For teachers and parents, it can often be frustrating watching a child meander around when there is important work to be done. Sometimes, kids are having a hard time stopping one activity to begin another, and sometimes, they just plain don’t want to DO what they need to do. But it is important to recognize that GETTING STARTED, known as an Executive Function Skills of “Initiation” or “Activation”, is a skill that sometimes needs to be developed and supported.
When you have a student who has a hard time beginning their work without undue procrastination, there are a few things to consider before you can intervene.
Is he having trouble STOPPING the current activity?
Is he confident in his ability to tackle the expected work?
Is he fully aware of HOW he is supposed to do the work?
Does he have signal or routine where he tells himself THIS IS THE MOMENT when he must begin?
Often, the student himself may not be fully cognizant of what is getting in the way. This is where your guidance and support can make a tremendous difference. You might begin by engaging the student where he is with a neutral, non-judgmental statement of observation: “I notice you are… (working on your math, playing with your blocks, just hanging out)”. This personal connection can help you more easily signal that it’s time to transition. You might gently inquire, “Are you having a hard time stopping what you are doing?” If so, you can offer guidance regarding HOW, WHEN, and WHERE to stop. You can also check in and see if the student is clear about what to do and if they feel prepared and comfortable with the expectation.
As for GETTING STARTED, here are a few tips that can help your student (if they do feel capable and knowledgeable about the WHAT that is required of them):
Help the student do the first step – sometimes they just need to gather momentum and your presence at the beginning can help.
Help the student develop a short routine that signals to him – “It’s start time”. This can be setting up the desk, setting a timer, doing 5 jumping jacks, etc.
Have the student set a timer at an agreed upon time to signal, “It’s start time”.
If possible, help the student anticipate how long the activity will last so that they get a sense that it Will End. Sometimes knowing an activity is finite makes it easier to get started.
GETTING STARTED is, well, just the beginning. Stay tuned for more insights, tips and strategies on helping kids develop their other Executive Function Skills.