The assignment has been given. The homework is spread out on the dining room table. The chores have been charted and explained…..5 times. And yet, your child doesn’t move. What’s up? Why is your child experiencing initiation struggles?
Unfortunately, our minds quickly can go into “judging” mode, and words like “lazy”, “unmotivated”, and “oppositional” can come flooding in. When we make quick judgements on a child’s actions, we inhibit our ability to understand what really may be happening – the child is overwhelmed or missing the skills needed for success.
It’s hard for us to imagine why a child won’t just pick up her pencil and get started! Seriously, how hard can it be? Well, that’s actually a great question. To answer it, try a little experiment with initiation struggles.
Initiation Struggles – A Little Experiment
Look around the room you are in right now. Let your eyes drift across the space, then land on something that is undone, perhaps something that should have been done a week ago. Maybe it’s a stack of bills, cleaning off a work space, finishing patching a scratch on the wall, or cleaning out your email in-box.
Now, stop and honestly ask yourself, “why haven’t I done this yet?” The answers are as varied as the undone tasks:
- I don’t like it
- It’s not fun
- I’d rather do something else
- If I start it, it’ll go on forever/take forever
- I’m not really sure what to do first
- I’m afraid I’ll mess it up
- I don’t have the materials I need
Our children experience these exact same emotions with tasks that are facing them, especially ones that involve writing, a weak area for most of our kids with various “isms”. To develop strategies to help get things moving, let’s go through each of our own “excuses” one by one. Once our minds shift from “excuse” to “reason”, the solutions become more obvious.
Initiation Struggles: I don’t like it. It’s not fun. I’d rather be doing something else.
We all work better with incentives and positive rewards. As adults we make deals with ourselves all day long. “Ok, if I get the kitchen clean, I can make a cup of coffee and browse through Facebook”.
Students, especially those with initiation struggles, need to have incentives as well. Establish a solid list of rewards or incentives so that hard work has a pay-off for the student. This is not “bribery”. We incentivize ourselves, remember?
Institute “First This, Then That”
Follow the “first this, then that” format as it can be very helpful in getting children to tackle unmotivating tasks.
Look closely and see if you are able to pair an undesirable task with a rewarding “after experience”.
Get in the habit of stating, “Finish your homework and then the rest of the night is yours to play!” or “After the kitchen is clean, we can play a game of Clue.”
These incentives may be just what is needed to propel your child into action!
Initiation Struggles: If I get started it’ll take forever. I’ll never get done.
These statements are easy ones to understand. The chances are, the more difficult a task is, the longer we think it will take.
Begin by breaking the assignment down into manageable chunks. In the beginning, you will likely want to break things down pretty incremental bits. Pairing these small bits of completion and accomplishment with some of the above-mentioned incentives will help even the most reluctant student move forward.
Let’s imagine that your child has an assignment to make a poster of the President of her choice. Think of all the steps involved in making that poster. Now, break each step down into an individual assignment.
It’s much more rewarding to cross off a completed activity that’s small than it is to have to wait for that sign of progress.
Sampling of Steps or Chunks
Buy poster board and materials
Choose your President
Begin your research on childhood, adulthood and Presidency
Rough draft of essay
Final draft of essay
Find pictures and quotes
Attach all to presentation board
CELEBRATE!! Never forget to celebrate the conclusion of a tough task!
Get Visual with Time
Another strategy for helping with the “forever” feeling is to use some sort of visual schedule or visual timer to show the progression of time. Many students will feel more in control of the situation if they can actually SEE that they are progressing toward their goal.
A visual schedule for the above-mentioned assignment may involve placing each task on a sticky note. Then, place each sticky on the calendar so the child can see how he is moving through the week towards the “due date”.
For a younger child or a simpler activity, such as completing a worksheet, you may have a picture of supplies needed (pencil, paper, etc), followed by a picture of the child writing his name, followed by a picture of the first 5 problems completed, and concluding with a raised hand, indicating the teacher will come to reinforce effort and attention.
Explore More >> Visual Timers: Boost Productivity & Self Esteem
Initiation Struggles: I’m not really sure how to do it. What to do first?
Avoidance is often the result of confusion. Many of our students are so lost or confused, they don’t even know that they need help!
Always clarify directions with a slow-to-start student. Have the child repeat back what he understands the assignment to be. This will not only focus his attention to the task at hand, but will also be a comprehension check for you in order to see what pieces of information are missing.
Once you get in the habit of checking like this, you will likely become surprised by how much discrepancy exists between the information we think we clearly gave, and the information the child actually receives.
Initiation Struggles: I’m afraid I’ll mess it up, do it wrong, fail anyway.
Who wants to begin a job if they are pretty certain they are going to fail? Not even the toughest of us can face that day after day. Remind yourself how much failure many of our students experience on a daily basis. Often their hardest efforts appear as if they put no time or thought into them.
Build Opportunities for Success
Change your standards for a child who struggles with learned helplessness or expected failure.
While the rest of the class may be able to rush through writing a paragraph, our student may receive high fives for getting a solid sentence down. It’s not expecting LESS, it’s incrementally instilling the confidence to do more.
Generally speaking, it’s believed that 5 successes are necessary to dim the memory of a single failure. That should encourage us to be giving a whole lot more “atta boy”s to our children!
Initiation Struggles: I don’t have the materials I need.
Well, now, this one is a snap! Make sure ample materials are available to students. Ensure access to paper, pencils, or an extra notebook.
Many teachers have a consequence for a child not having materials, but make sure those consequences don’t occur during what is supposed to be productive class time. By having the materials immediately available, it reduces the delay that often gets children further off track.
If we look at initiation struggles through a new lens, we quickly realize we can tackle each reason one by one, and get moving ahead in no time. Instead of rushing into a judgement on character or motivation level, taking just a minute to reflect upon WHY the behavior is occurring can lead us clearly into action and success.
For more suggestions, check out the following View On Demand Webinar:
Introduction to Executive Functioning Skills in Children and Teens
Our executive skills allow us to plan, organize, manage, and assess daily thoughts and actions. An integral part of daily and academic life, these skills are often weak in students with sensory challenges, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and ADHD. An inability to control impulses; inhibit behaviors; organize thoughts, emotions, and language; as well as follow rules and routines are all indicators of poor Executive Function (EF) development. This 2-hour course provides beginner- to intermediate-level occupational therapists, SLPs, teachers, and other attendees with an overview of what EF skills are, how they develop, who is at risk, and how to begin addressing these weak areas immediately. Learn More and Register