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Task avoidance

Childing avoiding a task

One of the most common reason why pupils try to avoid the task in hand is to protect their self-esteem. For these pupils, the anxiety and indeed fear that can accompany the sense of ‘I don’t know how to do this work’, is particularly strong. To communicate this directly by asking for help can be too great a threat to their sense of self-worth, reinforcing underlying beliefs such as ‘I’m thick/stupid’, ‘I’m no good’ etc. Indeed, it is more preferable to get into trouble for not doing their work than it is to risk such exposure. Click here to view self-esteem

In this respect, task avoidance can be regarded as a defence mechanism. By avoiding the work, the pupil protects herself from these uncomfortable feelings and takes control of the situation. In such instances, helping her to feel more comfortable with attempting the work, emphasising that effort as well as achievement is important, and generally reassuring her, is far more likely to lead to an improvement in the behaviour than a purely sanction-based approach.

Some questions to consider in assessing the behaviour:

  • Is the work appropriately differentiated? 
  • Is there up-to-date information regarding the pupil’s abilities e.g. reading, spelling, etc?
  • Is the pupil on the SEN register for learning difficulties? – and if so, are there additional strategies on an IEP that could be used?
  • Which tasks does the pupil more readily engage in? What clues might this offer as to why she avoids other tasks?
  • Is the task-avoidance related to a need to interact with peers e.g. pupil is often out of seat and engaging with peers? 
Behaviours Possible developmental tasks Competencies related to behaviour Affirmations Strategies

Refuses to start task

Refuses to start task unless with adult help

Starts task but then gives up very quickly

Rushes task

Adopts avoidance activities e.g. sharpening pencil

To learn skills, from mistakes; to learn to be ‘good enough’

To learn that not all problems are easily solved

To trust others and self

To test reality, to push against boundaries and other people

To express anger and other feelings

To learn to listen in order to collect information and think

To develop internal controls 

Starting a task

Completing a task

Persevering with a task

Methodical working



Independent learning

You can try things as many times as you need to

Not all problems are easily solved

We like to watch you grow and learn

You can find ways of doing things that work for you


Give prior notice of more challenging tasks

Check pupil's understanding of the task - ask them to explain it in their own words

Link tasks to what the pupil can already do

Praise any achievement

Chunk work into more manageable sections

Use of whiteboards - help to communicate message it's ok to make a mistake; consider other ways of communicating this message

Use of traffic light cards to indicate when pupil is confident to do the work, might need some support or definitely needs help

Remove problems e.g. have spare pens to address 'I don't have a pen'

Positive reinforcement for having equipment

Clear boundaries and consistency and consequences; natural consequences - eg pupil completes work in their own time

Ask pupils to repeat task to rest of class

Read task three times, attempt, then adult checks progress

Develop necessary skills e.g. literacy

Build self-esteem