|Teachers talk about the summer slide all the time. That downhill slope that learning often takes during the summer months. We all lose some level of skill when we don’t keep using it. For students, the summer slide can set them back a month or more having to review what they have already learned.
Now, I am not talking about the facts they have memorized, but the process of being able to figure things out through understanding themselves and problem solving. In other words, thinking about how they think or metacognition. This is the real skill they need when it comes to learning.
So, what you can you do this summer to help minimize that summer slide?
Learning is a process and it takes time. So, start small and scaffold things where you start with lots of help and then less help as they become more capable. Focus on the process of learning and not the outcome. Keep a growth mindset in mind where they are capable with effort even if they can’t do it “yet.” Allow choices it fosters ownership. Reflecting on what they have done leads to metacognition so be sure to use some of their successes to remind them when they are struggling.
Lastly, and most importantly, it is so easy to supply solutions to children’s statements and complaints like: “I’m hungry” or “Where is my bike”, or “I’m bored,” but when you do, you take away the opportunity to develop problem solving skills and encourage independence. (Also developing agency).
Encouraging your children to problem solve with your help and building on their confidence develops agency. Isn’t the goal to raise lifelong, independent learners with the confidence to handle anything? And, it can be fun!
“Together we can” is part of the tagline for the upcoming 2018 Annual International Conference on ADHD (St. Louis) but it struck me that a successful school year is also a matter of working together. The family as a team, educators and support personnel (coaches, therapists, babysitters, etc.) can do so much more when they work together. Here are three essentials for a happy, calm and successful year.
To make the magic happen:
Start with a growth mindset. A growth mindset as defined by Dr. Carol Dweck, “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts….everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” So, if something is hard, it is only because it hasn’t been learned….. ”YET!” With effort they will be able to get it and that leaves their self-esteem intact. Whereas a fixed mindset, according to Dweck, “Believing your qualities are carved in stone – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over.” So you strive for the good grades in order to feel good about yourself. Then when you do poorly on something, you feel like a failure. Your motivation dwindles because in this mindset, nothing you can do can improve your grade. You’re stuck in a fixed mindset. (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Dweck).
Next, get organized! Creating habits and routines can save time and energy, especially brain energy. A routine can take the pressure off of having to think “what do I need to do next?” and saves your decision capacity for things that really matter. You can create routines for the morning, evening and for homework. You can set up systems to help also. For example, create a launch pad or drop zone. Do you leave things near the door so you will remember to take them with you? If you create a specific place that is large enough for all family members, then everyone can start their day organized. I recommend packing backpacks, gym clothes, library books, sports equipment and whatever else can be ready ahead of time (your stuff too) and placing them each evening, in the launch pad area. It makes it so much easier if everything your children need is all ready to go rather than trying to get them to get things together when they are half asleep. Give it a try and have a calmer morning. The one thing most people don’t realize is that being organized is an ongoing process. You need to maintain the systems and habits that you set up by daily or weekly fine-tuning. A weekly backpack clean out can save a lot of headaches over missing work or upcoming projects and start each week off organized and in control. One binder is really all your child needs and it should open easily with one hand. Attaching a three hole punch inside can also help papers get where they need to go before they get lost. For you, having a meal plan ready so you know what is for dinner in between pick-ups is also helpful.
Love your brain. Your brain needs energy to operate efficiently just like your car needs gas. It needs sleep, protein, water, and exercise to be at its best. You can help your child develop an effective homework routine by including an active break when they first get home (about 30 minutes); a protein based snack and some water or juice. Once their brain has been recharged they should be able to sit down and get started on their homework. For elementary age students working through one assignment at a time or working for 30 minutes and then taking a five minute break, has been shown to be effective. The break needs to be non-electronic and timed. Older students can work 45-60 minutes and if they haven’t finished an assignment, should leave themselves a note to remind them of what the next step is before they take their break.
It takes about 6 exposures to new information before it can be “learned” so students should review the information (by asking themselves questions) at least four times over several days. Spreading out the review makes it stick more than cramming before a test can.
Also acknowledge your child every day they sit down and get to their homework on their own. Rather than “that’s great!” try something that shows how responsible they are being or mentions the new habits they are developing that can lead to improved grades. This encourages them to put the specifics together with their feelings about what you said. This ignites a little intrinsic motivation fire that hopefully they will want to continue to fuel. When kids feel good about themselves and what they can do…there is no stopping them.
And lastly, take time for fun and self-care. Remember to take care of yourself too because keeping yourself happy and healthy allows you to be at your best for those you love.
It’s getting close to the start of school and you can feel the emotions in the air. There is excitement, fear, uncertainty, anticipation, restlessness, and worry and that’s just from the moms! I am guessing that some students are feeling the same emotions. Yes, there is always a bit of fear of the unknown but for kids that have had a “bad experience” going back to school can be scary and demoralizing. As a parent you hope this year will be different and that your son or daughter will get a teacher that understands him/her and can actually help them develop strategies that will get their homework done in a reasonable time and teach them to learn. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Gift 1: First up is to decide whether or not to tell the new teacher all about your child’s struggles and challenges before she even meets him or her? Or do you wait a bit and then provide the teacher with the effective strategies your child developed with last year’s teacher? To tell or not to tell, that is the question. Is it better for your child to have a clean slate and to make their strengths and weaknesses known on their own terms to the new teacher or to provide the teacher with the outside testing, recommendations, and a record of their failings from the past year? Having taught for over 18 years, I just want to say that your child deserves to be recognized for who they are….right at this moment and not who they were last year. As hard as teachers try, they cannot help being overwhelmed by the start of the new year and the many notes and emails from parents tends to “cloud” their perception.
Gift 2: Instead of waiting for the teacher to figure out what your child needs, help your child figure it out. For those students with ADHD and/or Executive Dysfunction challenges it is imperative that they understand that there is nothing “wrong” with them – their brain just thinks differently. They should have a basic understanding of how their ADHD “shows up” and begin to recognize what works and what doesn’t work for them. That way they can advocate for themselves or at least help the teacher figure out a better way to help them. Remember to tell them that it is neurobiological – about the level of the chemicals in their brain and not about them not being smart. ADHD brains are some of the smartest brains around (Richard Branson, Will Smith, Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein, Emma Watson, Zoey Deschanel, etc.) they are just wired differently. One caution, the simpler the strategy, the more likely it is ADHD friendly.
Gift 3: Another gift to give your child is that of a growth mindset. A Growth mindset as defined by Dr. Carol Dweck, “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts….everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” So, if something is hard, it is only because they haven’t learned it…..”YET!” With effort they will be able to get it and that leaves their self-esteem intact. Whereas a fixed mindset, according to Dweck, ““Believing your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. “ So you strive for the good grades in order to feel good about yourself. Then when you do poorly on something, you feel like a failure. Your motivation dwindles because in this mindset, nothing you can do can improve your grade. You’re stuck in a fixed mindset. (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Dweck)
With a fixed mindset and a few bad grades, a student will begin to believe that they are not good at a subject. They may carry that perception all through school when in fact they may have missed some key concepts early on, didn’t take the time to memorize their facts or had a teacher they disliked. None of these things should prevent them from succeeding but a fixed mindset may cause them to give up and not try. If they can develop a growth mindset and see failure as an opportunity to put in more work and figure it out, then they can succeed. (Gift 4) They will need to learn how to learn and to develop a toolbox of strategies they can rely on. This puts them in the driver’s seat of their academic life which is ultimately where we want them to be.
Your patience and understanding that ADHD is indeed neurobiological and that all the prodding and why questions will not help them get what needs to be done, done. Gift 5: Your help in getting them to become aware of how their ADHD is showing up and then together….let me repeat that….together figuring out a strategy that can help solve or at least compensate for that weakness is the best way to help them thrive. Set it up as an experiment so that it can be tweaked or tossed depending on its effectiveness. Not judging but evaluating its success helps kids try different strategies until they find what works. An example might be putting a huge sticky on the back door with a list of what they need to bring to school, or having them write test dates on a central calendar and together checking it each day so they build that sense of what’s coming up (help them study at least three days before).
