When Kids with ADHD avoid Starting Tasks what can Grown-ups do to Help?

(3 min read)

Task initiation is the ability to begin projects without undue procrastination, in an efficient or timely fashion (Smart but Scattered, Dawson and Guare). Task initiation is one of the executive skills in our brain – skills that help us execute, or perform, tasks. Kids with ADHD might need more practice and patience from those around them while they work to improve task initiation.

In the meantime the helpful grown-ups in the kid’s life can offer support of a variety of ways. We can learn to initiate calm and productive conversations to uncover what obstacles exist to starting a task. We can break tasks into smaller steps that seem more manageable for the kid.

Grown-ups can create a supportive environment where:

  • the kid can become more aware of why they avoid certain tasks,
  • the kid feels comfortable asking for help,
  • the kid is willing to experiment with different methods until they find the right fit.

Let’s explore some of the Learning Resources that I’ve created to see how they overlap with Task Initiation.

Jump to Homework, Chores, or Time Management.

Homework in Small Doses

Situation: Math Worksheet
What I know: the kid knows how to do the math
What I see: the kid clearly avoiding the worksheet and spinning around in the chair instead

After making some observations I began the conversation with a question. “Do you need help with this worksheet?”

Sometimes a kid has a hard time articulating the problem. Basic answers of, “I don’t want to do this.” follow. I needed to keep digging until we hit a specific obstacle, then we could create a solution.

This worksheet was very crowded and difficult to read. Visual overstimulation from too much text can make a person shut down and avoid the reading. I needed to un-crowd the worksheet. I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the worksheet into the individual problems (watch the video). Once the paper was split into visually smaller pieces the kid was able to read and focus on one math problem at a time. Scratch paper on the side provided a place to scribble out the work.

The math homework progressed because the kid could envision a clear path from start to finish.

Creating a Clear Plan for Chores

Situation: Dirty and Clean laundry spread around the floor of the room
What I know: the kid knows that the dirty laundry “should be” in the basket and the clean laundry “should be” put away
What I see: the lack of a process for the kid to manage the clothes

In order to create a process to manage clean and dirty laundry we must involve the kid in creating the process! When someone tries to micromanage us we usually feel defensive and want to justify that we know how to come up with good ideas. Well, kids can feel exactly the same way. We can help guide the kids to create a process because we can see the bigger picture (and have probably done the task many times ourselves).

I created the My Laundry Plan printable as an example of how to walk through a task with kids and let them map out all of the steps hey will do to get from Start to Finish.

Once a Plan was created the kid had ownership of the plan and knew the steps because they had helped to create them.

Time Management Practice

Situation: kids saying they are bored but you know they have a lot that they could and should be doing
What I know: there are “must dos” that need to happen, like schoolwork
What I see: the kids don’t know how to plan their time so they avoid all the work and do nothing

In this particular moment the kids were home trying to learn through virtual school on laptops. Some lessons were on live video calls and other lessons were pre-recorded and do “at your own pace.” The latter were the easiest for the kids to ignore or maybe not realize that they were required. And once all the lessons were done (or still being avoided) the kids were trying to entertain themselves. That also did not go so well as they were asking me multiple times, “What should I do?” and “Will you play with me?” All while I was trying to work. I felt empathetic but I needed a method for the kids to take control of their own schedule and not rely on me for all of the time management and decision-making.

I grabbed the index cards and went to the bulletin board. I wrote out various tasks and assigned time values based on my best guess (e.g., math lesson takes 30 minutes). If a task was really 60 minutes then we could duplicate the card and post it twice. I had a center column of index cards showing the time of day from 8:00 am onwards. The task cards for schoolwork and free time got pinned beside the “time of day” cards.

Just like building a puzzle or Legos, the kids were in charge of how to build their schedule (watch the video). I gave them the goals of getting the “must do” work done and determining how to spend their free time. In deciding how to build their schedule they were empowered to make decisions for themselves and knew I was not micromanaging or judging.

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