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

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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Difficult Topics, Elementary School, Great for All Ages, High School, Middle School, Motivating the Unmotivated, School Advice, The Happy Student Podcast

#51: Turning Around a Tough Year (Updated!)

Sometimes the start of the school year just doesn’t go your way. You missed some things the teacher said; you weren’t organized; you misbehaved; whatever. There are lots of reasons the school year might have started out poorly. The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay that way. The New Year is a great opportunity to turn around a challenging school year! To ease us back into the year, Fireborn’s got a quick four tips to make the rest of the year brighter at school.

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Four tips to make the rest of the year brighter at school:

Find that motivation

The first step is to make sure they are motivated to turn the school year around.

There are three components of motivation:

  • Autonomy: We want to be in control.
  • Mastery: We want to be good and get better at something.
  • Purpose: We want to do things that matter.

To help your kids find that internal motivation, help them set goals that matter to them academically. Let them choose what their goal is (autonomy). Set up a plan for success so that they get some small wins quickly (mastery). Ask your child why they chose this goal and talk about its importance (purpose).

Finding that motivation can be really tough, especially when it may seem like everything at school is just going terribly – at least, that’s how your kid feels. Trying to find a goal may be tough because they may simply just be too beat down by the system right now. If you are worried this is happening to your kid, well – the first thing to do is to think if they are truly depressed or need some professional help.

Another thing to think about is getting them excited about something at school. There are lots of potential goals that can help motivate your kids. Maybe an academic goal shouldn’t be the first priority because if your kid is having trouble socially and doesn’t want to go to school in the first place, going from a C to a B in English probably won’t help that. Maybe it should be finding an extracurricular activity that excites your kid. Having something to look forward to at the end of the day can help them get through school more happily (and maybe help them focus in class).

Get your child’s friends and family (maybe even his teacher!) on board.

Change is hard. Having a strong support system will help. Therefore, encourage your children to talk to their friends about their new goal and maybe even their teacher. Saying the goal aloud increases accountability because friends will ask how it’s going, plus they are there to help if they fall off track.

Find a tutor.

No matter what is causing the difficult year, find someone who can dedicate their time to helping your kids succeed in that area.

Work on developing your child’s grit and growth mindset!

Adjusting their mindset to think this way will help them feel comfortable asking for help and trying harder. Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman wrote an excellent workbook for teens, The Grit Guide for Teens, to help them adjust their mindset, build their grit, and achieve their goals. Working through the activities in this book will also help develop that motivation (tip #1) to turn the year around!

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode! Comment below or send us an email!

HERE’S HOW TO SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW

Want to be the first to know when a new episode is released? Click here to subscribe to The Happy Student on iTunes!

Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!