A classic parental complaint I hear is how teens manage to stretch their homework to last for hours. “If he would just sit down and do it, he would be done in no time!”
My answer to this is always: “Blame the brain’s executive functions and not the child.”
Let’s face it, when confronting a task we don’t want to do, it is so easy to procrastinate. To get past the ‘stuck’ point, many of us will play a little game to help with motivation. We tell ourselves: “If I finish this first part, I will reward myself with a break. Then I’ll finish the rest of my work afterwards.”
There are two problems with this motivational tactic. The first is the likelihood that once you leave the homework or task, you won’t come back to finish. It is out of sight and out of mind so we literally forget about it.
The second problem with using breaks for motivation is how we think about breaks and what we do during the break.
I believe that this problem develops when we think of a break as a well-deserved reward. We like our rewards to be good! Most kids will tell you that they want 30-minute breaks. They want time for video games or YouTube or Netflix or texting friends. If they take three 30-minute breaks, that means homework takes an extra 90 minutes to complete!
It was another one of those awesome 15-year-olds in a Seeing My Time family group class that came up with a better idea than taking a break. He explained that instead of taking long breaks between homework assignments, he was taking an intermission. “What do you mean by an intermission?” I asked.
“You know, like when you go to a play. The intermission is just long enough to stand up, stretch, go to the bathroom and get a drink of water. With shorter intermission breaks, I’m done with my homework much faster. Once it’s done, I’m free to do what I want.”
Wasn’t that awesome thinking!? I wish I’d thought of that, but at least I get to share his reframing of the whole idea of taking a break. Feel free to pass along this bit of teenage wisdom.
Our brains need refreshing breaks, but they don’t have to be very long or engaging. Back when I was writing my book for parents, my breaks were setting a timer for eight minutes, turning on a rock-n-roll station on Pandora and grabbing my two hula-hoops. I’d twirl my heart out for those eight minutes and then my brain was ready to get back to writing or editing.
Time for my own intermission,
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program®. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.
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