Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Executive Functioning Skills and Children

What are Executive Functioning Skills and What Do They Have to Do with My Child?

You may have heard the term "executive functioning deficits," whether from a teacher at school, a therapist, or in trending articles. It is a term used often in a number of settings to describe one's skills that help to manage day to day tasks. It is beneficial to understand this term and how it plays a part in your child's day to day life and, more importantly, how emotions can greatly affect one's executive functioning skills. Read more...

Executive functioning skills are a set of processes that have to do with managing oneself in order to achieve a goal involving mental control and self-regulation.

Examples of executive functioning skills include:  
-Impulse Control
-Emotional Control
-Flexible Thinking
-Working Memory
-Self Monitoring
-Planning and Prioritizing
-Task Initiation

So how are these skills affected by emotions? 
Executive functioning skills are greatly affected by our emotional state. When a child is under stress (perhaps because of parental divorce or some other family problem, bullying, feeling insecure in school or sports, etc.), it is hard to manage emotions and, thus, some executive functioning skills are the first things to be affected. As a result, the child may have difficulty initiating tasks (and maintaining them) at home or in school, make reactive, poor decisions, seem forgetful and disorganized, etc. In essence, sometimes when children are acting out at home or struggling to function in the classroom, they may be experiencing emotional stress and have lost their ability to use some of their executive functioning skills.

Some helpful tips and take-aways:
If your child is struggling to accomplish daily tasks, stay organized, be planful and flexible, remember things, and manage emotions and impulses, it is important to try and understand the meaning behind the behavior by looking for possible underlying stressors and working to help resolve those. 

Additionally, the following tips can help provide some containment and support for the child while working on those stressors:  
-Maintain a routine and consistent structure
-Break down tasks into small steps
-Assist in time-management and allow for additional time to complete smaller tasks
-Give clear verbal and visual cues to assist in initiating and maintaining tasks
-Assist with organization

Most importantly, remember that these behaviors are probably not just laziness or defiance. They are likely the result of stress and the neurocognitive impairments that come with it. 

Posted by Shawna Paplaski, LCPC