By giving these gifts to your child, you are building their self-esteem while still supplying the support they need without the blame. The biggest problem with ADHD is that the low dopamine level in the brain makes it very difficult to get things done that are boring, difficult or confusing (ie.homework). Kids don’t have the push to just get through it…they need your help.
If you feel that you are too close to the situation and can’t provide your child with the unemotional support or strategies they need and would like to learn how to best support your child then contact us about our “Parenting your Child with ADHD” class or individual coaching services. We are here to help.
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Decisions, decisions, decisions! For the ADHD brain, making a decision can be quite the process. First, you will need to collect some information, but how much information? When do you know when you have enough information? Is it the best/most informed information for the decision you need to make? Has this ever happened to you?
If the decision is made quickly, we may be called impulsive. Yet, if we take longer than expected we are accused of procrastinating. What makes making decisions so difficult?
Every decision or choice we make uses up willpower according to Dr. Nowell, Ph.D. Since we have a limited amount of willpower it can be more challenging to make a decision because of our lower level of willpower. The brain is the organ in the body that requires the most glucose to keep it running. Each decision uses up a bit more of that glucose which can then deplete the reserves in the rest of the body. The less energy the harder even the simplest decisions can become.
Simplifying certain decisions can free up what I call our “brain bandwidth” and can translate into more freedom and less stress. One strategy for simplifying is to make decisions ahead of time about the little things you don’t want in your life or don’t need to think about each day. Darren Hardy of Success magazine calls them your “non-negotiables” – those things you no longer have to think about because you have already made a decision about it and are sticking to it. It could be setting a specific bedtime or deciding a no cookies after 6pm “rule” or a 30 minute walk you “must” take each day. Then you no longer have to ask yourself, “Should I take a walk today?” The decision has been made and you just need to follow it.
Creating routines and habits can also save you from using up your brain’s energy. The ADHD brain struggles with routines. You may have noticed that each morning things can happen in a different order or get “forgotten” or distraction gets in the way and adds its own complications as you or your child are trying to get out the door. Creating a morning routine that is practiced enough to become a habit (automatic) can save hours of frustration and allow you to leave the house with EVERYTHING you need.
For kids with ADHD, think of how many mini decisions they have to make each morning starting as soon as they are awake. Without a routine here, every day they will do things in a different order or leave things out unless you remind them. You end up trying to keep them to some kind of a routine but they probably don’t realize it. That’s why you may catch them staring off into space without a clue of what to do next. Work together and create a simple routine that will get them out the door without constant hovering from you. They will thank you later.
Creating a routine around the evening process and the arrival home process or homework routine can also be helpful. What other things could benefit from a routine? Other ideas might include organizing, or maintaining your organizational systems, packing up sports equipment for practice, or bill paying, laundry or car maintenance. You get the idea, think of how it could change your lives and eliminate the drain on willpower if you eliminated the simple decisions so you can focus on the bigger ones. Imagine what it would be like if decision making was easier because you and your family were coming from a place with more than enough brain energy and willpower to make the decisions that are right for your family.
As an Educational Consultant for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students I have the unique opportunity to observe different grade levels, schools and districts. Although I am observing the student’s ability to access the curriculum being presented I also look around to identify those with ADHD and watch how they are accessing the curriculum, communicating with their peers and maintaining their focus.
Here’s what I have noticed:
- Students are asked to focus for anywhere from 45-90 minutes without breaks.
- Many adults cannot focus for that long especially if they are only listening
- Often they don’t know what is important to focus on – so they try to focus on all of it
- Students either do not take any notes or try to write down everything that is said
- They wait for the teacher to say things like, “This is important.”
- They trust that they can remember the information
- They do not try to put the details together to get the bigger picture and end up trying to memorize random facts that don’t go together
- They do not realize that studying for a test begins in class
- Students do not know how to study
- Teachers are providing study guides that have “fill in the blank” answers and students think that if they memorize the sentences they will do well
- Students do not look at their textbooks unless specifically told to
- Often students only get a few days notice of upcoming tests or quizzes
- Students are shocked at how poorly they do on tests that they think they prepared for.
