Many childhood tasks including homework, room cleaning, and other chores require sustained effort. However, most children aren’t developmentally ready to apply themselves to a task without adult support. To help your child most effectively, it’s important to understand what happens when he/she tries to work. We use a metaphor called “Big Job Mountain” to illustrate a child’s work process.
Imagine riding a bicycle up a steep hill. You need to pedal on the flat ground leading up to the hill to gather momentum. To gather momentum for homework or room cleaning, your child needs to energize both body (jumping jacks, pushups, outdoor play) and mind (start with an easy warm up task). Be sure to allow time for this or start at a time when he’s naturally ready to work. Make sure he’s had a snack if needed and gather all homework materials in a distraction-free place. Now he’s ready to face Big Job Mountain.
After a short burst of effort biking up that hill, you may grind to a halt and need a short break before getting going again. Work grinds to a halt when a child doesn’t understand the next instruction or begins thinking negative thoughts (“This is too hard” “I’ll never finish” “I can’t do this.”) Your child may also stop when she fails to see the patterns in the process (clothes belong in the hamper and toys belong in the toy box), break the longer task into smaller steps, or put the steps in order. After a stop your child will need to gather momentum to start again. She may need your help to identify the next step or organize the process before continuing. (Click here to learn how to help your child with homework you don’t understand.)
Because your child’s brain isn’t as developed as yours, you likely will be the one to notice that he has gotten stuck and suggest next steps. Use your most patient voice and remember to check what negative thoughts he may be thinking. Ask her to try saying “maybe I can. I just need to get started again.” This process of stopping and restarting repeats until the task is complete or until you need a longer break from the effort (stopping for the night and resuming tomorrow, for example).