Kid carrying to do list

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I suspect most of us have, at some time or other, avoided a big unpleasant task until the last possible minute. Some people can pull off great work at the last minute, and thrive on the adrenaline rush. Most of the kids I work with, however, do not fall into that category.

The main reasons for avoiding large, complex and high-risk tasks generally revolve around a few things:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by the complexity and planning (time and work) involved
  • Feeling that they have not succeeded in the past, and the future will not be different
  • Not handing in work because it does not measure up to the standards in their head (perfectionism)
  • Communication challenges

Most of us are not born naturally organized. This is a skill that is practiced and hopefully developed to a functional degree over time, but everyone’s time frame is different.

I usually begin our sessions on preventing avoidance by talking about why we avoid; what are the barriers to getting work done. While I have listed a few reasons above, here are a few that frequently come up in discussion:

  • Denial
    • it’s not that big a deal
    • I can get to it later
    • I have lots of time
  • I have a bad memory
    • I forget to write it in my agenda
    • I forget to look on google classroom
  • It’s not just my fault/problem
    • The instructions weren’t clear
    • Group members didn’t cooperate
    • It was boring/too hard
    • I didn’t know where to start

Some of these are completely valid reasons for work being incomplete or late. I am more concerned with an ongoing pattern of avoidance, where it is always ‘not a big deal’, or ‘I was bored’.

From here, we divide tasks into 2 categories:

  • Project based tasks (multi-step, mid or longer term projects)
  • Performance based tasks (auditions, tryouts, presentations)

I will focus on performance-based tasks in my next blog.

For project-based tasks, It is important to make a list of every step to complete at the outset. This may include:

  • Getting, reading and clarifying all instructions
  • Marking down the due date
  • Figuring out what materials/resources are needed and where they can be found
  • Reading/researching necessary background information
  • Creating notes on research
  • Rough draft of written component
  • Rough draft of visual component
  • Feedback/ compare work to checklist of criteria
  • Revisions
  • Good copy

The next step involves creating realistic time frames for each step. A calendar in a high visibility place is helpful for this.

The final step to the planning, is actually writing down positive self-talk next to each step, as there may be a history or negative self-talk in their project survival experience. It is important that they read their pre-planned self-talk before beginning that step, as they may feel overwhelmed whenever they begin to work. Below is an example of what steps with self-talk might look like:

  • Getting, reading and clarifying all instructions (I understand what to do, and that is good for today)
  • Figuring out what materials/resources are needed and where they can be found (I know what I need and where to get it. I am ready to get started)
  • Reading/researching necessary background information (I am becoming an expert on my topic. I am in control)
  • Creating notes on research (I understand what is most relevant in my research because I have done the work)
  • Rough draft of written component (I am through the toughest part. Still in control)
  • Rough draft of visual component (I am through the toughest part. Still in control)
  • Feedback/compare work to checklist of criteria (I am so organized that I can double check with confidence and accept feedback in the spirit in which it is intended)
  • Revisions (I am making good work even better. Full control)
  • Good copy (I did this and I am proud, regardless of the mark)

Now there is having a plan, and then there is using it. I also work with students who are not in stress management and who feel overwhelmed when it comes to getting through work. A shorter, simpler system that can be applied to any work task is as follows:

  • Communication: What does the teacher/parent / EA need to know that they may not know (little computer access at home, degree of extracurricular commitments)
  • Daily tracking of work (in an agenda, online on Google Classroom or teacher website, homework board in class)
  • Awareness of where you should be in a project at any given point (see above or ask the teacher when needed)
  • If you fall behind, what are your options for catching up? (homework club, recess indoors, block time at home)

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  • Post the 4 steps on the fridge or high traffic area, or child’s work area
  • Work with the child to establish a regular time and space for work (limited distractions, comfortable, reasonable time frame)
  • Post large wall calendar with due dates and have child mark off each step to work completion plan
  • Encourage the child to give themselves small rewards when each step is completed

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