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Managing Impulsivity

Children are naturally impulsive to some degree—this is due to the fact that the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, is not yet fully developed. In fact, it is not until one’s mid-twenties that the prefrontal cortex reaches full development and maturation. While we educators see varying degrees of impulsivity regularly in the classroom, one main calling card of students with ADHD is a tendency to be impulsive to a larger degree and/or more frequently. As we slowly transition back into classrooms for in-person instruction, children will undoubtedly and understandably be excited and eager to interact. However, it will be just as important as ever to set expectations and utilize strategies that help students monitor and manage their impulsivity.

 

Important things to consider

When it comes to ADHD, it is extremely important to remember that this disorder impacts the way the brain works. This means that hasty or involuntary levels of response are not solely a behavioral deficit; students’ brains are actually hard-wired to react immediately. More importantly, no level of scolding or punishment will help to curb these impulses to act out or speak out. Reprimanding a student with ADHD for a behavior that he or she cannot fully control is not only wrong, but damaging. Therefore, teachers, as much as possible, should control their own impulses when reacting to students who yell out or behave rashly.

 

Another important consideration is the fact that students who are impulsive do not always register or recognize that they are being impulsive. They are often unaware of the disturbance or disrespect that their inadvertent outbursts demonstrate to others. Due to this unawareness, it may be helpful to try a tally chart for one day as a way to show your student the frequency of his/her disruptions. Pose this practice gently—the tally practice should not feel like as though you are trying to show them how “bad” they are. Reassure your student that this is a way to recognize our impulsivity and work to curb it with time and patience. Here’s how it should work: ask your student to estimate how many times he/she calls out during the course of a school day. Then ask him to mark a tally each time he notices that he has spoken out of turn or yelled out; you will keep your own tally as well. At the end of the day, return to the original estimate and ask whether the student still agrees with that original estimation. Then compare tally marks and discuss how or why you two may have come up with a different number of tallies. Is it because you both have differing interpretations of what is classified as “calling out?” Or does your student not always recognize when he is calling out? Again, this is meant to be an open discussion about how we can improve—not a scolding session. 

 

It is important again to lead with understanding and compassion. This is not a conversation to place blame or highlight the student’s struggles. Instead, this is meant to open up a dialogue between teacher and student about how both parties can implement strategies for a more positive classroom environment. Consider also asking the student the following questions:

  • Where in the classroom do you believe you would be most successful and focused?
  • Is there a subtle hand signal or gesture that we could use as a reminder to raise your hand before shouting out?
  • Would a small/discrete sticky note on your desk with participation protocol be a helpful reminder?
  • How many times today do you think you participated using the appropriate protocol vs. calling out?
  • Do you appreciate positive praise in front of others or do you prefer positive feedback privately?

Essential Building Blocks for Reading Comprehension, Part II

As mentioned in part one, much of the reason that young learners might struggle with reading comprehension is the fact that the process involves a compilation of other complex skills. Such foundational skills necessary for children to begin to master reading comprehension include: fluency, phonemic awareness, accessing prior knowledge/making connections, vocabulary, syntactical rules/conventions, working memory, and attentiveness. 

 

Vocabulary Strategies

  • Instruct children about specific vocabulary terms, but make sure that the new words are connected to something they are currently reading, seeing, hearing, or learning about. It is important to avoid teaching vocabulary “in a vacuum.” Vocabulary words taught at random or with little context or connectivity to prior knowledge is not likely to make it into a child’s lexicon.
  • Preteach new vocabulary terms by relating them to concepts and terms that your child already knows. Then, when she encounters the word in a text, she will have prior exposure to the word and some sense of understanding.
  • Utilize root word instruction and practices. This might include creating root word charts with examples, opposite T-charts, visual word tree trunks with various prefixes and suffixes. Practice making new or nonexistent words using roots as a silly way to grasp root word meanings.
  • Use synonyms casually when speaking to your child.
  • Create a word web wall and add to the web as you make connections between new words.
  • Emphasize context clues while reading aloud; model how to actively engage with new words by making comments like, “I wonder what this might mean in the sentence given the surrounding information…”

