Breaking Down the Task


As a mother of two lovely children (ages 1 and 4), I find myself multi-tasking more than I have ever done in my life. From the moment I wake up in the morning until I go to sleep late at night, I am organizing the tasks in my head. I plan, plan, plan….that is how I survive working full time and being a mom. I have always been good at planning and have always been able to manage many things at one time both physically (carrying groceries, pushing a stroller, holding my coffee, and feeding a snack to my child) and mentally (thinking of the sequence of steps). My husband… not so much. While I think he is an amazing father, he CANNOT multi task.

As an Occupational Therapist, one of the areas that I work on the most in my work with children is something called motor planning. In very simple terms, motor planning is broken down into two steps: first, being able to generate an idea or a “plan” when confronted with a new task. The second step is putting that plan into action. It is in essence, your ability to problem solve.

If you fail the first time, it is the ability to plan something different based on the feedback you get from the first attempt. Some children get stuck in this planning phase where they either avoid the task all together because it seems to difficult or overwhelming (why even try when you are convinced that you are going to fail?) or will try it one time, become frustrated, and ultimately give up. Other children can come up with a plan but cannot physically get their body to do what they want to do (either by lack of strength, coordination, balance, or sensory processing to name a few).

The children I see with these difficulties have an eerie similarity to my husband’s inability to multitask at home when confronted with something new and scary (like bathing two children at the same time in the bathtub). He freezes, is completely disorganized in his plan, and his execution can be unsuccessful. Now some would say that he is doing this intentionally; but I have analyzed this and I realized that he has difficulties motor planning and probably always has. I asked him the other day, how he can possible multitask at work (given that he is very successful) and he stated “it is hard for me but I do it”.

I started thinking about all those children with motor planning difficulties who see something fun, like climbing a jungle gym at the playground or learning how to write letters for the first time, as so overwhelming that they won’t even try it. As a mother and therapist, I strive to break down new tasks to my children.

If your child is having a hard time figuring out for example, how to climb the jungle gym to get to the top of the slide, show him, step by step, where to place his feet, where to place his hands, and how to pace himself while doing it. If he fails or gets scared, praise his attempt and let him come back to it when he is ready. Go back to it often and try it each time, using the same strategy.

Going back to my husband, I sometimes need to break down each task into clear steps, so that the next time he is on “daddy duty”, he is more confident that he can do the task and this mommy can take a much needed rest break.

Karinna Dancourt MS OTR/L received her Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy from Tufts University in Boston, Ma in 2001. She is the principal Occupational Therapist at Jumping Jax located in Manhattan on the UWS. Karinna has worked in a variety of settings including hospital based, school-based and Sensory Integration clinics performing evaluations, direct treatments, consultations, and school observations. She has extensive training in Sensory Integration, Handwriting Without Tears/handwriting interventions, and neurodevelopment treatment for children ages 3-18 years old. Karinna is bilingual in Spanish and English and is a proud mother a four and one year old.


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