- 90% of my students think that 20 minutes is enough time to study for a test
- Students are not given the chance to learn from their mistakes
- Tests are collected after 2-3 minutes
- If no one raises their hand with a question about the test, nothing will be reviewed
- Students develop an “I can’t” attitude rather than an “I need to do more” attitude
So how can you help your son or daughter learn how to focus?
- Those with ADHD tend to get bored quickly and when that happens the brain shuts down or switches to other off task thoughts. Teach your child how to get themselves back on track by using examples that happen at home. Using a non-judgmental tone you can point out when you see them go off topic before you are finished with it. Ex. “I can see how you might have thought I was done talking about “x” but I really wanted to say two more things ….are you ready to listen to me again?” Then ask them to summarize what you were talking about. Be sure to give them time to share their thoughts without interruption as often their working memory can only hold onto the thought for a short amount of time.
- ADHD brains also shut down when there is too much information to focus on. Skip the details and give them the bottom line first so they don’t miss it.
- Allow them to fidget with things and don’t insist they make eye contact as often that is too much distraction for them especially if they are being reprimanded.
- Ask them how they stay focused in school and offer suggestions like taking notes, doodling related drawings to the topic, counting how many times they get distracted and pull themselves back or fidgeting quietly with something inconspicuous
We’ll combine taking notes and studying together. Here are ways to help:
- Most information for tests comes from class lecture and discussion. Students need to realize that taking notes about the key points can help tremendously when it comes time to study. From 6th grade and up, students should be taking some notes. If they are given a copy of the Powerpoint presentation they should add to it.
- Looking ahead in the text book can often give clues as to what will be presented in class. If the brain already knows what to expect it is better able to make connections and tie new information to old.
- Students can create a study guide by writing questions in the left margin about the topic in the notes. If they can answer those questions without looking at the notes, they probably know the information.
- It takes 4-7 exposures to the information before it can be “learned” so students should review the information (by asking themselves questions) at least three times over several days.
- Reviewing class notes after homework is done especially in their weakest subject is a great way to get extra exposure to the information. Or choose to write the questions in the margins the same day as notes were taken.
- Study guides don’t always have all the necessary information on them. Students should reread their notes and check the text. Turning the statements on a study guide into a question will help them understand the information better.
The biggest mistake teachers are making is to be more concerned about their test questions getting out than in helping students learn the information. Collecting tests 3 minutes after students get them back is a major disservice to students. I have heard about only one town that allows students to take the test home, correct all incorrect answers and receive added points. That motivates students to find the answers rather than just hearing them reviewed in class (which doesn’t seem to happen often unless someone asks a question). Help your student learn better by developing as Carol Dweck says a “growth mindset.”
- Teach kids that their intelligence is not fixed, it is malleable. Push them to roll up their sleeves and try again. Avoid saying things like, “you’re so smart” as it implies that intelligence is fixed and sends a conflicting message to them when they fail.
- Build resiliency. Focus on the positive.
- Level the playing field by helping students learn to use the tools, strategies and technologies that work best for them and not necessarily what the teachers want
- Bottom line – do whatever it takes to keep your child’s self-esteem intact. It’s how they feel about themselves that will determine how well he or she succeeds.
Routines, we all have them. Some are helpful and some are not. Routines that are based on good habits are sets of things we do every day that have a positive effect. You probably have a morning routine that gets you and your family out the door in the morning, and an evening routine that ends the day. Do they serve you? By that I mean do they make things run smoothly, keeping you relaxed or do they add chaos, disorganization or a sense of hurriedness to your life?
I think the holiday season is one time where the impact of disrupting the routines of the day can show its effect. Behaviors erupt, patience is thin, and chaos reigns. If there is any ADHD in the family, then those routines/habits are even more important. For those with ADHD, a routine may not always be the same from day to day. In fact, for most people/children with ADHD every day is a new day and often a new “routine”. However, it definitely helps if those with ADHD can create a routine of good habits so that they are on automatic pilot rather than having to take the time to figure out what they should do next. It is the thinking “now what do I have to do?” that causes the mind to go blank or to act on whatever is in front of them.
