Have you ever wondered what weakened executive functioning skills are?
Do you ever wonder what is happening in your child’s brain? Everything we do is connected to executive functioning skills and we can have strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others.
Executive Functioning Skills encompass:
- Paying attention
- Reflecting on past behavior and outcomes
- Managing feelings and emotions
- Getting started (task initiation)
- Organizing thoughts and materials
- Managing time
- Planning and prioritizing
- Staying on track
- Remembering what to do and when to do it (working memory)
- Problem solving
To get a better understanding of executive functioning and how it impacts your child we like to use a file cabinet analogy. Picture a file cabinet with everything you need but the files are a mess and in no particular order. This means it takes more time to find what you need, you might become frustrated, and you have to regulate your attention throughout the process. This is a lot and if your child has any weakened executive functioning skills they have to manage this in everything they do. Here is an example that demonstrates what we are talking about.
Sarah is 15 and is so tired of being forgetful but has no idea what to do about it. She covers up her frustration by placing a lot of blame on everyone else and isn’t taking much ownership of challenges (Challenge: Reflecting on Past Behavior and Outcomes).
There are executive functioning skills that could use some strengthening and with a lack of strategies Sarah’s day typically goes like this.
The alarm goes off and Sarah hits snooze. The alarm goes off again and she hits snooze again and now her mom has to wake her up which Sarah always finds annoying.
Sarah rushes to get ready and forgets her homework assignment which is on her floor (Challenge: Planning and Prioritizing). As she is getting out of the car Sarah’s mom reminds her to hand in her permission slip for the field trip because it was due a few days ago. Sarah gets to school and sits down in homeroom, starts daydreaming and never hands in the permission slip (Challenge: Paying Attention and Working Memory).
Sarah moves on to history class and when the teacher asks everyone to take out their homework Sarah looks in the overstuffed folder she keeps all of her subjects in and can’t find it (Challenge: Organization). Sarah starts to feel anxious (Challenge: Managing Emotions and Feelings) because she knows that she did it and is mad at herself that she once again forgot her homework. Sarah can’t move beyond her frustration and when the teacher gives the classwork she can’t get herself to start (Challenge: Task Initiation).
She moves through her day and when she gets to her English class she gets completely overwhelmed when it comes time to work on the research project. She had put it out of her mind and comes to the realization it is due the next day and she has hardly any of it done (Challenge: Planning and Prioritizing and Time Management). Students were supposed to be following a timeline of doing the work but Sarah didn’t pay attention to it and kept putting off the work (Challenge: Self Monitoring).
When Sarah gets into the car at the end of the day and her mom asks her if she handed in the permission slip she starts to cry and yells at her mom for asking (Challenge: Impulse Control). Later that night Sarah’s mom tells her how she organizes her life and strategies she uses to remember things. Sarah doesn’t seem to listen and resists any help (Challenge: Flexible Thinking).
The cycle continues the next day and Sarah’s mom just isn’t sure what to do anymore. We see this scenario play out each day and we also see that change is possible.
The key is to begin by having a conversation with your child about executive functioning skills. It is important that your child understands what these skills are, why they are difficult, and that it is possible to create strategies that work. Your child needs to know that you understand that what works for you or other important people in their life may not work for them. This isn’t about fixing anything or doing anything perfectly, it is about making life easier with life long tools.
The next step is to ask your child what they think they might want to start doing differently in one area of their life. Maybe you just ask, “What do you wish was easier?”. If your child is open to receiving your help, keep talking to them as they develop their own strategies. If your child is resistant to your help there may be someone at your child’s school that can help or you can find an executive functioning coach.
Know that this is a process but it is one that is full of hope and change is always possible!