Develop Problem-Solving Skills
“Plan A” and “Plan B” Flexibility
Your child procrastinates or feels anxious about starting lengthy projects. Or, your child gets derailed by unexpected wrinkles in the plan, like a dead laptop battery or misplaced assignment directions. As a result, your child fails to bring his vision for a project to completion or fails to demonstrate his true knowledge and ability.
Teenagers occasionally have difficulty finishing a long-term assignment because they are juggling other schoolwork or because a particular assignment seems overwhelming to them. But chronic struggles with planning and following through on long-term assignments can signal that your teenager is still struggling to develop a problem-solving ability.
Problem-solving is a key executive function: a skill that helps us execute daily tasks.
Solution: Devising a “Plan A” and a “Plan B”
Your child should write down two different plans for getting a long-term assignment accomplished. This forces your child to recognize and manage pressing needs in different ways — and before they are actually upon her causing her stress. The advance practice helps her to later shift to a different approach if needed. Your child learns problem-solving skills by harnessing and developing her flexibility.
Don’t do this: Ask your child to get her research paper done early so she’s not up the entire night before it’s due.
Do this instead: Ask her to sit down and write up Plan A and Plan B for getting the work done. If the paper is due in two weeks, your child should write down her plans for the week according to Plan A (what will ideally happen), and then write up her back-up Plan B for that same week. At the end of the week, she can write the next week’s set of plans until the assignment is due.
Maybe in Plan A she brings her computer to her sister’s all day recital to work on the paper during downtime. She also chooses to DVR her favorite show to watch it after she completes her assignment. In Plan B, if she wasn’t able to work on the paper during the recital she agrees to ask her coach if she can leave a practice early.
Remember: Successfully completing a project is a complex task. It doesn’t just depend on your child’s vision and talent — it depends on managing conflicts and being flexible about the plan that’s been put in place to get work done.
It is perfectly normal for children to experience some degree of difficulty and frustration as they learn to execute new tasks. Toddlers can tantrum, school-aged children can yell and argue, and teenagers can ignore instructions. When deciding if executive function weaknesses require intervention, ask yourself: “How frequently is this occurring? How intense is the experience/significant the impact?” If your answer to these questions is “too much,” “too often,” “I don’t know what to do to change this,” or “it’s only getting worse,” you may benefit from a face-to-face conversation to help problem-solve your concern. Effective problem solving will help you clearly identify the problem, goal, steps it will take to achieve your goal, possible barriers, and available supports.