Saturday, April 9, 2016

Executive What?


As parents, we tend to have the best interest of our children at heart. We want our children to soar and experience the ups and downs of life. All children have strengths and weaknesses, joys and failures. Like all children Pumpkin has challenges to overcome, but sometimes discovering the key to that success can be like finding a needle in a haystack. I’ve read that children with ADHD and children on the spectrum can experience hiccups with executive functioning. I went to Pinterest and to check it out. Maybe learning more about executive functioning would be beneficial to my family as we struggle with academic and social hurtles. I interlibrary loaned the book The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Executive Functioning Disorder by Rebecca Branstetter, PhD. (Please note: No one in our family has been diagnosed with executive functioning disorder, but I find that it is beneficial to expanding my knowledge as a parent. Building my tool arsenal helps me to help my children the best way possible.)

So, what is executive functioning? Executive functioning allows us to process our thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly. When there is an issue with executive functioning we may experience working memory problems, lack organization, lose focus, may resist change, be impulsive, manage time unwisely, lack flexibility, lose emotional self-control, or move from task to task without completion. All in all, executive functioning is important to our everyday lives. Everyone struggles with some aspect of executive functioning; for some it may be a minute hurtle, to others a gasping chasm. The good news is that we can teach ourselves to successful overcome our own individual hurtles. Executive functioning is a work in progress, the older you are the easier it is the harness your abilities. As parents we need to analysis our own executive functioning strengths and weaknesses, so we can better help our children.

Using our imagination is a good way to explain these type of complex ideas to children. Our brain is what controls our thoughts and processes. Imagine a tiny little person inside our brain, like the characters in the movie Inside Out. That tiny little person helps us to control our actions, as the author calls it “boss in your brain.” We can talk about the boss to help children understand new concepts without making them feel like they are inadequate or lacking in anyway. Another way is to link the information to something that the child knows and is familiar with. Example: “Oh no. The train is stuck on the tracks. What can we do to fix this math problem and help the train reach the station?”

The author suggests teaching executive functioning skills through modeling, repetition, and consistency. A) Monkey see, monkey do! Be a good example to your children, they will watch you and model both the right and wrong. Model the behavior you would like to see in them. If your children are losing things, help them find a “home” for each item and place it there every time. Praise them as they are learning the new routine. B) Try, try again! Don’t give up. Keep trying the activity, and eventually we will be successful. If a child is having problems with a task, help to break it into visual steps. Example: “Time to brush our teeth. Remember we talked about using toothpaste and brushing in circles around our whole mouth. Don’t forget to brush near our gums to chase all of the cavity germs away so our teeth stay healthy.” C) The wheels on the bus go round and round! Consistency is the key. Keep to your routine, if it isn’t working sit down with your child and create a routine that will work. Keep the directions short and sweet, but with a predictable sequence. Example: Bed time routine- take a bath, put on pajamas, brush your teeth, read a book with mom or dad, and go to sleep.

The term executive functioning is like a bicycle wheel that is made up of ten main spokes. Spoke 1: Task Initiation- the ability to stop what you are doing and switch gears to another activity. Spoke 2: Response Inhibition- the ability to keep oneself from acting impulsively, basically delayed gratification. Spoke 3: Focus- the ability to keep your attention on the task at hand. Spoke 4: Time Management- the ability to complete tasks within a set amount of time. Spoke 5: Working Memory- the ability to hold information in your mind long enough to do something with it. Spoke 6: Flexibility- the ability to change your plans based upon the ever changing environment around you. Spoke 7: Self Regulation- the ability to reflect on your goals and make necessary changes to achieve them. Spoke 8: Emotional Self Control- the ability to manage your emotions and reflect on your feelings without acting impulsively. Spoke 9: Task Completion- the ability to harness your energy and attention to see a task to its end. Spoke 10: Organization- the ability to keep track of items and maintaining order in your personal space.

Oh my, it looks like we need to work on a large majority of these. I think that my biggest hiccup right now is organization- but since I have two pint-sized tornadoes in the house it is no surprise. I will have to dive into all ten spokes in regards to the kids, but as they mature each spoke will get easier. It might be better to group these into smaller posts as I work my way through the book, so look for more post to come. I am impressed with this book so far and the author has made the book very user friendly. I think that it would be an asset to have in our home library as a reference and guide.

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