It is a Saturday afternoon, in the morning I have agreed with my daughter (8) that she would tidy up her room sometime today before going to bed.
She has the freedom to do the job whenever she chooses to do it as long as it happens before it is sleep time.
We go on with the day, we play some games together, we go out for a walk, we have lunch, and I work a bit, run some house chores, meanwhile she has plenty of time to do her tidying if she chooses to.
I gently remind her twice with a couple of hours in between and I watch from a distance what is happening.
She is spending her time in the living room for the most of the day and I see her walking to the door of her room a couple of times and then changing her mind walking back into the living room.
Seeing the signs of stress in her face, and her feet automatically walking away,
After dinner I decide to ask her to stand with me by the door and tell me how she feels when she looks inside
-It is a mess mom! It feels heavy on my stomach when I see it, this is too much I will never be able to finish this today. I’d better start tomorrow early in the morning. Can I sleep in the living room tonight?
Ahaa just like I guessed I am witnessing procrastination in action.
I explain her that it is normal to feel like this when the job looks too big to be done.
But also there might be other ways she can tackle this without feeling overwhelmed, and doing something even very small will feel much better than postponing the whole thing altogether.
She tells me that she even does not know where to start and I explain her that she does not need to do it all alone, she can always ask for help if she chooses to.
-Yes, mom would you please help me?
-Sure, I say, I am happy to think with you and we can talk about how to do this and if there is any heavy stuff that you need to move around you can always call me, but further I think it is good if you give it a go yourself.
We talk about different categories which are creating the mess, clothes, toys, books, craft supplies, all spread on the carpet, and if it might be a good idea to them one by one.
I see the sparkle in her eyes and now looking more energized.
We are still standing at her room’s door, nothing has moved an inch but we already made a big progress.
She decides to start with the toys, and continue with the craft supplies etc and asks me to help her to vacuum clean when she is done.
We agree that I will make some tea and prepare some snacks while she is busy with the toys.
I am in the kitchen, I put the kettle on, I think of the Dutch saying “Jong geleerd, oud gedaan” (learned young, done old) and think to myself: Young and old, we face all similar challenges, asking for help and starting small, makes a big difference in how far we can get and how it feels when we get there.
Having perfectionist tendencies starting from my adolescence and finding it very hard to ask for help, I had to learn these lessons later in life and in not so easy circumstances.
A couple of minutes later (7 minutes to be exact) I hear her shouting happily
-Mooooom, please bring the vacuum cleaner, I am done.
We stand by the door again, proudly look into the now sparkling room, nibble on our snacks and give high fives, celebrate her work and her result.