Signs & Symptoms


Is your child not using problem-solving strategies?

Some children struggle to organize their thoughts. They often fail to make a plan of how to solve a problem or to complete a project. When asked, ‘how should we do this,’ your child does not know.

She may storm off in anger if you ask her, ‘why did you do it this way?’ Your child with these challenges may have trouble thinking through how to do things. She may not use strategies effectively.

Children who are adept at using strategies can tell you how they will solve a problem or complete an assignment. Children with poor skills in this area are easily overwhelmed. They do not know where to begin and what steps they will take to complete tasks.

The school day is often filled with frustration and failure. Teachers may comment that your child is ‘unmotivated,’ ‘doesn’t do his work’ or ‘never finishes anything.’

What do challenges with Metacognition look like?

  • Getting lost on homework assignments?
  • Failing to ask for help?
  • Expecting that you do the homework for him?
  • Unable to tell you how she will complete a project?
  • Responding “I don’t know?” when asked, ‘How will you do this?’
  • Getting frustrated and giving up easily?

Why is Metacognition happening?

Children with challenges staying on task may have an issue with metacognition. They may not use strategies effectively. They may not ‘think about their own thinking.’ Psychologists call this skill metacognition. Metacognition is involved in task-oriented skills such as making a plan to complete an assignment and then thinking, “am I on track on this?” If your child has trouble with metacognition, it may be that the completion of the tasks is hard for him or her. For example, your child may have difficulty getting started on homework (initiating), finding the materials needed to do homework (organization of materials), remembering the steps (working memory), and making a plan to complete the homework (planning). Metacognition is important for completing tasks in all subjects but is most critical in comprehension. Kids who are struggling with metacognition will often say that they read a whole passage but cannot remember a single thing about it. It is likely that they are not ‘thinking about thinking’ by asking themselves questions like, “does this make sense?” or “wait, what was that passage about?” As metacognition is an executive function, it will develop through childhood and adolescence. The time to be concerned is if your child’s grades are dropping or they are regularly reporting that they are lost in class or while reading books for school.

How can I manage Metacognition at home?

If you suspect your child may have trouble with metacognition, a school psychologist or clinical psychologist can conduct a test of executive functions (see list below). These tests can provide information about your child’s higher order problem-solving skills, including metacognition.

If your child indeed has poor metacognition, it will be important for him or her to learn to use strategies. Children who struggle to plan and organize the sequence of steps needed to solve a problem tend to require explicit teaching in strategy use.

One way to teach strategy use is to model strategies as a parent when you are solving problems. This technique is often referred to as a ‘think aloud.’ For example, “Okay, I want to bake a cake. First, I will get my recipe out. Then, I will pull out all the ingredients, measuring tools, and mixing bowl. Next, I will pre-heat the oven…” In this way, the child is seeing a problem-solving approach.

Another appropriate intervention is to talk to the teacher about providing your child with visual checklists and graphic organizers. Often, children can begin to develop their sequential processing skills through this type of ‘scaffolding’.

Finally, if your child’s skills are very low in terms of sequential processing, a consultation with the school may help. A 504 plan or IEP may be necessary. Both the 504 and the IEP can provide accommodations such as ‘extra prompting and process time’ and ‘provide visual checklists and graphic organizers.’

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Metacognition?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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