Does your child have problems with sustaining flexible, focused attention? Managing distractions and impulses? Prioritizing tasks? Planning and using time effectively? Taking and using notes? Preparing for tests? Managing motivation and energy levels? Regulating emotions?
These are ways in which Executive Function issues (sometimes called “Executive Dysfunction”) show up in our children and create significant learning challenges.
When a child is striving to keep up, but cannot access knowledge due to processing issues and learning differences, they are at a clear disadvantage.
While many children are able to compensate for learning concerns in the early grades, educators see more of a struggle as the curriculum becomes more difficult. Unfortunately, children are sometimes labeled under-achievers, lazy, or purposely not working up to their potential.
Executive Functions are the “control system” of the brain that helps us organize and manage the many tasks in daily life. Executive Function skills are central to effective goal-oriented behavior, and are linked to educational attainment in all of the academic and social/emotional areas encountered in school. Various skills such as mental and emotional flexibility, meta-cognition, impulse control, resiliency, and more can be taught. See resources at www.researchild.org.
One way to optimize the acquisition of compensatory strategies is to address the underlying neurological issues that are causing the Executive Functioning challenges. Developments in brain imaging have demonstrated that, with proper stimulation, our brain can develop new, more productive pathways. Neuro-plasticity is at the core of cutting-edge approaches to transforming learning and behavioral challenges.
Using the analogy of a computer, when the brains neuro-plasticity “hardware” is upgraded, the software “skills training” will run more efficiently: giving your child the ability to quickly catch up and thrive.
Help Build Your Child’s Executive Function Skills*
Here are some strategies that you can do at home to strengthen Executive Functions:
- Goal Setting:
Goals are only effective if they are attainable. Help your child understand what an effective goal is. We call these CAN-DO goals: Clear, Appropriate, Numerical (quantifiable); Doable and with Obstacles considered.
- Cognitive Flexibility:
Cognitive flexibility is the ability to think creatively and shift perspectives and approaches. As life unfolds, your child may get stuck thinking only one way will work. You can support them by helping them think through the myriad of options, to find the one that works best for them.
- Organizing and Prioritizing:
For organizing material belongings, teach your child The 4 C’s Strategy:
- CLEAN out binders, backpacks, closets and get rid of papers and items that are not important.
- CUSTOMIZE your tools (folders, tabs, notebooks) to fit how you think and work.
- CATEGORIZE papers and materials into different sections (math, science notes, tests).
- CONTINUE to maintain your well-organized materials.
- Accessing Working Memory:
Help your child to understand the different kinds of memory (long-term, short-term, and working memory) that we all have, and the job of each one. This will help to motivate your child to learn to access his or her Working Memory for learning tasks.
- Promote self-monitoring and self-checking:
When performing a chore or homework, allow a few minutes at the end that can be used to reflect on whether the desired outcome has been achieved.
* Excerpts from SMARTS Executive Function program
Brighten the Brain, LLC,
Lori Kochevar, MS, LPC
Stephanie Jalovec – Lead Teacher, 303-903-6103
Dreamcatcher Learning Centers, Iris Lee, Director
2300 Central Avenue, Suite A-1,
Boulder. CO 80301