According to pediatricians at www.healthychildren.org, ““Every family needs routines. They help to organize life and keep it from becoming too chaotic. Children do best when routines are regular, predictable, and consistent.” We’ve all seen this. A sudden change of plans can send our day into a tailspin or worse, change our normally happy youngster’s personality into something we don’t recognize (tantrums optional). Routines for kids provide a sense of predictability and that makes them feel safe. It does the same for adults although I would change the feeling of safety to a sense of control.
Routines teach responsibility, organization, and cooperation and positively reduce your stress level, save you time and energy and bring a sense of control to your daily life. It is that simple. Routines are beneficial in the morning, after school or when returning home for the day, dinner time, and bedtime. It’s not just about the “basics” of a routine as there is often room to add something to your routine that you feel has been missing. For example: it is not just about remembering to brush your teeth at night, but also about ending your day on a positive note. Are you watching TV until bed and then tossing and turning or do you read something positive after having set yourself up for a stress free morning?(Clothes out, lunches packed or planned, keys on hook, phone charging, etc.)
Take a look at your routines and those of your family and see if they are beneficial or not. If things are not working, figure out why and try something new. Keep at it until it works. If things are working well, then you might want to consider adding something to an already established routine. Research shows that linking a new behavior to something that is already “routine” makes it easier for it to become a habit. I have added writing in a journal to my morning routine that also includes listing three things I am grateful for. It starts my day with gratitude and a positive attitude. What will you add to your routine?
Summer’s here and the learning never stops! Sure no one wants to even think about school during July and August. I understand that. But if your son or daughter struggles in school with organization, planning or focusing long enough to get through homework, then you might want to build some of their executive function skills this summer while having some fun. Below are three executive function skills with some activities you can do to strengthen them. Once you start to see your child/teen improving you’ll want to be sure they “transfer” their learning to school and their life by asking questions such as: “How might a stronger memory help in school?” or “What a fun day. Your plan was organized and we had everything we needed. Can you think of any other ways that great planning might be helpful?” Don’t forget to mention whenever you use planning, or working memory strategies so that your son or daughter sees that those skills are used every day.
According to Bloom’s new hierarchy of skills the first step is the ability to remember. Working memory has been defined as being able to hold onto information long enough to use and/or manipulate it. For example, understanding the rules of a new game and being able to play it while keeping track of other players’ moves uses the working memory.
Here are some ideas to increase working memory skills during the summer:
- Write it down! Use a planner, smartphone app (Google Calendar, Color note, Evernote, Remember the Milk, Hiveminder, etc.), or notepad to keep track of events, vacation, etc. so you don’t overburden your working memory.
- Practice setting reminders in your phone for fun things because the summer is less structured.
- Play the “I went to Grandma’s house and I brought my….” game that uses all the letters of the alphabet. Each person must repeat what was said before. I went to Grandma’s house and I brought my apple, blanket, cow, daffodil, etc.
- Memorize license plates and repeat them backwards
- Hold a family competition to name the 50 states, presidents or capitals.
- Play card games or Memory type game
- Bake cookies and keep two ingredients in your memory before looking again at the recipe.
Planning skills include the ability to organize your thoughts in a logical manner to accomplish a goal. It requires sequencing and figuring out the individual steps needed to get to completion. Students that struggle with story or essay writing, long term projects or even getting all their homework done may have a weak “planning” skill.
Here are some ideas to build “planning” during the summer:
- As mentioned above, have your child/teen plan out their summer reading and math packet time on a calendar.
- Plan a day trip and include all necessary details. Walk through it to check that everything important is included. Don’t forget museums, historic places, and parks.
- Cook like they do on TV. Get out the ingredients and measure them all out first before beginning. Pick a new recipe and plan the shopping list and determine the cost before going.
- Geocaching – pick where you want to go, what you need to bring with you, etc.
- Pack for a day at the beach or camp – check before leaving that everything is included. Start with the end in mind.
- Puzzles and brain teasers are fun. For the young ones “find the differences” activities involve creating a plan of where to look in an organized manner that you’ll need to show them. How will they put together a puzzle that doesn’t have any straight edges?
- Discuss their video game strategies with them. Have them explain their approach. Better yet, play with them and discuss as you go.