 

Syntax Rules and Conventions

  • Ask your child to rearrange the words in the sentence, but maintain the same meaning. For example, given the sentence “You can watch a show after you have finished your homework.” Your child should rephrase by saying something like, “You must finish your homework before you can watch a show.”
  • Demonstrate different ways in which sentences can be combined, separated, or punctuated. The key is to show them that, even with variations in sentence structure, the phrases mean the same thing.
  • Model the process of summarizing a short excerpt or sentence. Then explain how paraphrasing is slightly different. Practice this process aloud together.
  • Exaggerate the purpose of punctuation while reading aloud to emphasize each punctuation mark’s function. 
  • Provide examples of how punctuation can drastically change the underlying meaning of a sentence. One favorite example is, “Let’s eat, Grandma!” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma!”
  • Find fill-in-the-blank reading options, where children are provided with word banks or suggestions on each page, but must use the context of the story to correctly complete each missing word.

 

Working Memory and Attention Strategies

  • Purposefully chunk down larger sections of text while reading aloud. Then ask clarifying questions or practice summarizing the section before moving to the next passage or chunk.
  • Ask your child to make predictions while reading to practice recalling and utilizing details that have already been mentioned in the text.
  • Plan for engaging questions while reading. Parents should preview the text and think about ways in which to connect the details to other aspects of a child’s life. Ask critical thinking questions as well, such as, “Why do you think the character did that?” “What do you think she meant when she said…?” “How would you have reacted differently if you were in the story?”
  • Sketch a visual timeline of events while reading. This doesn’t have to be a detailed, moment-by-moment recollection; you can use bullet points on sticky notes, a small white board, or index cards with events 1-3 on them. Be sure to deliberately emphasize the use of transition words, especially when focusing on chronological summaries.
  • Listen to an audio version of the text while following along with the physical book.
  • When reading together, once you reach the bottom of a page, ask your child which detail stands out to her the most. If she’s unable to recall a significant detail, encourage rereading.
  • Remove all distractions while reading, including background noise, cell phones/screens, etc. You can also find texts with larger print, reduced text per page, and print with extra space between paragraphs to help children visually focus on one aspect of the text at a time.

Parents as Advocates: Tackling Dyslexia

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month—31 days dedicated to building community awareness about learning disabilities in an effort to provide supports for all children. As important as awareness is, however, parents whose children suffer from dyslexia are plenty aware of the struggles their children face on a day-to-day basis. That is why another “A” word can be even more powerful for families—advocacy.

 

No one knows your child better than you do. Keep this in mind when advocating for your child’s needs. In parents’ efforts not to come across as a “helicopter parent,” they sometimes assume it is in their child’s best interest to follow the expert’s lead, avoid making waves, and be passively agreeable. They do not want to be the bulldog. These fears are common, but that doesn’t make them true.

 

You are your child’s greatest advocate, and here’s how to accomplish that:

 

  • Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, our nation’s special education law, children and their parents or guardians are guaranteed certain protections and rights. Once identified as having a qualifying disability, schools are legally required to provide special education services to your child. Also under IDEA, the law provides parents with something called procedural safeguards, which are put in place so that parents are aware of and have a voice in every aspect of their child’s special education evaluation and IEP process. As part of the process, the school must provide you with documentation and explanation of your rights—STUDY UP ON THESE DOCUMENTS. It is commonplace for IEP meetings to move quickly, with a “sign here if you don’t have any questions” style of rapid wrap-up. It is your job to closely review these documents and to seek clarification before signing anything.
  • Another best practice for advocacy that goes hand in hand with knowing your child’s legal rights is to stay organized. Keep a binder of all necessary documentation regarding your child’s diagnosis and any other evaluative documents that you accumulate as you work through the process. Items such as test results, doctor’s notes and recommendations, educator’s observations, report cards, writing samples, and any data concerning your child’s academic skills should be kept for future reference. The binder keeps essential documents organized and acts as a paper trail of progress and correspondence among your child’s team.
  • It is also essential for parents to be fully prepared for special education meetings. Because of this, the binder’s benefits are two-fold: paper trail and parent playbook [or however you want to define the two benefits]. Of all members of your child’s academic team, you are the person that knows him best, so your seat at the table matters most. Advocating for your child means preparing questions ahead of time and speaking up if they aren’t answered clearly. Meetings tend to move quickly, so request an additional meeting if you haven’t gotten clear answers. Do not assume that the team will automatically clarify for you, so be prepared to ask follow-up questions if needed.
  • The binder is also a great resource for you to use for note taking during IEP or 504 meetings. Not only will you have your own notes to refer back to after the meeting, but the process of taking notes shows that you are actively listening and invested in your child’s special education services. When parents demonstrate this level of involvement and support, it’s the child who benefits.
  • Another helpful advocacy move is to email a summary of the main discussion points that you took away from the meeting afterwards. This keeps everyone on the same page regarding the decisions that were discussed and allows you to share your own perception of how the meeting went. If anything is unclear, your email will start that conversation and provide clarification. In that email, ask about a follow-up meeting so that dates can be arranged and any other necessary steps can be taken.
  • Speak to teachers about your expectations, your child’s expectations, and the school’s expectations. This will prevent any miscommunication and unfortunate surprises. When setting expectations for your child’s success, it is important to be honest, positive, and realistic about the growth that you’d like to see. It will be difficult, but as much as possible, remain unemotional and unbiased about the feedback that you get from your child’s teachers and other professionals—cool heads prevail.

Building Resilience in Trying Times

The current Coronavirus pandemic is like nothing we have seen before. We as a society are essentially constructing the track as this train barrels along, which can be unnerving, to say the least. For families with children, the burden may fall even harder in the midst of this global crisis. One tinge of a silver lining, however, is the resilience that will come as a result of persevering through these difficult circumstances.

 

Instead of ruminating on the issues…

Try free writing for 10-15 minutes every day. This form of expression is proven to alleviate stress and anxiety, much like meditation. Expressive writing gives us the opportunity to sit with our thoughts and work through our emotions on paper. Additionally, this process encourages us to work through a difficult time by reclaiming some sense of power—writing allows us to feel a sense of control over how we choose to react in written form.

 

Expressive writing is also a platform for reflection. Through writing, we are able to take time to come to grips with the struggles around us and consider how we can enact change, even if it’s just change within our own attitude or outlook. Finally, expressive writing provides a record of trials and tribulations—later on, if another crisis arises, it provides a resource of strength for us to refer back to for guidance.

 

Instead of wallowing in despair or perseverating over what we’re missing…

Acknowledge the current circumstances and practice acceptance of what we cannot control. It is easy for children and teens to feel as though this health crisis is single handedly ruining many aspects of their lives—socially, emotionally, academically, romantically, psychologically, etc. They may feel as though life is on hold during this pandemic. However, resilience comes from confronting and overcoming hardships. Therefore, learning to accept the hardships or obstacles is the first step in building this level of grit and resilience. As the saying goes, “We must accept the things we cannot change and find courage to change whatever is within our control.”

 

Instead of focusing on the negative…

Help children build resilience by emphasizing gratitude. It is easy to become bogged down in trying times, especially when an unparalleled global crisis is occurring. However, by prioritizing the positive and examining all of the good happening around us, we begin to recognize our strength.

 

Are playdates out of the question? Yes. Is graduation up in the air? Yes. Is prom likely cancelled? Yes. But is your family taken care of? Do you have your immediate needs met? Are you healthy? Are there other people suffering more right now? YES. Resilience and gratitude tend to go hand in hand because, through this crisis, we will learn that we’re stronger than we thought, and we have this strength to be thankful for.

