Last-minute kids: you know them, the ones who are never ready on time. I just have to brush my teeth, put my shoes on, and find my homework. They’re showing you notes to sign as you turn on the car ignition to leave for the day. I just have to . . . is their catchcry.

Last-minute kids never do the homework until the day it’s due. They write it in their schedule, talk about it a lot for days, weeks even. You think they have it under control and then you find them in a mad panic on the day its due trying to start a project they should have already finished. Most likely, they’ll be in tears.

I’ve got a last-minute kid. She’s adorable, one of those easy kids, a delight to parent in every way except for these last-minute moments. It’s at those times my more challenging child looks like an angel.

Most recently my last-minute kid had an assignment due. Knowing this tendency, I decided to take charge. Together we created the steps they would avoid last-minute stress meltdown. I even sat with her as she did certain parts of the assignment.

And then when I asked how it was going two days before it was due, progress had stalled. She was still deciding what to do about one component and yet again, we were back in last-minute mode. Just like that. Except this time because of my support, there was less last-minute work to do than normal.

Last-minute moments create stressed and anxious responses in kids which equals stress for parents. As the parent, it’s our job to guide our child through the stress of these last-minute moments. In adults, we call this last-minute habit procrastination. Most adults procrastinate to avoid feeling anxious or doing a task they find unpleasant. Kids procrastinate for the same reasons.

In these last-minute moments, I’m never sure what the best course of action is. Giving instructions? Soothing anxiety? Or just plain old doing it for them? Each option has its merits and problems.

If I soothe anxiety,I’m teaching calming skills but I’m losing time and the school bell’s probably going to ring while we are deep breathing together. A child might be highly resistant to this option as he or she doesn’t want to be late on account of the breathing exercises or is simply wanting a quick solution. The upside is you’re teaching your child a skill to manage emotions. The downside is the child may not want to do it, so you’ll be breathing on your own or having a disagreement about why breathing exercises are the best course of action.

Giving instructions, although well-meaning and full of adult wisdom, can lead to a heated argument about what my child did and didn’t do already. An argument before school is the last thing either my child or I need. But, giving instructions can help switch my child into gear on a good day and sometimes works.

Stressed child minds don’t do well with instructions and sometimes because of your feelings of stress or irritation the instructions might be given a little forcefully as the impending school bell looms. When it works best for me, I succeed in keeping instructions short and to the point. “Your shoes are in your bedroom,” for example. Not “We’ve been over this so many times. You are supposed to place your shoes on the rack in the hallway.”

Doing it for her is usually quicker and easier but it can also build resentment like nothing I’ve ever known. It also doesn’t help my child build skills. There are times where I find myself rushing around my home after I’ve opened my front door doing stuff that is my child’s responsibility.

At these times I’ve realized I am expecting way too much of my child. When a similar situation has happened repeatedly I know that instead of assuming my child can manage the whole routine in a timely fashion, I have provided more supervision and prompting.

The key to helping a last-minute kid is likely a combination of all of the above. When I get the recipe fine-tuned, I’ll let you know. For now, I’m just going to love my last-minute kid the best way I can and keep working on those skills.

Nadene van der Linden

Nadene van der Linden is a clinical psychologist in private practice specialising in perinatal psychology, parenting and trauma. Join the Unshakeable Calm facebook group today. Science based tips for calm and confident living.