Executive Functioning - for parents and children

Executive Function: Parents and Children

By Patience Domowski, LCSW

What is “executive functioning”? It’s a fancy term used to describe certain skills that are usually lacking in a child’s performance, often in school. These skills are the basic skills used to function in everyday life like memory, (remembering homework assignments and the routine), organization (keeping things together and knowing where things are in their backpack, desk, or at home), figuring out how and when to get things done at home and school (planning projects for example), and self-control to regulate their emotional reactions (getting easily frustrated).

Kids with executive functioning impairments are often diagnosed with ADHD or sometimes other disorders as well, or may just struggling with executive functioning regardless of another disorder. If a person has ADHD they struggle with executive functioning, however a child or adult can struggle with executive functioning without having ADHD. Executive Functioning disorder or impairment is often diagnosed by a school psychologist. If your child has this skill deficit they will likely be given some accommodations and adjustments at school to help them learn these skills such as with a 504 or IEP.

If a parent is also struggling with their own executive functioning and is trying to help their child learn these skills, it can be extraordinarily harder than for a more organized parent. The parents should ask for help from the school as well as other friends and family members if needed to learn to put some strategies in place to keep themselves and the child on track. If necessary a behavioral therapist can help as well.

Some basic strategies for parents to use themselves, and then teach their child include:

Organization:

  • Set up and label containers, shelves, etc to organize where items go in the house. Do the same with school work papers. Put old school papers in a basket or box to save, or throw them out. Put current school papers in folders in child’s backpack and label what goes where. Practice with child organizing their own papers, so child learns to do the skill too. Parents can use the same strategy with other important household and work papers using a filing system or even scanning and saving on the computer instead of on paper.

Memory and Planning:

  • Use a paper calendar on the wall at home, and a travel calendar to take with you (unless you use your phone calendar). Have your child use an agenda for school assignments. Write down appointments, reminders, homework, bills due etc.
  • Use sticky notes as reminders. Put them up around the house.
  • Use a checklist for routines and chores at home.
  • Write out a plan for each day including time frames to get the things done. (Example: 4pm homework, 5pm play outside, 6pm chores. Etc, or more specifically: 3:30- math homework, 3:45 reading, 4:00 writing essay, etc)
  • Use timers/alarms to keep you and your child on track for getting things completed. Maybe even make a competition- who can get ready in the morning the quickest, or who can stay on task to finish a chore first.

Self-Control/Self-Regulation:

  • Recognize when you are starting to get upset and frustrated, before it gets worse, stop and take a breath and figure out how to relax or solve the problem. Start teaching your child the same strategy by pointing it out to them (“I see you’re starting to get frustrated with math. How about we take a little break?”, or “Mom is sure getting upset over this recipe not working out. I think I’m going to just try a different thing to make for dinner, instead of getting upset.”)
  • Play games to work on impulse control and feelings management like running through a routine at another time to see if can improve on your timing or efficiency, or role playing how to handle a frustrating situation that might come up (at a time when nothing bad is happening).
  • Come up with strategies for handling problems for both parent and child (can be separate lists) and write them up and hang them in the home where you can see them and use them. You can remind each other to use a strategy.

If needing help with motivation to use any skill or strategy, add in a motivating reward! Such as if you finish your routine in time, without reminders, you get a little piece of candy, or if you calm down quickly you get to play a game on your device for a few minutes. You can make it a fun and friendly competition with your child on who can keep on task the longest, finish their work quicker, or use more coping skills in a week instead of getting upset. Your child will enjoy calling you out when you’re off which will be a good reminder for parents, but also you can help your child recognize and correct their own struggles in a fun way.

Remember to ask for help as needed and not expect yourself or your child to be perfect. These skills take a while to learn but are learn-able, you just need more external assistants like calendars and timers. You can do it- and so can your child!


