Dear Dr. Fournier:
Help! My son is having trouble prioritizing and managing responsibilities. He says he feels overwhelmed, has too much work to do and he doesn’t know where to begin. What do you do with the children you work with to address this sort of problem?
“I feel overwhelmed. I have so much work to do, I just don’t know where to start,” is a line I have heard time and time again.
What adult hasn’t felt this way when the “To Do” list at work and at home keeps getting longer? Unfortunately, this feeling of being overwhelmed by work is now experienced by schoolchildren at younger and younger ages.
Beginning as early as kindergarten and first grade, children are overwhelmed not only by homework, but by class work they were unable to finish. These children’s feelings of panic and dread spread to their parents who are forced to spend hours with their child every night to get through the school workload.
How many hours of family calmness, bonding and togetherness have instead turned into hours of family squabbles over schoolwork?
As adults, most of us fight our feelings of being overwhelmed by work as we schedule our tasks with appropriate completion time:
e I’ll do it tonight; it won’t take more than half an hour.
e I’ll have to do this over the weekend when I will be able to work on it all afternoon.
e I have many errands to run, so I’d better make a list so that I use my time efficiently.
Individuals who understand their personal working capacity can make effective time judgment calls. These individuals have developed the prized skill that involves estimating how long a task will take to complete. Children are not born knowing this skill, and even many adults have yet to develop it.
Students must be taught how to develop a sense of personal working capacity and an understanding of what time is all about. Parents must focus on the long-term issue of finishing school work each night.
WHAT TO DO
Discuss with your child’s teacher how you plan to shift your focus from simply finishing homework to teaching your child how to develop a sense of working capacity. Ask if your child can be graded only on the homework he or she completes until you have made progress in teaching how to judge and use time wisely.
At home, you will need a digital timer of some sort that counts down without making noise. It should be placed where your child is working to assure that he or she can see it at all times.
Begin each task by having your child estimate to you how much time he or she believes it will take. Write this time estimate in two places – at the top of the page your child is working on, and on a separate tally sheet with four headings:
2. Time I Think it will take
3. Time It Took
4. The Difference
Regardless of what estimate your child gives, write it down without discussion. If your child estimates three hours for a task you know should take 10 minutes, write down three hours. This tells you how overwhelmed your child is by each task.
Next, have your child set the timer and place it right in front of him. Make sure your child is the one to set the timer not you – because as you teach your child to take control of time, it is important for him or her to take physical control as well. Have your child start the timer and begin the task.
Once it is completed, have your child stop the timer and write the number of minutes left on the timer. You may need to help younger children calculate the time it took and the difference between actual time and the estimate. Have your child record these numbers on the tally sheet, and review the results together. Sometimes, your child may see that a task takes longer than anticipated.
Slowly, you will be able to celebrate with your child when the “guess” becomes closer and closer to the time it actually takes to complete the work. If your child masters this skill, it is a skill learned for a lifetime – not just for one night of homework.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER