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The planning/prioritizing skill is the ability to manage current and future task demands by deciding on a goal and a plan to achieve it.

Children with poor planning and prioritizing skills may have trouble understanding which parts of a task or project are more important and the sequence in which it is best completed. They don’t use a planner, make an outline before writing a paper or starting a more complex task, and often forget to turn in work. They tend to leave work until the last moment and have difficulty getting through everything in time.

Planning and prioritizing skills mean that a child is able to make plans for future extracurricular activities or successfully carry out a long-term project at school. The most important concepts are the setting of specific and measurable goals, formulating a “contract” with your child in terms of schedule and incentives, and monitoring her progress. In this way, she will not only be motivated to invest effort, but learn how to list all her required tasks, estimate accurately how long each will take to complete, and determine their relative priorities. Planning and prioritizing is all about being able to schedule tasks to ensure that everyone gets done in time.

What do I do to help my child improve his/her planning/prioritizing skill?

Select one or two issues that your child have that relate to daily planning and prioritizing tasks. Maybe she does not plan homework beforehand, does not check work when completed, or does not schedule multiple tasks according to priority and time available. Define the issues that need improvement as specific as possible, noting the frequency, severity, and consequences. Also, consider whether there is a common antecedent or trigger, what the typical situation is and who is involved. Formulate a goal for each issue. Break it up into smaller goals if possible.

Before you start with the intervention, sit down with your child and explain the problem, process, and importance of achieving the goals that you have set. Ask your child for input in setting goals and plans for improvement. Make her feel empowered in the process. The ability to properly plan and prioritize is improved through a structured process that involves breaking a task down into smaller manageable parts, setting an objective and deadline for each, and scheduling what needs to be done in order of importance and deadlines. When such a routine is mastered, the improvements should be easily noticeable.

The following process can be used to improve your child’s organizing and prioritizing skills:

After setting a specific objective with goal(s), identify the supports needed to help achieve the target. Examples are parental support, Internet access, extra materials, etc. to plan and execute a school project.

  1. Sit down with your child and make a list of all the steps required to complete the project. Assess and agree on the difficulty of each step on a scale of 1 – 10.
  2. If any step is above a 5, discuss how it can be made easier, for instance by breaking it down into smaller steps.
  3. Decide on a start date/time and deadline for the completion of each step.
  4. Discuss a cue to be used as reminder and tracking of progress, e.g. diary, or wall calendar.
  5. Decide on incentives for completing each step on time, or ahead of time, e.g. points to convert to a fun activity, desirable object, or money.
  6. Regularly monitor and discuss progress, additional support that may be needed, and make adjustments to improve the process where necessary.

Again, remember to monitor your child’s progress and provide feedback on a regular basis.