Task Initiation: the How To Do’s

Task Initiation is the ability to what we HAVE to do, not WANT to do.

A weakness in this area can have a significant impact on your child’s ability to focus, learn, and perform both at school and at home.

Every task or activity we perform involves…

1. understanding the requirements or expectations of the task

2. the ability to clarify for understanding

3. the ability to stop a previous activity and focus on the current activity

If you have strong executive function , these actions take place efficiently and unconsciously in a matter of seconds. In the brains of people with frontal lobe weaknesses, these actions, such as task initiation, get tripped up along the way.

What does it look like?

In adults, constantly being scrambled or late are signs of weakness in this area. Picture someone rushing around, late on a project at work, staying up because something got put off too long, or speeding to make an appointment.

In children signs of task initiation weakness include things such as an inability or lack of desire in getting up in the morning, getting ready for school, starting homework or a project, starting a game, playing with a friend, or completing chores.

Getting the job finished involves a different set of executive functions. Task initiation focuses only on HOW to get started.

Children who struggle literally have no idea how or where to begin; they don’t know how to take the first step.

That’s where you can step in with strategies to fill in the gaps.

Stepping In: Parents as Coach

Your role is to act as a coach; providing feedback and sequential steps for the “how to” part of the equation. A coach understands that it takes practice to learn a new skill.

There are several strategies that you can use to improve your child’s ability to initiate a task. Remember, all executive functions can be taught through explicit instruction and repetition. If you’re not sure where your child is struggling, then use the observation log to determine the specific situation.

Routines are great non-verbal communicators of time. They tell kids when things happen in your household, and can be a source of support for starting a project. It gives them a sequence of events that you can use as a reminder.

The Value of Chores

Chores require kids to do unpleasant tasks TO THEM! In reality, they are just things that maintain the status of the home.

Each time they begin the chore, they are practicing task initiation and learning and get it done! Some things just have to be done, and not everything is fun. That is an important life lesson.

You can help by giving brief positive explanations with your request.

Explain that emptying the dishwasher is necessary if they want to use dishes.

Taking out the trash keeps the house from smelling. Parenting with Logic and Love does a great job of explaining how chores can change a child. I have used it for several years now.

Another strategy to use is thinking questions.

Thinking questions allow your child to HEAR what needs to be done without telling them directly. Using the example of homework, ask, “If I was going to start homework, what would I do first?” If that’s too vague for your child, then model aloud with, “when I start my homework, the first thing I do is…”

End Procrastination

You want to break the habit of procrastination as soon as possible! Teach your kids to do it sooner rather than later.

When you allow your child to procrastinate, it drains the energy out of YOU! You have to give reminders, nag, and keep on them. Emotions may escalate, resulting in harsh words. The incomplete project or chore hangs over your child until it is done!

When you teach them to do it sooner, it removes the two hours of nagging and reminding from your schedule. Teach them that the faster you get it done, the faster you get to move on to bigger and better things!

Head's up... they’re not going to want to do this one!

That’s why it’s a good idea to start with something small and build up. After each success, verbalize how good it must feel.

Some projects need to be broken down into smaller pieces.

One way to do this is with a time timer . The Time Timer gives them great visual and auditory cues. The decreasing red clock face shows them how much time is left, and the ticking tells their brain to hurry! Let your child decide (within reason) how much time they want to allot to the project in one sitting.

Explain that you expect them to work as long as the timer is moving and showing color. Setting the timer signals that it’s time to begin!

Playtime!

Some tasks are fun and some are not. It will be much easier to teach a child how to initiate a game rather than clean a room. By the time the “game” is over, the task has been initiated, and may well be on it’s way to completion.

Designate Authority

Your child needs to learn HOW to get things rolling. When you do it for them, they never learn how to do it themselves. They may be experts at joining in, not starting.

Begin to delegate authority. They need to be in charge.

Have them set up a game because you are just too tired. It's task initiation at it's best! Be sure to lay yourself out on the couch or in a chair while this is happening. Getting you up to play the game becomes the reward for a job well done!

Remember, task initiation is a skill that will help your child for his or her entire life. It will instill good habits, end procrastination, and promote success in college and beyond.

Learning this skill begins now.