Task initiation is the ability to start a task or activity without prompt from others by independently generating ideas, responses, and strategies.
A child with weak task initiation skills may delay a task because they do not know where to begin or is dependent on a parent or teacher to provide aids or cues for the first step. They may not understand instructions properly, remember it, or simply do not feel motivated enough to start tasks and assignments on their own.
Having trouble to get energized and started on a task that is uninspiring or uninteresting is a common problem. They will need constant reminders to start, wait for someone else to take the initiative, or delay completing a preceding task. Not being able to start a task promptly not only affects performance and completion on the specific task, but time management, planning, and prioritizing as a whole. Appreciating the importance or goal or an activity motivates the child to focus and initiate it.
What do I do to help my child improve her/his task initiation skill?
Select one or two examples that your child exhibit regarding difficulty to initiate or start a task. Consider the context such as interest, motivation, difficulty level, and time pressure. 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 him or her feel empowered in the process. Improving your child’s ability to initiate a task is mostly affected by his/her understanding of the task, remembering what needs to be done, breaking complex tasks into smaller parts. These will make him/her feel more motivates and self-confident.
There are several steps to take to teach and reinforce task initiation every day.
- Reinforce task initiation by praising and rewarding your child every time s/he starts a task right after being asked or at the scheduled time. You can use a point system that the child can accumulate and redeem for something desirable later.
- Provide your child with a visual reminder of a task such as a written note on the kitchen table or fridge. Ask him/her how they would prefer to be reminded, such as an alarm or timer, note, associated event, etc. Encourage him/her to write her own reminders in a diary or on sticky notes.
- Use the mastery learning technique by breaking larger tasks into smaller, more manageable units that can be taken on separately.
- Ask your child to plan how and when a task will be done. As a result, s/he will feel more owner-ship of the process.
Remember to communicate regularly and monitor your child’s progress.
What comes next?
In the final session, session 9, we look at the need for good communication and a stable family environment to support a child to manage the effects of a mental illness and improve his or her executive functioning skills.