 

Instead of falling into a rut…

Use this difficult time as an opportunity to do things there was not time for in the past. Parents can help bolster a new sense of discovery for their children by encouraging new or abandoned hobbies. Learn a new language, help work on the car, explore which vegetables would thrive in the yard, write poetry, watch cooking competitions, pick up an old guitar, foster a pet. The list continues as far as we can imagine. It is up to parents to encourage new ways of learning, engaging, and experiencing the world during this time of great uncertainty. Resilience can be cultivated by keeping busy—but it is up to us to choose how we use this time.

 

Gender Distinctions on the Spectrum

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), boys are diagnosed with autism at a much higher rate than girls. In fact, for every four boys diagnosed, only one girl will be diagnosed. There are many theories as to why this is the case, but one claim that is agreed upon by experts is that girls’ symptoms tend to be much more subtle and are therefore disregarded or overlooked. Instead of seeing certain tendencies and behaviors as potential symptoms of autism, parents often consider these behaviors to be minor “quirks” which their daughter may outgrow. While every child is different and autism presents in a variety of ways regardless of gender, there are known commonalities that specifically present in girls on the autism spectrum.

For girls, autism symptoms tend to revolve more around communication and socialization, as opposed to boys, who often present with more obvious symptoms related to impulsivity and repetitive outbursts. Furthermore, typical gender norms indicate that girls are often more content to play by themselves or engage in sustained quiet time on their own, as opposed to boys who prefer camaraderie and peer play. That said, a boy who withdraws from peers and fails to meet standard social benchmarks would draw more attention than a girl with the same social impediments simply due to society’s expectations of gender norms. Again, this is why many experts believe that autism diagnoses in girls are delayed or sometimes overlooked completely.

Similarly, since girls tend to mature earlier than their male counterparts, their level of self-awareness and social cues tend to be further developed as well. Because of this, girls on the autism spectrum may be more inclined to study others’ behaviors and react accordingly, almost learning how to mask their social struggles by observing others. Meanwhile, boys may miss cues altogether and therefore receive a diagnosis earlier on.

An additional concern for girls with autism is the fact that they can be especially naive to the world around them. They may experience difficulties in social situations or misread social cues, which often leads to instances of bullying or harassment. This naïveté can make it difficult to discern another’s tone or intentions and can cause them to become even more isolated from their peer group. A girl on the autism spectrum may not realize that her interests are not shared by other girls, but will insist on driving the conversation or focus to her specific interest. Again, this can cause friction with peers since the child may not fully understand why others are rolling their eyes, ignoring her, or outright dismissing her.

Finally, girls with autism may experience specific “obsessions” just as boys do; however, with age, parents might notice that her interests do not evolve as would be expected. Often times, an obsession becomes more noticeable as the child gets older because the interest is markedly different from the typical girls her age. For instance, instead of developing an interest in nail polish or drawing, a girl with autism might obsess over toy horses or stickers even as she begins to go through puberty. These seemingly immature interests can also contribute to social issues at school, such as bullying or isolation by peers.

Combating School Refusal: Part II

In Part I, we discussed that school refusal involves more than stubborn non-compliance and cutting school to spend time with friends. School refusal stems from psychological stressors that, for whatever reason, are triggered by the school environment. While school refusal can be a result of many different factors from child to child, there are universally effective strategies that families can utilize.

