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Avoiding Avoidance; Strategies to Combat Project and Performance Anxiety Part 1 (Projects)


I suspect most of us have, at some time or other, avoided a big unpleasant task until the last possible minute. Some people can pull off great work at the last minute, and thrive on the adrenaline rush. Most of the kids I work with, however, do not fall into that category.


The main reasons for avoiding large, complex and high-risk tasks generally revolve around a few things:

  1. Feeling overwhelmed by the complexity and planning (time and work) involved

  2. Feeling that they have not succeeded in the past, and the future will not be different

  3. Not handing in work because it does not measure up to the standards in their head (perfectionism)

  4. Communication challenges

Most of us are not born naturally organized. This is a skill that is practiced and hopefully developed to a functional degree over time, but everyone’s time frame is different.

I usually begin our sessions on preventing avoidance by talking about why we avoid; what are the barriers to getting work done. While I have listed a few reasons above, here are a few that frequently come up in discussion:


Denial

  • it’s not that big a deal

  • I can get to it later

  • I have lots of time

I have a bad memory

  • I forget to write it in my agenda

  • I forget to look on google classroom

  • It’s not just my fault/problem

The instructions weren’t clear

  • Group members didn’t cooperate

  • It was boring/too hard

  • I didn’t know where to start

Some of these are completely valid reasons for work being incomplete or late. I am more concerned with an ongoing pattern of avoidance, where it is always ‘not a big deal’, or ‘I was bored’.


From here, we divide tasks into 2 categories:

  1. Project based tasks (multi-step, mid or longer term projects)

  2. Performance based tasks (auditions, tryouts, presentations)

I will focus on performance-based tasks in my next blog.


For project-based tasks, It is important to make a list of every step to complete at the outset. This may include:

  • Getting, reading and clarifying all instructions

  • Marking down the due date

  • Figuring out what materials/resources are needed and where they can be found

  • Reading/researching necessary background information

  • Creating notes on research

  • Rough draft of written component

  • Rough draft of visual component

  • Feedback/ compare work to checklist of criteria

  • Revisions

  • Good copy

The next step involves creating realistic time frames for each step. A calendar in a high visibility place is helpful for this.


The final step to the planning, is actually writing down positive self-talk next to each step, as there may be a history or negative self-talk in their project survival experience. It is important that they read their pre-planned self-talk before beginning that step, as they may feel overwhelmed whenever they begin to work. Below is an example of what steps with self-talk might look like:

  • Getting, reading and clarifying all instructions (I understand what to do, and that is good for today)

  • Figuring out what materials/resources are needed and where they can be found (I know what I need and where to get it. I am ready to get started)

  • Reading/researching necessary background information (I am becoming an expert on my topic. I am in control)

  • Creating notes on research (I understand what is most relevant in my research because I have done the work)

  • Rough draft of written component (I am through the toughest part. Still in control)

  • Rough draft of visual component (I am through the toughest part. Still in control)

  • Feedback/compare work to checklist of criteria (I am so organized that I can double check with confidence and accept feedback in the spirit in which it is intended)

  • Revisions (I am making good work even better. Full control)

  • Good copy (I did this and I am proud, regardless of the mark)

Now there is having a plan, and then there is using it. I also work with students who are not in stress management and who feel overwhelmed when it comes to getting through work. A shorter, simpler system that can be applied to any work task is as follows:

  • Communication: What does the teacher/parent / EA need to know that they may not know (little computer access at home, degree of extracurricular commitments)

  • Daily tracking of work (in an agenda, online on Google Classroom or teacher website, homework board in class)

  • Awareness of where you should be in a project at any given point (see above or ask the teacher when needed)

  • If you fall behind, what are your options for catching up? (homework club, recess indoors, block time at home)

What Can You Do?

  1. Post the 4 steps on the fridge or high traffic area, or child’s work area

  2. Work with the child to establish a regular time and space for work (limited distractions, comfortable, reasonable time frame)

  3. Post large wall calendar with due dates and have child mark off each step to work completion plan

  4. Encourage the child to give themselves small rewards when each step is completed

©2019 Kid Calm

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