Signs & Symptoms


Is your child failing to make a plan?

Some children have trouble ‘planning’. Planning means thinking out the steps it will take to solve a problem or to complete a task.

Children with these difficulties often have trouble with math problems that involve multiple steps; they may perhaps skip steps or jump to the wrong answer.

Planning is necessary for writing tasks in school. Children who fail to outline their work, use a graphic organizer, or think through what they want to say tend to struggle with writing.

Children who have trouble planning might struggle with connect-the-dots puzzles, card games, checkers, and chess.

Planning skills are needed for organization in school. Children need to be able to keep track of assignments that are due and to put together a plan for how to complete them.

Planning is required for bringing the appropriate materials to class and for turning assignments in on time. Messy desks, cluttered bedrooms, and disorganized lockers may also be the result of poor planning skills.

Your older child may not remember birthday parties or may get mixed up when making plans with friends for the weekend. Your child may have a hard time using a digital or paper planning calendar.

He may show up in sweats on picture day. She may forget the date of a big presentation or fail to email an important document to her presentation group.

What do challenges with Planning look like?

  • Saying, “What do I do now?” “I’m lost!”
  • Disorganized?
  • Forging ahead without thinking it through?
  • Forgetting when assignments are due?
  • Coming home and not being sure how to do the homework?
  • Failing to follow multi-step directions?
  • Getting lost without specific instructions at each step of a problem?
  • Struggling with connect-the-dots puzzles or crossword puzzles?

Why is Planning happening?

Clinically, ‘planning’ is an executive function that refers to the ability to develop strategies to solve problems or to get tasks done. Within the general term planning, a variety of component skills, as follows, are included: establishing mental set, cognitive flexibility, shifting attention, sequencing, monitoring, and sustained attention. 

  • Establishing mental set means understanding the rules of the game or the directions for an activity. 
  • Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to shift fluidly between activities, problem-solving approaches, and ideas. An example is stopping playing your video game so that you can come to dinner. 
  • Shifting attention refers to the ability to change from one focus to another. An example is looking away from the computer screen so that you can hear the teacher talking. 


Let’s imagine a child who is trying to do a connect-the-dots puzzle. 


  1. First, the child would need to establish a mental set, that is, to understand the objective and rules of the game. Thus, he would have to know that the dots are to be connected in order to make a shape. 
  2. Second, the child would have to be able to visually scan through the numbers and plan out where to start and how to proceed. 
  3. Third, the child would have to be able to track or monitor his own progress toward the goal by seeing what number he is on and what number comes next in the sequence. 
  4. Fourth, he would have to shift from one number to the next. Finally, the child would have to sustain attention long enough to complete the puzzle. 

In this small example, it is clear that planning involves a lot of simultaneous skills that are required to work together well in order to get the job done. Any break in the chain can result in a frustrating experience in which the final project is incomplete or incorrect.

How can I manage Planning at home?

If your child struggles with planning, he or she may need some support. Children with difficulties planning are likely to struggle on procedural tasks like math.

They often have trouble with multi-step directions. They may struggle with writing because of the requirement that paragraphs should be written in a logical or sequential order.

Further, the ‘monitoring’ skills required for planning are essential to many academic endeavors. For example, children who are poor readers often fail to ‘monitor’ their comprehension. They may not ask themselves, ‘does this make sense?’ or ‘wait, I already read that part’.

Monitoring is also critical to goal attainment. In order to accomplish a goal, individuals need to be able to see how far along they are in the process and to assess what remaining steps are left before reaching the goal.

If your child is struggling with planning, it is likely that he or she will need some help at school. Parents might consult with the school psychologist or with the learning specialist regarding teaching your child some planning strategies. It also may be that your child needs parent help with project planning.

A close collaboration between teachers and parents is necessary here. A home-school communication notebook, daily email, or Google doc can be a good method for keeping track of assignments and directions from teachers.

However, it will be critical that your child becomes more independent with planning over time.

A gradual release model, whereby teachers and parents reduce supports as the child gains skills, works best. Rushing late assignments to school on your child’s behalf or regularly emailing for an extension for your child generally leads to poor outcomes.

Support and hand-holding may be necessary, but the focus is always on transitioning the onus of responsibility and planning back to your child. Often, this progression is difficult to navigate.

Consulting with a school psychologist or therapist may be helpful to establish a set of strategies and routines that will help to get your child on track.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Planning?

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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