Executive what? He’s just a kid!

“Okay, Patrick. It’s time for you to start your science lesson.” “Okay, Mom,” he replied. Ten minutes later, I check in on him at the computer, and he hasn’t even started it yet. Sound familiar?

Let’s be honest, we all procrastinate sometimes. Our kids do, too. But sometimes the issue is more than mere procrastination. Some people have trouble with executive functioning skills that they need to be able to start or complete a task.

What are executive function skills and why should I care?

Executive function skills are a group of skills that we all need to be able to manage ourselves, our time, and our tasks. They are needed for basic tasks like showering and getting ready in the morning and complex skills like writing an essay. A breakdown in any of these skills makes the completion of tasks more difficult.

Executive function skills are problematic for many children including those with ADHD, anxiety disorders, autism, and learning disabilities. Often, they are broken down into three areas: working memory, cognitive flexibility (aka flexible thinking), and inhibitory control (aka self-control).

Working Memory is similar to short-term memory. It includes being able to think about something and use it to accomplish a task much like we ask children questions about something they just read. But it also includes pulling information previously learned so that it can be used again when needed.

Cognitive flexibility includes the ability to think outside-of-the-box, but it’s also much more than that. It includes our ability to creatively problem-solve as well as being able to adapt when things don’t go as planned.

Inhibitory control is the ability to resist temptation. This includes your child being overly distractible or unable to refrain from doing something they know they shouldn’t be doing right now. Inhibitory control helps us all manage our emotions and actions and keeps us from going down the wrong rabbit holes.

What’s “normal” and what’s not?

So how do you know if your child is a typical procrastinator or may be experiences difficulties in executive functioning? Understood.comoffers a comprehensive list of signs to look for in children of all ages. The key factor to consider is whether or not your child’s ability to do what needs to be done is so impaired that it becomes a problem for them or you.

How can I help?

If you suspect your child may have problems with executive functioning, there are countless books and websites available for you to learn more. In fact, there are so many that it’s easy to get lost. This is when it’s vital that you individualize for your child. Look at your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Where does he need help? Where is he strong? Look for strategies that build on his strengths to help him cope with the weaknesses.

Bottom line: If your child’s ability to start and complete tasks doesn’t seem age appropriate, consider executive function as a possible reason. Next week, we’ll spend more time looking at specific types of supports you can teach your child to help develop his executive functioning skills.


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