So many children with ADHD, autism, learning disabilities such as dyslexia, mental health conditions such as anxiety, OCD or depression, and medical issues such as PANS/PANDAS and Lyme have executive functioning issues. What are executive functioning problems and how do they affect children and teens in everyday life? Executive functioning is a set of mental skills that help you self-regulate, organize and strategically plan for a future action or event.
Kids with executive functioning challenges often get labeled, when instead they are lacking a skill in a specific area related to self-regulation, organization, working memory or strategic planning,
Understanding what executive functions are and how they develop and the neuroscience behind it is important for parents to help their children gain skills that will lead to greater success at school, home and life.
These often very bright kids aren't avoiding tasks on purpose, rather they often miss the why and how of tasks. That may be so confusing for most parents who see their kids have great focus and skills during preferred interests and struggle when they are bored. When kids with executive functioning issues are interested and have skills in a task, they can often override their difficulties with concentrated effort.
The day to day is often hard for kids with executive functioning issues because they never connect what they are learning or doing with a future event, goal or end product. They can’t “see” how the pieces connect to the big picture.
When we start thinking about what skills kids and teens need, then it is a lot easier to understand what skills they are missing to be successful. For those that have good executive functioning skills, they are able to start with visualizing the end goal or product and then work backwards strategically planning what they need.
Those with good executive functioning also have good self awareness and environmental awareness, meaning they can connect what they are doing and what actions they need to take with the environment around them. They don’t rely on others to cue (or nudge) them, they have that internal awareness and clock to know what steps to take and in what order to get a task done in a timely manner.
Executive functioning skills develop over time with practice at doing skills both independently and with guidance. When children learn to connect with what they are doing right now matters to some future outcome, they can develop good executive functioning skills.
Executive functioning can be broken down into foundational and advanced skills. Logically, advanced skills can’t develop without building a solid foundation but often in schools, they are the focus of an IEP and at home, parents understandably try to teach these skills in an effort of a child or teen to independently manage tasks.
Foundational Executive Functioning Skills
Advanced Executive Functioning Skills
Parents should focus on working on self-regulation and impulse control first because without emotional and behavioral regulation, kids will struggle to learn those higher level skills. When a child struggles with stress tolerance or emotional and behavioral regulation, clinical issues such as anxiety, OCD, ADHD, autism, and depression should always be considered. It is very common for individuals to have a primary mental health issue or neurodevelopmental disorder. Calming the brain is the place to start, as every kid can benefit from a regulated nervous system. Mindfulness activities such as breathing exercises and somatically connecting to the body are easy and effective ways to help your child be more alert and engaged.
Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime.
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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.”
She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach. She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).
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