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Self sabotaging, procrastinating DS in crisis again - do I let him crash and burn?

(42 Posts)
loooopo Thu 14-Jan-16 20:03:56

We have been here before.

Major meltdown the night before a major piece of course work (3000 word essay) had to be handed in as he has done nothing. That was at GCSE - in that incident we coaxed him down thru the stress, the panic and crying - getting him to eventually sit at the desk and he cobbled together something and handed it in. Got a low grade....but at least met the deadline....and got a grade rather than a fail.

Last year we backed off. Provided arms length support and encouragement - lots of advice and gentle reminders to get organised and started. I wanted him to manage his time and get his fingers burnt if he didnt self motivate.

He didnt do as well as he wanted in AS and was disappointed. He is fine in that he goes to college, does his homework, contributes in class etc - but when it comes to big projects he just cant plan, get started, pace himself etc. Head in the sand.

Tonight we are here again - despite all the nudging over xmas to break down the projects, get started, approach it as little and often etc - he did not engage and we have major meltdown, catastrophic thinking and aggressive outbursts. 2 of his 3 A levels are course work and 50% of total mark for each needs to be submitted on Tuesday.

He is being tempermental and stroppy. I have tried to calm him down and offered to work on a simple timetable with him so that he can salvage something and get thru the next few days as best he can. He is rejecting this. I know that if I persist long enough he will let me support him and he will get started.

But I dont want to have to rescue him again -- or is this what we should do as parents? I am finding it really hard to know what way to jump. I dont want to have to pander. I want to scream with frustration and exasperation....!!

What is the best way to support him right now? Is there more to this than poor time management ? Does this point to some sort of "performance anxiety" hang up that needs TLC -- or is he just being a lazy 17 year old.....that needs to fail to get a kick up the arse.....?

PushingThru Thu 14-Jan-16 20:12:50

Does he have goals & ideas about where passing his exams will take him? That's the clear motivating & overriding factor that drives most of us. Then working backwards from there. Deferring gratification is a real adult skill that successful people adopt. Does he have lots of distractions around him? Can you organise treats for achievements to embed the clear Linear A to B of work now = success later?

PushingThru Thu 14-Jan-16 20:14:33

I think involving yourself is better than leaving him to fail though, as he already achieved grades below what he's capable of & it didn't motivate.

Gobbolino6 Thu 14-Jan-16 20:18:56

This was me. I didn't get over it until my late 20s. I could have done with feeling the consequences of my procrastination in a controlled way in high school. That said, I was suffering from a serious undiagnosed anxiety disorder which was causing the problem.

JsOtherHalf Thu 14-Jan-16 20:20:29

That sounds like me. I didn't deal well with coursework and deadlines.

Thankfully I had no course work that mattered for O Levels and A levels.
My degree did not require cousework, just a dissertation.

I will be eternally grateful to my mum for sitting up with me at midnight on sunday nights trying to support me to hand in something on Monday mornings.

As for my dissertation, least said - it was extremely late, and could have been better.

The fear of not knowing what to do, that it wouldn't be good enough, etc would render me completely unable to start it.
Actually friends at university used to take me with them for an informal study group in an empty classroom, where 5 or 6 of us would write our essays ( before laptops were common). I found that much better than sitting in a room by myself. I wasn't even doing the same courses as my mates, it was just the general atmosphere and company.

ThisHorseCalledDonny Thu 14-Jan-16 20:22:44

No particular expertise here other than as a serial do-er of courses, I think he probably needs to be allowed to fail and find his own motivation.

17 is quite old to have be persuaded to study.

He might benefit more from natural consequences, failing horrifically, having a bit of time out and maybe rethinking.

We had a young chap start at work as an office junior in similar circumstances. He lost motivation during his a- levels and failed. He came to work with us, fitted right in and is now training for a very respectable professional career at his employers expense. And cheerfully admits failing was the making of him.

JsOtherHalf Thu 14-Jan-16 20:23:36

Oh, and the stress of it would cause me physical symptoms - temperature, headache, etc.

He needs your support for now.

Libitina Thu 14-Jan-16 20:23:50

My DS was exactly the same. Scraped resits to get through into Uni and did the same again. Dropped out after a year.Did not a lot for 2 years. Started again last September and seems to be a lot more settled and happier this time. He seems to have finally got the hang of it aged 22.

I say you should continue to support him if you are able to. He will get there. Eventually.

Chillywhippet Thu 14-Jan-16 20:24:38

If he is doing A2 now I think you might as well support him to get the best grades he can.

Next year if he's at college/uni/work/training you could back off.

It's hard that they do such important exams before some people have the maturity or study/planning/organisational skills, self belief, self discipline etc

tigermoll Thu 14-Jan-16 20:28:48

He is 17, which is at once practically a grown up and still just a kid. Exams put an overwhelming pressure on young people at (in my opinion) the worst time in the whole of their lives to deal with it.

However, that is just the way that it is. Have you asked him what he thinks the best course of action would be? In a neutral "I've tried helping you, reminding you and encouraging you. That doesn't seem to have worked. Do you think I should stay involved or leave you to deal with it by yourself?" kind of way. Don't badger him to "let you" help -- if he wants your help he needs to ask for it.

loooopo Thu 14-Jan-16 20:29:31

Yes he does have goals and ideas. He has a real passion for a creative subject and he has just achieved 5 separate portfolio requests from 5 top unis for the course he wants to study. Each require a significant amount of work and the deadline for these is the end of this month - so this is significantly adding to his current work load and stress.