- Plan a scavenger hunt
- Build a bird house or race car (Lowe’s sells kits for kids)
Time management starts by developing time awareness. Here are a few suggestions for activities that will get the family going and develop an understanding of time:
- Time activities like emptying the dishwasher, setting the table, feeding the dog, reading 10 pages, etc. after your child/teen has estimated how long it will take.
- Create an obstacle course and post the times to beat (give younger kids a few minute cushion).
- Hold the family “Olympic games” and have everyone compete against themselves over the course of a few weeks.
- How many baskets/goals can they get in one minute? Jump rope for one minute.
- Start a monopoly game or “Life” and play for an hour each night until someone wins.
Choices….choices are all around us. We make choices consciously and unconsciously all day long. From the
moment we wake up we are making choices about, what to wear, what to eat, where to pick up coffee, which priority to work on at work. Not to mention the choices in the media, on FaceBook, at the grocery store, etc. We are literally bombarded by choices.
What if you could reduce the number of choices you have to make? You would free up working memory space that just might help you make a better decision about something that is important to you. When your working memory is full (it can only hold so much), it lets go of information. We have no control really of what it lets go of. This is also why teens often think they have studied enough, but end up not getting the grades they are capable of.
If we look at all the choices we have we can suffer from decision paralysis, or making the quickest or easiest decision but not necessarily the “best” or “most right” decision for ourselves. Have you ever made a decision/choice that you later regretted or wished you had thought about longer? Is your willpower being drained? Are you moving in the direction of your dreams or are your ever-changing choices getting in the way?
Then it is time to discover your “non-negotiables.” Non-negotiables are those choices/decisions you have made ahead of time and will stick to. You no longer have to even think about them. It is easiest, according to Darren Hardy of Success magazine to start with the things you won’t tolerate or do. Make the decision/choice now before you need it and you can focus on the more important choices. If you made a New Year’s Resolution this year to lose weight for example, and have already given up, then maybe it’s time for a non-negotiable choice of no cookies or 30 minutes of movement a day, or make bedtime a non-negotiable, or being late a non-negotiable. You get the idea, think of how it would change your life and eliminate the drain on your will power. Isn’t time you kept those promises you make to yourself?
Think about how having non-negotiable decisions made ahead of time could effect your teen. What if not completing homework was just non-negotiable? Or studying for at least an hour was “non-negotiable?” You get the idea….we could all benefit from having some non-negotiables before we are faced with another choice.
So much to do, so little time…..I hope that is not what you are thinking as we reach the end of August. It is a busy month for sure and often the transition from summer to “school” can make the new situation seem even more challenging. Here are five things to think about to make this year more manageable, less stressful and not quite as “crazy” as last year.
- Each school year is a new start. Although each grade comes with its own challenges, it also comes with its own rewards. Major transitions are in first, fourth, six (or whatever grade your middle school starts at) and 9th grade. If it’s a new school, take time to tour it and find the bathrooms, locker, lunch room and office. Notice when your child is struggling – is it a lack of understanding, frustration, distraction or boredom? It’s a new start for you as well. Set yourself a goal of making this a calmer, more organized year and notice what is getting in the way. This year fix it so that tomorrow is better than today.
- Don’t overbook. Children need time to play and be outdoors and they can’t do that if they are overbooked and running from one activity to another. Make choices and remember homework should not be an afterthought. Don’t expect your child to have any energy left for homework if they are going all day long. They have a right to some “free” time too and need it to recharge, so make sure homework doesn’t use up all available time. Sleep 8+ hours is best. Remember your role in extra curricula activities, are you the pick up or drop off person? What does that mean for your schedule and for the family’s evening?
- Get organized! This is probably the most important thing you can do for yourself and your family. When the morning runs smoothly, the day goes better too. It’s important to have routines and habits that serve you and the family like a morning routine, an evening routine that includes getting ready for the next day, a regular shopping day or at least a meal plan so you know what is for dinner each night. Having a family meeting helps everyone know what is up for the week with extra curricula activities and/or appointments.