Managing School Refusal

  • Ask your child why he or she is anxious about going to school. This conversation must come from a calm and understanding place—you cannot show frustration, anger, disappointment, or judgment when seeking to understand the underlying issues. Let children know that you support them by legitimizing their concerns, but that you need to know where their nerves are coming from in order to help. Ask whether this began with an isolated incident with a teacher or peer, or if the triggers are truly unknown.
  • Talk to the school about what is going on. School refusal becomes a bigger issue when teachers are left in the dark. When the school is aware of the underlying anxieties that a student might be dealing with, they will take extra precautions to make sure the student is handled with “kid gloves” during his or her time at school. The school can also help to manage the student’s workload if he or she is missing major assignments due to stress and anxiety about coming to school. On occasion, the school might recommend a half-day or partial schedule so that the student is receiving important instruction in small doses. The school can also work to arrange supports for parents who may be looking into an IEP or 504 plan to ensure accommodations are provided.
  • Plan for small successes and occasional setbacks when your child makes it to school. The anxieties will never dissipate overnight, so it is normal for a child to try to attend school, but then become overwhelmed and ask to go home. This is okay. As a parent, you want to make sure you’re acknowledging your child’s effort and bravery for attempting something that you know is difficult and scary. The process of re-entering school on a regular schedule isn’t going to be swift. Therefore, your best move is to celebrate the small steps and gently encourage them to move forward with their progress.
  • Consider hiring a tutor to help manage the workload that is accumulating due to your child’s frequent absences. The tutor can also, with your permission, act as a liaison between the school and home to ensure that academic goals are being met. The mounting workload can make students even more anxious because they know that, when they return to school, they’ll be confronted with a pile of work. This can make for a never-ending issue of avoiding school because of the stress of all the work from missing school in the first place. The tutor can work with your child in the comfort of your home and help to manage the assignments and tasks, while also providing 1:1 instruction for skills that are necessary for meeting grade-level objectives.

Combating School Refusal Fact vs. Fiction

Whining and groaning about going to school is bound to happen from time to time. Children will undoubtedly have a few instances when they beg to stay home from school for one reason or another. Other students may skip the parental piece altogether and skip school without adult permission. While both of these issues can be problematic, they do not fall under the more severe issue of school refusal.

Fact: Experts estimate that anywhere from 2-5% of school-age children develop this level of refusal because of deeper emotional issues at play. This non-compliant behavior can develop out of depression and/or anxiety, and sometimes a combination of both disorders.

Fiction: Some people believe that school refusal encompasses any case where a child refuses to attend school; however, it is more complicated than that. School refusal is not the same thing as truancy, where students decide to skip certain classes or ditch school altogether without their parents’ knowledge. A student who is routinely truant is avoiding school in favor of some other desired alternative. Whereas a student who is refusing to go to school is doing so out of emotional distress associated with being in school. Similarly, a child who feigns illness to avoid a math test, for instance, does not fall under the same category as a student who adamantly refuses to attend school because of unexplained dread or apprehension.

Fact: School refusal is a response to or an attempt to alleviate or avoid the trigger—school—by refusing to attend. For students with social anxiety, separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, or depressive disorders, the school environment can exacerbate symptoms and create added distress. Incidents of bullying, the desire to be the perfect student, negative peer influences, and other emotional trauma associated with the school environment can also contribute to school refusal, but it does not happen overnight. School refusal is often a last resort or “breaking point” for children who have been experiencing pent up anxiety and/or depression for an extended period of time. When other strategies and methods for managing stress have failed, their last resort is to avoid stressors altogether by staying home from school.

Fiction: Contrary to popular opinion, school refusal does not occur out of nowhere in one fell swoop. There are known behaviors or signs leading up to outright refusal that occur systematically beforehand. It is important for parents to recognize these patterns and intervene early:

  • Children may begin by intentionally oversleeping several days or weeks in a row to prolong their time at home before leaving for school.
  • They may make numerous trips to the nurse with complaints about chronic, unexplained pain or injuries that are not visible, such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, muscle strains, or heart palpitations. Often times these ailments, while they may seem fictional or feigned, are actual physical responses to the anxiety that the child is experiencing—they are not necessarily “faking” the symptoms.
  • Children may also continuously call or text parents from school asking to be picked up for early dismissal. Often times they will claim that they are too sick to finish out the day. While this may be true on occasion, the likelihood is that the anxiety/depression has reached a threshold where the child feels that escaping from school will be the only solution.

