In Difficult Topics/ Executive Functions Training/ Great for All Ages/ Motivating the Unmotivated/ School Advice/ The Happy Student Podcast/ The Procrastination Problem/ Use Your Summer Wisely

#106 3! 2! 1! Blastoff! How To Get to Work

If your kid doesn’t believe in getting started on homework as soon as possible; if procrastination is a problem; and if tasks are often left to the last minute, your child most likely struggles with the executive function skill called task initiation. Fireborn’s here to help with 8 tips for building task initiation skills this summer!

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It’s hard to get started working. Most of us have to use at least some willpower to stop doing something fun in order to start doing something not fun, but necessary. 

Another problem that can lead to procrastination is anxiety. If you are scared you don’t know how to do the homework, you may want to avoid it. And then you avoid it for so long that there is no possible way to finish it in time and you’ve done two things: 1. You’ve reinforced this belief that you didn’t know how to do the work, so now you are scared for tomorrow night’s homework. Or 2. You don’t really have to blame yourself because you didn’t have enough time to finish and if you had, then you might be able to tell yourself that you could have done it. Therefore keeping your pride intact. 

The summer is the perfect time to practice building those task initiation skills because the stakes are lower. Once you’ve got some task initiation skills and you go back to school when there is more pressure, you’ll already have some skills developed.

Today we are going to talk about finding ways to practice this executive function skill over the summer. 

  • Your child can practice with any reading lists, math packets, or stuff like that from school. 
  • If your child is going to camp and there is homework or practice for something like a play. 
  • Or maybe your child is taking swim lessons or tennis lessons – practicing at home like juggling a tennis ball on the racket could be seen as “homework”. 

You can set some goals at the beginning of the summer with your child. These goals should be child-generated. Having fun this summer is definitely an important goal. And then you can figure out what your child plans on doing to have fun. From there, talk with your child about some other goals. Just because these are things your kid wants to do, doesn’t mean they will actually be good at leaving video games behind to do it. So it will require practicing task initiation, at least at some point.

You can teach your child these 8 task initiation tips.

1. Use a “Rocketship Countdown”. 

  • Simply countdown like they do with rocketships, “3, 2, 1, blastoff!” and on “blastoff” you “blastoff” and go do whatever it is you need to get done. 
  • Being enthusiastic can be really helpful. 
  • Modeling it for your kid can encourage them to just do it too.

2. Create a music playlist for work time

  • Build a music playlist that does not have any words. Words in the music can take away brain power from reading and other verbal skills you need during homework time. 
  • Every time they are working on something, play the playlist. The playlist will eventually become a habit – it will cue that it is time for work and will help your child get into the working mindset. 

3. Develop routines. 

  • The nice thing about routines is that we don’t have to think about them – we just do them. So, if you can start making some work routines this summer, and the cues are the same in the school year, it can help them just work when they are cued.
  • Cues can be things like… 
    • the time of day, 
    • a sound, 
    • or a set of activities.

4. Work in short bursts with breaks

  • The thought of working for an unknown quantity of time can be intimidating. If your child just has to work until “it’s finished” – that can really dissuade them from wanting to get down to business because who knows how long that could take. 
  • They are also more likely to realize that the work is not as bad as they thought and they might get on a roll and keep going for longer, but maybe not and that’s okay too.

5. Preview the work and then take a break

  • By suggesting that your child just preview the work and not actually do any of it, you remove a lot of potential stress about how difficult the work will actually be. 
  • While they are having fun taking a break, their brain is still thinking about how to approach the work. So then when it’s time to get back to work, they already have some ideas on what to do, making it easier to just get started again.

6. Start using “Brain Breaks”

  • As Stacy Vernon from the Center for Brain Health writes, you need to “take frequent brain breaks to ‘recharge’ your mental energy.” Pushing yourself beyond the point of mental exhaustion stresses the brain. 
  • Building in brain down-time every day helps alleviate the stress that builds up throughout the day and can result in a feeling of mental exhaustion and low-level anxiety. 
  • Consider the 5 x 5 method, “taking 5 minutes of down time 5 times throughout the day.” Spend these times doing something that is relaxing to you! These brain breaks are meant to be times of zero effort thought – not zero thought at all.”

7. Use explicit instructions. 

  • When you have clear goals and steps to achieve the goals, it’s much easier to get started on the first step. 
  • You can help your child by giving them explicit instructions when you ask them to do stuff and by going through any assignments, cooking instructions, engineering project instructions (like Legos) with them ahead of time and answering any questions they have about what they mean, or showing them what those instructions mean. That will give them practice understanding what it looks like to follow instructions or to figure out the steps based on what is assigned. 

8. Figure out if you should do the hard stuff or the easy stuff first.

  • Talk to your child about what you prefer to do and point out opportunities that they have to figure it out for themselves. 

Resources:

Brain Breaks

Center for BrainHealth

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