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Self-Regulation and Task Initiation Strategies


Students avoid work for a variety of reasons, some relating to level of difficulty issues or lack of interest and others due to learning differences or attention issues. Occasionally, however, capable and willing students struggle with the onset of assignments and are simply unable to get started. These students are challenged by task initiation.

Executive Function and Distractions

Executive function is a set of self-regulation skills that enable us to plan, organize and otherwise manage ourselves. Task initiation challenges are part of executive function issues that include difficulty with ignoring distractions.

If, for example, a student knows that an assignment must be completed before lunch, ignoring the chatter of his classmates and getting started on the work is an example of executive function use. Any type of brain difference involving the prefrontal cortex, the home of executive function, can present with distraction regulation challenges, resulting in task initiation problems. ADHD, learning differences and processing disorders are examples.

Strategies to Eliminate Distractions

Eliminate as many distractions as possible to help the off-task student. Observe and assess to see what the culprits are. Move the student to a quiet place away from classmates, and allow him to bring only the supplies necessary for the specific assignment. Create a visual reminder, such as a short list of instructions, to keep the student on task. Communicate with him to monitor and manage sensory distractions, and provide work prompts as needed.

Anxiety Regulation and Task Initiation

Anxiety can stop even the most capable from working. Perfectionism can be paralyzing and prevent a student from starting a task for fear of making a mistake. She might be worried about where to start, whether she understood the instructions, or if her work will be good enough. She has probably decided that if she doesn’t start, she won’t make a mistake.

Sometimes anxiety might not have anything to do with the task at hand but still be a distraction that prevents the student from starting. The complicating element to anxiety-related task initiation challenges is that not doing the work increases overall anxiety, which makes starting the work even more difficult.

Strategies to Eliminate Anxiety

Create an entry point for your anxious, work-resistant student: start the work with her and leave her with a tangible point to continue alone, such as a paragraph topic sentence. Try chunking to make an overwhelming project seem less intimidating.

Teach anxiety management strategies such as breathing exercises, self-monitoring and positive self-talk. Watch how you talk: saying “just try your best” to a child with perfectionism can be heard as “only your best will do.”

Identify the root cause of each student’s problems with task initiation in order to devise a relevant, child-specific remedy.

If your child struggles with processing sensory input or is already considered to have a processing disorder, contact us online or find a center near you to learn more about how the Brain Balance Program can help.

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