Unfortunately, caving to these requests for partial school days will only create further issues with school avoidance. Intervention is required to address the core triggers and help these children to cope with their feelings of anxiety and depression within the school environment.

Look for strategies for intervening and managing behaviors related to school refusal in part II!

Use Student Work to Increase Motivation

I, like many others, fondly remember the pride I felt when I walked into the classroom and saw my work hanging up on the wall. Aside from the glittery star stickers and “great job!” written in impossibly perfect teacher handwriting, the notion that my hard work was good enough to be hung on display was exceptionally satisfying. For me, that instance of recognition went a long way in terms of motivation—it solidified the belief that my effort and success mattered to someone other than myself.

As educators, we can also foster this mindset for our students. Beyond displaying student work, teachers can utilize numerous instructional strategies to highlight this work in the classroom.

Error of the day

This is one of my personal favorites because, as a self-proclaimed math loather, this exercise helps to illuminate the value of our math errors. Also, from a teacher’s perspective, the activity takes minimal prep time.

  • Teacher will provide students with a daily warm-up sheet that includes one math problem. The question should relate to a unit concept that the teacher has already taught, as to avoid discouraging students with an unfamiliar math problem.
  • Teacher will collect and sort the warm-ups into two piles: correct answers and incorrect answers, with the intent to choose an incorrect example with a common or understandable error. (Often times, these common errors are made by several students.)
  • Using a Promethean document camera, or by taking a photo of the student sample and projecting it on the board, the teacher will display a student’s incorrect warm-up. Be careful NOT to show the student’s name; the point is to highlight a common error and explain it without embarrassing anyone.
  • The teacher will use the sample to go through the problem step by step, carefully hinting at where the student took a misstep.
  • It is important that the teacher help students dissect not only where the error occurred, but also the thinking behind that error.
  • After the collaborative error analysis, the teacher should thank the anonymous student for his contribution, specifically mentioning how errors allow for growth.

Writing samples

A great way to celebrate student writing, while also discussing an essay’s strengths and weaknesses, is to ask students to create a scrap essay using various paragraphs from multiple students’ essays. The activity would look something like this:

  • After collecting essays, teacher would identify strong examples of intro paragraphs, body paragraphs, and concluding paragraphs.
  • Without labeling the samples or leaving any written feedback yet, the teacher would crop the essays into separate paragraphs and distribute them to small groups.
  • Collaboratively, students would piece together an exemplary essay using the student sample paragraphs.
  • Ideally, the puzzle-pieced essays would include multiple students’ work.
  • The activity could be extended by having students then analyze the various strengths of each group’s newly constructed essay using the assignment rubric.

Connect with parents

Another underutilized way to celebrate student work and increase motivation is to snap a quick picture of the student’s work or project and email the photo to parents. In this instance, teachers will want to be sure that the assignment has been graded and includes positive written feedback. This allows parents the opportunity to see exactly why this work sample was exemplary. Of course, any positive parent contact helps to motivate students. However, taking the extra step to display the great work to parents can go a long way.

Organization Part I

Getting organized is one thing—staying organized is an entirely different story for some people. Many “type-B” folks, myself included, focus more on the whole picture, but fail to give much time or energy to the finite details to get to that end goal. The lack of these skills can prove to be a real hinderance to productivity and success; however, there are many ways to improve organization during this busy time of year.

