrated, trade off with another adult or take a timeout for yourself. In my opinion, it teaches only that your son is smaller than you and that being bigger than him is your reason, not that you are trying to teach him.

These links all lead to articles on procrastination and helping children and adults to change the behaviour.






Beware of empty threats. I'm not saying you are doing this, but its easy to slip into a pattern of threatening consequences without ever following through. This just teaches the child to ignore you.

This sounds like typical behavior for a 6 year old. Try concentrating on the behavior you want to see rather than the behavior you don't. So at dinner, praise him as soon as he takes a mouthful. For homework, praise him as soon as he sets pen to paper and writes something. Don't wait until the task is finished.


My 5 year old son does the same! Sometimes he does his homework quickly, and sometimes it takes him hours and hours.

I brought him a big pack of stickers and I told him that every time he finishes writing a line he will get 2 stickers - and it worked.

Try to reward him during his homework, not only at the end.


I'm a little bit confused that you explain the problem a lot and also the threats and punishments you tried, but no word about what he says about it. He sounds smart enough to understand that his behavior isn't beneficial in every way, and I have a lot of reason to assume he's even already well aware of that. Willow Rex already pointed out that it's a good idea to let him face the consequences, I also think that's a very important start. In my opinion doing so serves two goals:

  • Stop giving the impression he's doing these things for you. It's his life after all, not yours. If you want to teach him responsibility, stop taking it away from him, or you'll give contradicting signals.
  • Get more relaxed to actually start seeing what's actually going on. If you're constantly focused on what's not getting done properly, and getting upset or even mad about it, you stop noticing details and hints he's giving between the lines. Obsession makes blind, and being preoccupied with the idea he has to do these things is an obsession. Or in other words: What's happening can be described in a hundred different ways. You chose to describe it as "whiling away", but make sure you're at least aware of the 99 others.

Then, when you've reached this point of being more relaxed and open to actually reading his behavior, talk to him. Talk to him on eye level. You seem to be making a lot of assumptions about what he's supposed to know from your threats and punishments, but start by assuming that he has absolutely no idea and in particular the threatening has reliably been keping him oblivious of it, because it totally removed his focus from what really counts.

Start your conversation by explaining what you observe. At that point avoid all judgements, even terms like "whiling away". Be as neutral as possible with regard to your observations. For instance say that he's taking hours to do something you personally think he could do in 10 minutes on a regular basis. If you have, give him examples. Say you often observe that he's given enough time to do something, but he doesn't even start for a very long time. And so on. Explain to him in every detail how you perceive the situation, without judging anything yet. Just describe. Make sure you also describe situations where he does do what's expected. Being neutral includes not being single-sided. Don't take anything as self-evident.

Then tell him how you feel about what you observe and why. Explain to him that it often makes you irritated because as his parents you feel deeply responsible for his well-being, which includes proper eating, success at school, basic life skills, reliability, etc., etc. You don't want to leave him on his own, and seeing him behave the way he does actually scares you because you're secretly imagining that he's missing a lot of chances already and that the thing might go on until later in life and that he'll stay behind his potential. Explain to him that you're aware that not every successful life strictly requires these things he's not doing, and you have no strict right to demand them from him and you're really sorry for the violence you've been using so far, but in our society there's a strong predisposition to expect them to be necessary to some crucial extent, that's why you're really worried, and sometimes you can't contain this worry anymore, and you don't know what to do, so you try the only thing that has helped in the past, that is strong threats, shouting, spanking, but you're really unhappy about it, and you're looking for something else, and you need his help with hit. Express your concern, express you emotions.

Then ask him how he sees the situation and let him talk. Do not interrupt, do not judge. Encourage him to be open and honest, with your attitude, and if necessary also with words. Be prepared that he may need time to open up, you probably have destroyed some of his trust in you and your willingness to accept him as he is and whatever way he feels like, especially in case he's just starting to discover it for himself (which is not that unlikely), but I'm sure with perseverance from your end you can finally make him open up. Maybe he's even subcionsciously waiting for it and will talk right away, but it isn't guaranteed. Be prepared it may require weeks of effort and a non-judgemental attitude from your end.

Important rule at this point: Listen! Ask! Do not judge, do not belittle, do not argue. Just listen and ask until you have full understanding of how it is from his point of view.

Once you have this full understanding of his perspective as he expresses it after having heard yours, I'm 99% sure that improvements either happen automatically or next steps towards them become obvious. I can't predict them here.

However I personally advise against asking a doctor yet (that is right now). It's not wrong per se, and it may be necessary at some point, but before you do, it's your responsibility as parents to do several things first:

  • Make him responsible for the problem to the extent that is reasonable for a 6-year-old of his intelligence, and this doesn't seem THAT little. He must be involved in a far-reaching decision as whether to see a doctor about it.
  • Talk to him on eye-level, keep talking over some time, thoroughly discuss the problem together, and THEN at some point if it becomes obvious nobody of you has any other idea what could be done nor is he able to explore his feelings any deeper you CAN bring up that there are diseases which promote such behavior, and if he feels a doctor might help him, then OFFER seeing one. If he's hesitant, convince him, do not decide over his head unless absolutely necessary. Give him enough time to make an own decision.
  • Never ever give your child the impression you see him/her as broken from your subjective point of view, and you're asking someone else to fix them the way you'd like them, UNLESS they're also feeling they need that help.

As a general rule make sure you also see his behavior as a strength, which it certainly is. It just depends on the point of view. He is very special, that's already obvious, and none of us knows what's waiting inside him to be revealed throughout his life. You currently have no other bet other than assuming that good grades in school will help him, but if you have to enforce it with violence, keep questioning it. It's probably not necessary. There are may lives/carreers that may develop from where he is now that would make you feel like morons beating him now over such petty things. See it in perspective: He's not stealing, not being violent himself, he has friends he likes to play with and which even come many times to pick him up, so he's obviously popular and respected, and probably many things more.

I have a strong feeling the situation will lighten up a lot. All the best.

  • Thanks for the suggestion, I will ask him why. In general, he does not tell us what is bothering him/ troubling him/ making him happy. He acts silly or changes topic when asked. So, I think getting a reason out of him will take a long time.
    – user61034
    Jan 30, 2017 at 17:36
  • OK, he said that its fun! Apparently he finds us asking him to focus on what he is supposed to do more funner than finishing his work and then doing what he wants to! I don't think that this is "any attention from parents is good" because he'd rather play by himself if there is no work...
    – user61034
    Jan 31, 2017 at 20:00
  • Interesting. In which setting did he tell you this? Did you explain your perspective first, similarly to what I suggested (neutral observations first, then own feelings about the situation)? How relaxed and focused was he when you talked? To which extent did you get the feeling he understood your perspective? When he spoke about the "funniness", did this feeling also shine through in the tone of his voice? How long was your talk approximately? How strongly did you feel it in your heart?
    – tln
    Feb 1, 2017 at 21:47
  • How would you feel about asking him to explain what exactly is funny and how it is funny? I mean, when I find something funny, I usually laugh, but it didn't sound like this was what he does in your situations. I do see a possibility that it's funny when there's someone shouting at you with the red in his face and trying to seem strong while in reality being totally weak and helpless. But I also have a feeling his response still doesn't make total sense to me.
    – tln
    Feb 1, 2017 at 21:47
  • And one more question: How happy are you with your life? You don't need to give details, a number from 0 (lowest) to 10 (highest) will already help me understand the setting better.
    – tln
    Feb 1, 2017 at 21:52

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