By Robin Moss
Director of Therapeutic Programs
Robin Moss is a Tennessee state Licensed Clinical Social Worker with more than 25 years experience working with children, youth, and families. Robin completed her graduate studies at Washington University’s top ranked George Warren Brown School of Social Work in St. Louis in 1998. Robin has many years of experience providing therapeutic services, along with advocacy, program development, and supervision in nonprofit settings. Robin began her work at Bethel Bible Village in February 2008 and was promoted to her position as Director of Therapeutic Programs in June of 2012. She and her husband, Jon, have two daughters.
10 Tips for Helping Your Child with Executive Functioning
“Good Morning Olivia! It’s time to get up for school! You have to be there early for chorus today. Remember, your clothes are at the end of your bed.”
The message is clear and simple, but her mom will need to repeat it multiple times with great patience. When Olivia is finally dressed, she is reminded of each next step or she will get sidetracked by another activity. “Eat breakfast.” “Pack your lunch.” “Brush your teeth.” “Brush your hair.” “Put your shoes on…”
Every. Single. Morning.
Olivia is 10-years old. She is gifted, wildly creative and intelligent. She reads books endlessly, writes essays, draws and has a fun and loving personality.
So why does such a gifted child have difficulty following a simple daily routine?
The Brain’s Self-Management System
Olivia struggles with executive functioning issues. While not a medical diagnosis, the self-management system of the brain develops differently in each of us. Children with these issues have trouble with working memory, flexible thinking and self-control, which can have a significant impact on home and school life. Executive functioning is fluid and can improve with time, maturity, growth, and skill-building.
Some children with executive functioning issues also have ADHD, but that is not always the case or the norm. Sometimes, the smartest and most gifted people struggle with these issues.
Are you raising an Olivia?
While every day may be an adventure, there are some concrete things you can do to help your child function in a world that doesn’t always make sense to them.
Providing structure is key. It’s extremely important to pay attention to what motivates your child as well as your child’s areas of most resistance. Then use this information to structure routines and plan ahead for managing transitions (when your child must move from one activity to another.) It’s never too early to start.
As the Bible says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV)
Here are some tips that can help:
10 Top Strategies for Parents and Caregivers
- Provide opportunities for enrichment and engagement. Choose both extra-curricular activities that enhance academics and physical activities, which can help channel some of that energy.
- Provide periods of free play time, so your child can explore and engage the world in unstructured ways.
- Provide specific praise, especially when your child shows improvement in an area of struggle.
- Refrain from yelling and using force to get what her to do what is needed. Remember, children with this problem are truly struggling, and when you use force, it won’t help them to learn and grow. As the Bible says, “…do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 NIV) That verse is written specifically to fathers but is a good reminder for anyone who cares for children.
- Keep choices simple and structured. Give your child structured choices, rather than just saying “Do your chores!” For example, “It is time to do your chores now. Would you like to pick up your clothes or make your bed first?”
- Be consistent. Make sure your child knows what is expected and what will happen if that expectation is not met. Then, be sure to follow through.
- Have conversations and really listen to understand what is going on. Every conversation will give you clues to figure out what your child really needs.
- Remember, even though your child may have an uncanny ability to analyze and grasp difficult concepts, at the end of the day, you are dealing with a child, not a mini adult. Remind yourself of your child’s true developmental age and take care of his or her tender emotions.
- Be aware of times that your child may be over-stimulated and will need your help to decrease environmental triggers. For example, if bright and busy objects make it difficult for your child to be calm, make sure both sleep and study areas stay free of these distractions. Teach your child how to recognize and deal with these triggers as well, such as putting away toys before study time.
- Teach your child how to self-regulate emotions, especially during transition times. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation can help. So can prayer, physical activity, seeking a calm and quiet place, reading, or another calming activity your child prefers.
Above all, remind your child that you don’t expect him or her to figure everything out at once, but one step at a time. Offer grace when needed and frequently remind your children how much you love them.
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