I have really tried with the planning, delayed gratification and rewards - but it feels like getting blood from a stone. I do think he is over-whelmed rabbit in headlights. But I get upset and frustrated when my offers of support are aggressively rejected.

tigermoll Thu 14-Jan-16 20:38:03

I get upset and frustrated when my offers of support are aggressively rejected

Then I think you should stop making them. Not in an "right, you're on your own" way, just because you've offered and he's said no. That's another consequence he needs to learn.

FaFoutis Thu 14-Jan-16 20:38:13

I'm still like your DS and I'm a lecturer. I can see one of my DSs going this way too.
In your position I would talk him up rather than tell him off. He can do it, he doesn't need to sleep. Stress can boost performance if used in a positive way.
You could help him plan the work (not his time, planning his time will defeat him at the first hurdle), then give him a good environment for intense work - coffee, chocolate, water, fresh air, music if he likes it etc.

I have read at least 100 books on procrastination, most of it comes down to fear. Your poor DS, it is horrible.

loooopo Thu 14-Jan-16 20:42:44

Thanks for your suggestions - consensus seems that I need to keep hand holding & supporting gently for now.

He is having a crisis of confidence. He has done a significant chunk of each project - just not pulled it together and there is still loads to do in short time frame.

I worry - as mentioned above - that he will mess up at uni as the course he is doing is 100% project/course work - he either needs to crack/address this habit or choose another career.

WildeWoman Thu 14-Jan-16 20:43:50

I will use this simple analogy.

Imagine life for your child as a ladder they are trying to climb up. Your child is trying to climb the ladder. You are at the bottom of their ladder and you're not permitted to even step on a rung, as you've already climbed your own ladder.

You can not climb the ladder with them. But, if you see them falling, you can prop them up and stretch out a hand to stop them falling. If they fall completely off the ladder, you catch them at the bottom, so that they can try to climb up the ladder again without being left completely injured.

While you're at the bottom of the ladder, you shout encouragement, praise and advice up to them.

You do not let them fall to the bottom of the ladder and say 'Well - you should have tried harder'.

loooopo Thu 14-Jan-16 20:45:17

Yes it is fear - I can see that.

Yes i need to talk him up.

Thank you for that insight.

WildeWoman Thu 14-Jan-16 20:46:29

In more specific terms, it can be difficult at that age to see the logic of a fake project. Try to explain something in his terms to him. Engage in a debate with him. Challenge his approaches. Let him back up his own. Give him confidence in his approach and decisions.

loooopo Thu 14-Jan-16 20:47:33

WildeWoman - that is genius and has really helped me see my (wrong headed) black and white thinking.

ThisHorseCalledDonny Thu 14-Jan-16 20:47:35

I should say, in the office junior made good example above, his parents were massively supportive, and indeed helped get him the job.

In the ladder analogy, sometimes you have to let them fall off and THEN pick them up and help find a more suitable ladder.

QuiteLikely5 Thu 14-Jan-16 20:49:38

At 17 he still needs encouragement. Don't give up on him, give hope, praise and support.

'C'mon son you can do this'


'That's a great bit of work son'


bigfrida Thu 14-Jan-16 20:51:23

I am doing a Masters in my 30s and I am just like your DS. Rational explanations, planning and rewards make no difference at all - it is purely psychological, a form of anxiety. I am actually extremely good at organisation and planning when it comes to things that don't have such a personal impact!

DH is a bit like you and really wants to offer me support, but there's little he can do other than take the load off by covering more of the domestic duties and not suggesting social activities etc which just makes me feel pressured to fit more things in my schedule.

The best thing I did for me in the long term was getting it fully recognised - anxiety as a formal MH condition and dyslexia which was causing poor planning. This means that I'm able to get extended deadlines without penalties, which is hugely helpful at university level (and meant that I got a first despite submitting my dissertation about 4 months late blush). So I would consider taking him to the GP (or a private EP which will be quicker) to see if you can get some recognition for it, it is not fair for him to be judged against others who don't suffer the same kind of anxiety.

loooopo Thu 14-Jan-16 21:07:55

bigfrida -- I think that that is a v important point.

School already had him down as "dyspraxic" as his writing is v slow and laborious so he is allowed to use a lap top in exams and gets a further 20 mins.

I think it might well be anxiety as he seems paralysed by fear and has v negative thinking. Think that I should look to investigate and support any deep root cause sooner rather than later.

loooopo Thu 14-Jan-16 21:17:02

Really appreciate the feedback here. I thought I would get told to re-post this in "Education" - but my hunch is that this is a chronic/lifelong type issue that will continue (if not acknowledged and addressed) throughout adult life.....and I did not want a whole lot of feedback about star charts and how I must be a sh*t parent if I had not get him to self motivate by this age.

If I am honest I have the same issues myself - and it has cost me a couple of careers. I have just told myself that I was lazy and disorganised and deserved to fail. But I can see now how panic, anxiety and fear as hijacked me.

bigfrida Thu 14-Jan-16 21:24:28

DS has dyspraxia (amongst other things) and organisation and planning is a big part of it. People often think it's just about clumsiness but it's more complex than that. Definitely try to do a bit more reading around it. It has a big crossover with Aspergers (which DS also has) and a lot of the advice for that will be useful for people with dyspraxia.

SN Children might be a better place to post than Education.

FaFoutis Thu 14-Jan-16 21:26:15

Yes I think it is lifelong for most people. I teach adult students and lots of them still have to deal with it. I'm not sure how it can be addressed but acknowledging it helps - you are not lazy and disorganised you are frightened of failing.

I'm using the ideas in David Burns "Feeling Good" (chapter 5 on procrastination) at the moment and they are really helping for a change. It might be worth a look for you.

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