  • For regularly-occurring tasks, like picking out outfits, showering, doing homework, or packing lunch,
    complete the tasks at the same time, in the same order every day to avoid getting distracted or missing a step. For instance, when a teen packs his gym bag, he should follow the same process every time, putting socks with sneakers, T-shirts or necessary uniforms, etc. You are less likely to forget an essential item if you’ve developed a routine for packing.
  • To maintain even more organization, decide which tasks can be accomplished in the morning versus those that should be done the night before. For example, picking outfits out the night before will avoid the last-minute manic search for “that one particular shirt” that may still be in the dirty clothes pile.
  • For those of us that are especially forgetful, it could be beneficial to use a checklist or personal reminder of necessary items for the day. With many children and teens carrying smartphones, one advantage of being dialed in at all times is that calendar apps and push notifications can help keep everyone abreast of the day’s activities. Parents can even help by setting recurring reminders of important things that occur daily or weekly on their child’s phone. Then, syncing everyone’s Google calendars makes everything that much more organized.
  • Placing essential things for school by the door the night before will reduce think-time and anxiety in the morning. It also helps to ensure that the item makes it to school by having to physically step over it or pass it on the way out the door in the morning. This is especially helpful when items are not the usual day-to-day necessities. For example, a talent show costume or lacrosse stick has a way better chance of making it to school if it’s hung by the front door than if it’s stashed upstairs in the closet.
  • Plan for and maintain an organized work space. For some, the kitchen table is best, while others do better studying on the Whatever the preference, establish an environment that is easy to access, free from distractions, has a flat surface for working, has space for books/materials, allows for charging a computer if necessary, and has ample light.
  • When working on homework or projects, an organizational technique that many overlook is to arrange all necessary materials up front before starting to study. This not only acts as a visual reminder of what needs to be accomplished, but it also ensures that focus is not broken by having to dig through a book bag or desk to find something.
  • Parents can assist with keeping students organized by making sure all necessary materials are in the workspace. All school materials should be in the room and out of the book bag. All homework should be taken out and organized on a flat surface by priority and due date. Additionally, for nights when many assignments are to be completed, an agenda is highly recommended and should be placed within eyesight.

Phones and other technology devices should be out of reach and out of sight to avoid any unnecessary distractions. The calculator app on a computer should be used instead of the phone to avoid the temptation of reaching for the phone and getting sidetracked.

Tips for Time Management

Regardless of a student’s eventual career path, time management skills are bound to be a necessity. The ability to manage one’s time is sometimes a skill acquired from trial and error, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Students don’t need to miss a deadline in order to learn better time management skills for next time—it is all about proactivity and planning.

Track your time

We typically experience the stress that accompanies a time crunch when we have allowed necessary tasks to pile up. Instead of continuing the cramming and crashing cycle, bad habits involving procrastination can be broken by familiarizing ourselves with our own pace of work and following a schedule based on those timeframes. Therefore, being aware of and proactive about your workload is the best defense against procrastination.

  • Identify your weekly or regularly occurring tasks; any long term project or ongoing task should be listed.
  • For a week, track the exact amount of time that each task requires on a daily basis, including a 10-minute buffer for miscellaneous interruptions.
  • After tracking for the week, identify a rough average for the amount of time each task takes per night. Include a 20 to 40-minute cushion for nights that you know a task might require more time.
  • Use this as a guide for planning the week’s homework time, including time for studying and/or reading.
  • Establish an approximate dinner time and set bedtime, especially for younger children, which can help families manage the schedule and stick to allotted times for weekly tasks.
  • When extracurricular activities, family events, doctors appointments, etc., come into the picture, the approximate allotted time for homework and projects helps to configure the rest of the week’s schedule, almost like a jigsaw puzzle.

Rules of Thumb

  • Encourage children not to spend more than 30 minutes on an assignment—if an assignment takes more time, parents should document how long it took to complete and what made it time consuming.
  • Extended time spent on homework may be something worth discussing with the teacher, especially for children with an IEP or 504 plan.
  • Take short breaks every 20-30 minutes while working to maintain motivation.
  • Identify an incentive that will occupy you for a limited time (no more than 5 minutes, such as a short video clip, song, timed game).
  • Break frequency and length may vary depending on frustration level, time on task, and work
  • A short walk to get some water, use the bathroom, or take a stretch may be necessary and more beneficial for those who struggle with resetting their focus after a break; keep the breaks short to maintain a level
    of focus.
  • Avoid skipping around from assignment to assignment until you’ve fully completed something or have come to a reasonable stopping point.