References and Links:

https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/

Helpful info on how to get helps at school for your child on this website:

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/executive-functioning-issues/3-areas-of-executive-function

This tip sheet list also includes a free printable handout:

https://www.growinghandsonkids.com/executive-functioning-skills.html

 

Getting on the Same Page, even if you're not in the same book!

same page

The Same Page: Helping Parents Agree on Discipline
by Patience Domowski, LCSW

Many parents struggle to be on the “same page” with parenting. This is totally normal because both mom and dad have their own different personalities, upbringing, thoughts, and ideas that they bring into the relationship. But it can be so frustrating when the parents cannot agree on the same strategies or level of enforcement for discipline at home. Some parents are not only not on the same page, they aren’t even in the same book! Mom might be really strict with the kids because she’s home all day and needs them to listen to her, and dad feels bad he’s not around much so gives in all the time. Or maybe mom’s the nice soft pushover and dad’s the strict one the kids know they can’t get away with anything around him. There does not have to be a “strict parent” and a “fun parent” or a “good cop”/”bad cop” in a parenting couple- there can be the a balance for each parent. It’s really important to try to figure this out so that there is less arguing between the parents, a more cohesive family, and the children aren’t playing parents against each other.

Here are some ways to try to get on the same page with your spouse or co-parent.

1)     Agree on something!  Try to find even something small you agree on – even if it’s just the outcome like you want your children to be “good people” for example. (Then later define what that means and how to get there!)

 

2)      Decide on an outcome. Do we want our children to be happy, balanced, independent, highly educated, etc. Then work on what’s the most important to focus on for our family (Such as school/education, life skills (like learning how to cook, do chores, etc), sports/activities , being social, being creative, future independence, just being “happy”, spiritual/faith based, being healthy, etc) Do the kids need to work on improving their grades? Or are we worried they will live with parents forever because they won’t do chores and get a job? Do we just want them to be happy, we don’t care what they do for the most part?

 

Parents should decide what they’d like to see in the future so they know what they are working towards. It doesn’t have to be super specific like “my child will be a doctor” or “my kid will never eat red meat” or “I really want them to be married or they won’t be happy”. Outcomes can be more general like “I want my child to be independent” or “I want my child to be as healthy as possible” (if child has health concerns, this might be a goal, for example).

 

 

3)     Discuss both parents’ backgrounds and where they come from. Where her parents strict and his super passive? Was she a “child of the ‘60s”, and he from a super conservative family? Discuss child rearing of the parents, how did the grandparents discipline them, what do you want to do the same and what do you want to do differently. Even discuss where they grew up (urban, rural), cultural backgrounds, even socioeconomic status, etc. (Especially if you don’t already know this, or it wasn’t covered in your pre-marital counseling- for married parents).

4)     Try to find a compromise somewhere. The plan doesn’t have to be all mom’s way or all dad’s way. In fact- it really shouldn’t be that one sided. (Because then the other parent will be upset, or one will undermine the other).

5)     Eachparent make a list of what is important to you- then compare and see which things are the same/almost the same.

6)     Decide which behaviors we’re going to “let go” and which we will make a big deal about. Not everyone will agree on what needs to be focused on and that’s okay. [If you can’t decide, see my other article on hierarchy of behavior for my suggestions.]

7)     Even if parents are split and kids go between homes it would be better to still be on same page at both homes for consistency for the children (if this is possible).

8)     Make a plan! Specific behaviors to target, discipline techniques, etc. Write it down and even post it in the house so everyone knows and remembers what to follow. Look online for templates or ideas for making House Rules, chore charts, behavior charts, etc.

9)     Consult with a therapist if needed. A couples/marriage counselor can help get parents to be on the same page, and a child behavioral therapist can help parents come up with specific behavior interventions for their children.

10)Try to get grandparents, babysitters, etc on the same page with the parents for consistency. If the kids know grandma will say yes if mom says no, or the babysitter allows kid to do this and dad would not, it’s going to be difficult to maintain the level of control and discipline you may want in the home. So try to get everyone on board, if possible.

Autism/Aspergers and teaching social skills at home

autism

Autism/Aspergers

If you have a child on the autism spectrum you are probably realizing that parenting this child is extremely different that parenting neurotypical children.

[If you aren't sure if your child is on the autism spectrum have them evaluated by any of the following: their pediatrician, a developmental doctor, a licensed therapist, psychiatrist, Early Intervention evaluation team, child psychologist- either independent or at the child's school.