- Prepare for the week ahead. Everybody knows that having clean clothes makes getting dressed easier. Same goes for having a clean and organized backpack, it makes the homework go easier. Take the time to prepare what you can for the week ahead. Some ideas are laundry done, snacks and food choices, rooms picked up and backpacks organized. Use a planner whether it is digital or paper doesn’t matter but the pace of your life means you shouldn’t rely on your memory without some backup. Use the reminder app on your phone for really important things.
- Lastly, if your child has ADHD or Executive functioning challenges, then no amount of coaxing, rewarding, threatening or seizing of things they hold dear, is going to help them get their work done any faster or better. Imagine what it would be like if they understood what was getting in the way of their success and had some strategies that they could use to push through the homework. You have the power to make this year better for the entire family by helping them develop the strategies and understanding they need to be successful. We can help too.
The ability to get started on something is called “task initiation or activation” by the experts on Executive functions (Russell Barkley, Peg Dawson, Thomas Brown, etc). Executive functions are those skills that help us get things done. Task initiation is just one of these executive skills and it involves the ability to START. Difficulties getting started can be the result of not knowing where to begin, what to do, how to generate ideas or how to problem solve to move forward on something. It differs from procrastination in that it is often not deliberate avoidance but a lack of understanding in knowing what to do to start. It can also show up as a difficulty with transitioning from one activity to another.
In children and teens, task initiation may show up as:
- Difficulty getting started on homework
- Struggles with generating ideas for writing
- Problems with morning and evening routines (often needing excessive prompting to be ready for school)
- Procrastination or being seen as unmotivated
- Procrastination followed by hyperfocus to meet deadlines
- Projects that never get started
- Unpaid or late bills, missed deadlines, and feelings of guilt
Removing the roadblocks:
- Is the environment getting in the way?
If your space is cluttered or you can’t find what you need to get going on something then it is time to take care of that. You end up expending more energy just looking for what you need to get started that by the time you do that, you don’t have the energy or inclination to continue. Declutter your work space, set up materials you use often in easily accessible places. Rulers, scissors, pens and pencils fit nicely in a mug on the desk. Set up colored plastic folders or boxes to hold all pieces of an ongoing project. Take everything out of the backpack and pile the “to do” items on the left and as you complete them move them to the right.
- Are you not sure what to do?
- Get help understanding what is expected (call a friend or coworker).
- Break it down into smaller pieces and pick one piece to start.
- Work with a friend (use them as a body double to get you started).
- Have someone tell you what to work on.
- Use a graphic organizer.
Start with the end in mind. Sketch out what it will look like when completed and work backwards to determine the first few steps.
- Nudges, pokes and jabs:
- Visual timers, alarms, and phone reminders all serve to designate a start time if you use them.
- Set the sleep timer or automatic shut off on your TV, or use ifocusonwork.com to help shut down other distractions so you can get started on the important things.
- Set false deadlines for yourself or have someone else set them for you.
- Put your cellphone in another room and don’t check it until you have worked 30 minutes. Use a timer here so you are not constantly checking how much time has passed.
- Make a deal with someone that you know has your best interests at heart and ask them to help you get started.
- Create a basic week plan so that you know what day you will do what.
- Students set up a routine for your homework with a break, snack and start time. Then work for 30-45 minutes before taking another break.
- Start with the easiest to build momentum.
- Meet your friends at the library to do homework together.
- Create a mnemonic that helps you get ready to begin and use it daily.
- Create a play list for the length of time before you need to start and use it daily. The more you listen to it, the more your body and brain will get the message that it is time to get to work as soon as this is over.
- If you still can’t….
- Just start, after about ten minutes you will get into it.
- Create a mind map or draw out what you need to do. Use colors and shapes to help your brain remember them and pick one.
- If you are really procrastinating on something, stop and consider, “What is the worst that could happen if I didn’t do this? If it’s not too serious, then let it go or delegate it.
Often times looming deadlines, promises to others and fear of failure will push adults to complete a task they have been putting off. Many students though are not motivated by deadlines, grades or loss of privileges. They need help in learning what is preventing them from getting started and help designing a strategy that will work for them. Our group classes can help them find the strategies that will work for the way they think. Next classes start Oct 7 and 8th.