Starting Homework

Develop Initiation Skills

Use a Timer

Your child consistently stalls on starting homework. He has a hard time starting any project, big or small. It’s not that he dislikes the specific starting point (the historical background of a term paper). Rather, he generally resists starting things at all. As a result, he is late finishing projects, fails to pursue goals, and falls behind in many areas of his life.

Most children resist or procrastinate from time to time when it comes to starting homework or a project. But chronic resistance that does not seem to improve as your child gets older might indicate that he is struggling to develop initiation skills. Initiation is one of our executive functions: the set of skills that let us execute daily tasks.

Solution: Timer

Using an old-fashioned kitchen timer to let your child know he’ll start his homework in five minutes gives him the graduated buildup toward the start time that he needs.

Don’t do this: Say, “put away the iPad and start your homework!”

Do this instead: “I’m going to put this timer right next to you." You have five more minutes to play your game. Also, external rewards can be a helpful addition when overcoming an initiation problem: You might say, “If you start your homework without being asked three nights in a row, we can get an ice cream Friday night.” Later, after a pattern of success, you can take away the external reward.

Remember: What looks like a lack of motivation is actually a cognitive weakness. But this weakness can be accommodated with a timer, which provides the gradual buildup your child needs. This approach is helpful when your child shows a general resistance to starting projects. If starting something new is intimidating (even though your child shows some excitement about a project — like a term paper — but stalls on starting), try suggesting he start in the middle of the paper. He can start at an action point and work backwards.

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.

Girl and boy smiling

What to Expect

You and your child or adolescent will meet with a pediatric neuropsychologist for approximately one hour. 

Teenage boy smiling

Executive Function Interventions

These interventions aim to create new habits that can sidestep or override a child’s cognitive challenges.

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