• Managing Tasks that Take Lots of Effort


    Executive Skills Needed:  1. Task Initiation, and 2. Sustained attention.

    Things to Think about:  

    There are two primary ways to make tasks that your child sees as taking a lot of effort less aversive to the child: First, cut down the amount of effort required, by making it briefer or easier, or Second, offer a large enough incentive that the child is willing to expend the effort required to get the reward. Examples of ways to do this are:

    1. Break the task down into very small parts, so that each part requires no more than 5 minutes. Allow your child to earn a small reward at the end of each part.
    2. Allow your child to decide how to break down the task. For example, make a list of homework activities or chores and let your child decide how much of each task will be done before he/she earns a break.
    3. Give your child something powerful to look forward to doing when the task is done. For instance, your child might earn 45 minutes of video game time for completing his nightly homework (and/or chores), without complaining, within a specified time frame, and with an agreed-on quality (such as making no more than one mistake on the math homework).
    4. Reward your child for being willing to tackle tasks that demand effort, You could, for example, draw up a chore list and have your child rate each chore for effort required. Then you could assign a larger reward (such as more video game time) for choosing to do the harder chores. It may be helpful to create a scale for effort—1 for the easiest tasks up to 10 for the hardest tasks you child could ever imagine doing. Once your child masters the use of the scale, you could work on thinking about how to turn a high-effort tsk (say, one rated 8-10) into a lower effort task 9one rated 3-4).


    If approaches such as these don’t help your child complete tough tasks without complaining, whining, crying, or otherwise resisting, you may want take a slower and more labor-intensive approach to training your child to tolerate high-effort tasks. This is called “backward chaining.” Essentially your child starts at the end of a high-effort task:

    1. First, complete only the very last step to earn a reward. For bedroom cleaning, this last step might be have the child put the dirty clothes in the laundry after you’ve tidied the rest of the child’s room or having him put what he needs for the school day into this back pack after you’ve assisted him through the earlier steps of his morning routine. You keep repeating this process until your child can do that one step easily and effortlessly.
    2. Second, you back up one step and require the child to do only the last two steps in the task before earning the reward. Over time, your child is “backed” through the task until you get to the point where you expect him to complete the entire task independently.


    Many parents resist this approach, especially if they know that the child will eventually clean his room if they nag and harass him long enough. But, who wants to have to nag for the rest of their parental life?  “Backward chaining” actually trains the child to tolerate tedious or high-effort work and eventually eliminates the need for nagging.


    From Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare.  Copyright 2009 by The Guilford Press. P. 167