So you child is gifted but…she also has difficulty staying focused and managing time. He seems impulsive and reacts to situations with strong emotions. She’s very disorganized and has trouble getting started and following through on the goals she sets. These are just a few ways in which bright and capable students may also experience significant challenges. These seemingly contradictory realities were the topic of the recent parent workshop on executive functioning. In case you were interested but unable to attend the session, I’ll provide a quick overview of the workshop here and tell you about a couple of great resources to help you learn more.
Here are a few key points to understand about executive functioning:
- Executive functions are skills that the brain develops to sort out and manage the complex operations of the brain
- Though the brain is prepared for the development of these functions before birth, the skills must be developed and some kids don’t do it on their own
- Developing executive skills can improve one’s experience in and out of school (important to help your child see)
- Time and persistence are required to improve executive functions which may involve changing a habit or rewiring the brain
- An individual may have one area of struggle, but often there is a clustering of challenges, e.g. an individual has difficulty initiating tasks and then struggles to stay focused once she finally begins
Here is a list of the functions with descriptors:
Response Inhibition—The capacity to think before you act, to resist the urge to say or do something to allow the time to evaluate a situation and the impact of the what is said or done.
Emotional Control—The ability to manage emotions to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control and direct behavior.
Task Initiation—The ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem solving strategies.
Organization—The ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of information or materials.
Goal-directed Persistence—The capacity to have a goal, follow through to the completion of the goal, and not be put off by or distracted by competing interests.
Metacognition—The ability to observe how you problem solve. It includes self-monitoring and self-evaluative skills.
- Self-Monitoring—Recognizing what is going on inside your own mind, body, environment, and relationships.
- Self-Evaluative Skills—The capacity to evaluate how well you did and to make good decisions about how to proceed.
Working Memory—The ability to hold information in memory while performing complex tasks. It incorporates the ability to draw on past learning or experience to apply to the situation at hand or to project into the future.
Sustained Attention—The capacity to keep paying attention to a situation or task in spite of distractibility, fatigue, or boredom.
Planning/Prioritization—The ability to manage future oriented tasks.
Time Management—The ability to estimate how much time you have, how to allocate it, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines.
Flexibility—The ability to revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information, or mistakes. It relates to an adaptability to changing conditions.
Shifting—The ability to move freely from one situation, activity, or aspect of a problem to another, in reaction to internal or external cues.
In the workshop, we had participants do the following:
- Parents completed a list of their strengths and challenges
- Parents completed a list of their child’s strengths and challenges
- They looked for similarities and differences in their own executive functions and those of their child’s
- Parents reflected on how they managed their own strengths and challenges
- Parents considered what specific steps they might talk about with their child in an effort to create positive change
Some tips on talking with your child:
- Emphasize that these are a set of skills that can be improved
- Be careful what children overhear about what you say about them or yourself to others—this has a greater impact than what you say directly to him
- Be specific in your planning and your feedback—“try harder” is not specific
- Chose to focus on just one skill or just one cluster at a time
- Make goals that are achievable but that stretch the child just enough for growth
Keep in mind:
- While planning and negotiating with your child is essential to getting their buy-in, you are ultimately the adult and in charge
- If you share similar skill weaknesses with your child, you may need to commit to improving your own skills
- If you have a strength that is your child’s weakness you may need to explain what you do to be successful—don’t assume because it’s easy for you it should be for her, too
- If your plan isn’t working, talk with your child about how you might adjust it
- If you feel your weakness with a skill prevents you from providing a strong model for your child who also struggles in this area, consider getting help from an outside source
Check out these great resources:
- Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
Though this is just the surface of a very extensive topic, isn’t it great to know that there’s a reason your child has strengths and challenges and that you can do something to create positive change!
Adapted from the presentation created by the VBCPS Office of Gifted Education, 2011