Signs of autism include at least some of the following symptoms -extreme difficulty with social interaction (including poor eye contact, difficulty understanding other person's tone or intent/meaning, struggles to make friends/initiate conversations, "tuned out", doesn't seek out others for interaction, doesn't understand emotions/how others feel), difficulty with communication (either not talking by age 2, barely talking, difficult to understand, difficulty with conversation skills/pragmatics/turn taking), repetitive behaviors/sensory problems (head banging, flapping, spinning in circles etc), restricted interests (will only play with dinosaurs, lines up cars, etc), other difficult behaviors (defiance, lack of focus, extreme inflexibility, difficulty transitioning between activities, needs a lot of help with basic life skills activities).] 

Children on the Spectrum need visual directions often, and help learning every behavior that most other kids will naturally pick up on without having to be specifically taught. I recommend find a good therapist and get them in a school/classroom that will meet their needs. Because autism is such a spectrum: from the severe nonverbal kids that might also have intellectual disability to the high functioning brilliant Asperger’s kids that your child’s treatment needs to be individualized and work best for their needs.

There is not really a one size fits all treatment for every kid on the spectrum but some basic tips include:

- use visual cues and directions

(social stories, picture schedules, show pictures or gesture/sign language of what you are asking them to do, write down reminders, instead of telling them what to do use picture cards or list the directions)

-don’t give long explanations just short, concise directions

With typical children explaining WHY is really helpful. With kids n the spectrum they often don’t care or don’t understand. Its usually just extra words they are confusing. SO just state what you want them to do in as a short a way as a possible. Example: “Put toys in box”- for autism child. For typical child you might say- “Please clean this room, because we are having guests visit tomorrow and I don’t want them to trip”.

-Teach and encourage your child to interact with peers.

Instead of expecting them to invite friends over to visit, you might need to take the initiative and invite the peers over and even teach/tell your child what they will play with. They might need some adult directives to play together instead of alone.

-teach them how to recognize and manage their own feelings as well as recognize and react to others feelings

Point out how you feel and how they feel so they start to recognize it.

Examples: “Mom is happy because you just gave me a hug! You can tell I’m happy because I’m smiling!” or “Dad is sad because you just kicked your brother. You can tell I’m sad because I’m frowning and shaking my head”.

“You seem so excited about going on vacation! I know you are happy because you are jumping up and down and smiling!” “You seem angry because your brother took your toy. I think you are angry because you have a mad face and are stomping your feet.”

-if they have sensory needs get them the sensory tools they need to help and a good O.T./therapy to help. [See sensory article] 

Chores - kids can do more than you think!

child doing chores

Suggestions for chores by age:

2 years old- put away toys with help, wash vegetables/fruit in the sink

3-5 years old - clean up/put away toys, hand mom groceries to put away, help sweep the floor, feed the pets (with help), pull weeds, help mom with anything

6-7years old - clean own room (may need pointers from parents to know where to put things), use dustbuster /mini vacuum, sweep floor, wipe counter/table, set the table (to some degree), load dishwasher (except glassware perhaps)

8-10 years old- help with cooking, make own sandwiches/snacks, put away laundry, load washer/dryer (with help for setting the laundry machines), take out trash, vacuum, clean bathroom (with directions provided/given)

10-12 years old- cook a simple meal (after being taught), use microwave alone, get own food, clean up, dust, clean the bathroom, put garbage cans at the curb on trash day, get the mail, put groceries away, [shouldn’t need as much direction/supervision at this age]

13 years old and up- do own laundry, cook at least one dinner/week, clean own room without needing help, and vacuum/dust common areas, clean bathroom, cut the grass, [once can drive can run errands too]

Tiperoo: Make a chart/list (or print one online – there are many freebies to pick from!) of how to do a chore and place it in the room that it is needed. For example: how to run the washer/dryer in the laundry room, how to load and set the dishwasher in the kitchen, etc.

