Initiation is the ability to recognize independently when it is time to start on something and using one’s resources to do so. The ability to get started on a task is important for school functioning and negotiating daily routine. Children depend on adults to let them know when it is time to begin and end a task. As kids get older, we expect to see a gradual transition from external cues to trigger the start function to internal management of this executive skill.
Below, I listed interventions that you can implement with your child who has trouble initiating a task.
- Provide external structure in the form of general guidelines, cues and support. Talk about the importance of homework by laying out guidelines according to your values and your child’s needs. For example, you may tell your child ” Nancy, I think it will be good for you to get some physical activity before you start your homework. Let’s plan for 45 minutes of outside play after you come home from school. Then a quick snack and you will start your homework. Once you have finished your homework and your chores, you can watch television or play a game.”
- Develop schedules and routines: Set up a daily homework time that is consistent from one day to the next. Provide verbal reminders to help your child be aware of the time until the behavior becomes a routine. Sit down together with your child each day and review homework assignments. Plan out approximately how long each task will take and then plan out the evening based on the homework demands.
- If your child rushes through their homework in order to get free time, designate a homework hour. For example, homework time might be from five to six o’clock. If your child finishes their homework with time to spare, have them read a book. Only homework and reading are allowed during this time.
- Use technology: A timer can be set to cue a child to begin a task. Countdown timers can be set so that an alarm goes off at a specific time and your child knows when play time is over and work time starts.
- Start the task with your child: Some kids stare at their assignments and feel stuck starting it. Try talking through the assignment with them until they have started the assignment on their own.
- Use rewards and natural consequences to motivate behavior: Play a game by measuring how long it will take for the child to start a task. Reward the child for improving on his best time. Reward completion of homework by doing activities that they prefer such as playing outside, playing a board game, etc. Use natural consequences to motivate behavior. For example, you can say, “Chris, homework has to be done before TV time. I know you want to watch the game. The game starts at 8 o’clock, so start your homework now or you will miss the game.”
We all have a hard time sometimes starting on something that needs to be done. This is also true for children who may have executive weaknesses. More immediate consequences may help them get started. What are some strategies that have helped you or your child to start a task?