 

 

 

You're job as mom (or dad)- for stay at home parents

stay home mom

Your job as mom

So you’re a stay at home mom. It’s your “job” to clean the house, do the laundry, cook meals, etc, right? Well yes… but it’s even more important to teach your child how to do these things and teach them responsibility or they won’t be successfully independent. Your job as mom (and dad!) is not to make your kids dependent on you- it should be to work yourself out of a job (not that your kids will never need you! Even as adults we still need our parents, right?!). “Working yourself out of a job” means you train your children to do the things they need to learn as life skills so they can be on their own one day. It’s more than just teaching your daughter how to use the washing machine or your son how to vacuum, but also requiring and expecting them to help out around the house, do their chores, and care for their things. When they go to college or move out they might be shocked there’s no magical mom-fairy that picks up their stuff, washes their laundry, etc! They need to learn these things now as children so they will be ready for their future. Start as young as possible, and expect more as they grow up. Older teens should be able to do pretty much everything around the house that the parents can do. Younger children may need help but can do more than you might think! It’s definitely harder to teach than to just do it for them but in the long run its better for your child, and it’s less work for you as they can start taking over more responsibility as they get older and there’s less for you to do. Life skills are sometimes even more important than academic skills as everyone needs these for daily living in any future living situation they may find themselves in. So remember don’t do everything for your child but teach them out to do for themselves! 

[see also article on chores by age] 

College Application steps- for teens

college sign

College application steps

(steps may vary)

1.     Identify interest/career idea/major choice- take a career interest survey or ask your guidance counselor for help if you don’t know what you want to study

2.     Look up colleges that have that major- if you need help there are websites that can help with that or ask your high school guidance counselor

3.     Think about what kind of college you are interested in: consider location- close/far from home as well as urban/suburban/rural areas, cost, programs/majors available, reputation, housing, transportation, etc

4.     Research the colleges you are interested in online- find out all about them, ask college to send you more information.

5.     Tour the college in person if possible, ask the admissions people a lot of questions, get all the info you can

6.     Apply online or on paper- try to apply to about 5 schools (more is fine!) don’t worry too much about whether they will take you or not! [Note- if you had a bad grade year/semester then explain why on the application- maybe you went through a rough break up, had severe anxiety, etc.] There are a lot of essays to write so try to apply to one per week over the summer if possible. Apply early so they will take you with early admission before they run out of space. If applying to art schools make sure you have a good portfolio that shows of your range of talent. If you need letters of reference from high school teachers try to ask them for that before end of school year as they may be hard to reach over the summer.

7.     Complete the FAFSA online with your parents- this shows what your family qualifies for with financial aid. [There is a due date for this- needs parents last tax statements and other information]/

8.     Wait to see if you are accepted- if you are accepted they will send you financial aid information, acceptance letter, paperwork, info, etc

9.     Decide which college you want to attend from the ones that accepted you

10.  Complete the financial aid information they sent and accept scholarships and grants, complete any paperwork they send you.

11. Explore other scholarships and grants besides just from the college- look online, ask if any community programs, high school, etc offer any

12. Save some money from summer jobs.

13. Explore all financial options before taking student loans

14.  Figure out housing options- live on campus, live at home/with local relatives, find apartment with roommates…

15. Keep saving money from summer jobs. Consider job on campus during school year.

16.Pack and get ready to go!! Have fun!!!!

Finding a job- for teens and adults

teen jobs

Finding a Job Tips, by Patience Domowski, LCSW

1.     Job Search- Facebook, newspaper ads, help wanted signs, online search engines, ask friends and friends’ parents, etc…

Online Search Engines
Indeed
Monster
JobGateway
Snagajob- retail jobs

Facebook groups: search- job share network, employment,etc

Ask people you know – for job suggestions, to mow their lawns, clean house, watch kids, care for pets, house sit, odd jobs, etc

 

2.     Apply- online and in person- complete at least 5-10 applications!

Apply in person: restaurants, grocery stores, retail stores, general stores- Walmart, Kmart, Target, mall stores, pharmacy stores, car washes…

 

3.     Follow up with phone call- ask to speak to the HIRING MANAGER, ask for an interview

4.     Interview- highlight your strengths, know what weaknesses you can mention if they ask, know your schedule, provide references, any related experiences, try role playing interviews with friends/parents ahead of time so you feel more confident, take a deep breath and try not to be too anxious. Try to exude confidence- why would they not hire you? You’re awesome!

5.     Follow up after Interview with a phone call – ask for the person who interviewed with and ask when you can start

6.     If they hire you- start work. Show up on time!! If they don’t take you, don’t take it personally- keep trying! (Repeat steps 1-5)

 

CareerLink- [Exton, PA]- provides workshops, job listings, job fairs, career counselors, resume help, etc