You’ve got your keys in your hand, rushing the kids out the door (back when we used to go outdoors!). They’re munching on cold Poptarts. Backpacks? Check. Lunches? Check. Teeth and hair are brushed? Victory! Then five minutes into the drive, he announces: “I don’t have my shoes.” What? I didn’t know I needed “shoes” on the checklist! Is it not common knowledge that we wear shoes in public?
Does this sound familiar? It feels like the old “you’d forget your head if it weren’t attached” scenario. Some kids need constant reminding, hovering, refocusing, and even then, they still miss tasks or everything takes three times longer. Do you wonder if your child is lacking the skills that are essential to living a productive life? Will she make it to adulthood? Could he survive on his own? What if I told you that there is a reason for all the scatterbrainedness? It’s called executive function deficit—and yes, there is hope.
First things first, all kids have gifts and talents. What one child has another might not. When a child lacks artistic ability, we don’t think there is anything “wrong” with her. It’s just not her strength. If she wants to grow as an artist, it’s going to take guidance and practice.
Some children lack what is called “executive function.” Now the difference is that artistic talent is not essential to daily living. Executive function is. Executive function is the air traffic controller in our brains. It gives us the ability to initiate, plan, organize, set goals, solve problems, regulate emotions, and monitor behavior.
Is executive function deficit the same as ADHD?
ADHD and issues with executive functioning are closely related, but they are not the same. ADHD is an official diagnosis while executive function deficit refers to weaknesses in the brain’s self-management system. Here is a great resource you can use to compare one to the other.
This is what executive function deficit looks like.
- Keeps a messy room and a disorganized desk
- Has difficulty following sequential instructions
- Must be nagged repeatedly to get ready to catch the bus
- Fails to complete assignments unless you’re standing over him or her
- Forgets to turn in homework even when it’s completed
- Loses things regularly, from jackets to permission slips
- Has a meltdown when it’s time to clean his or her room
- Engages in risk-taking or thrill-seeking behaviors
Keep in mind, most kids do a couple of these things but still have normal executive function. They are just learning organization and responsibility.
You CAN improve executive function skills.
If executive function disorder is a weakness, that means it can be strengthened. Parents of children with executive function problems often make the mistake of structuring their child’s environment to compensate for the lack of skills rather than encourage their development. So here are a few strategies to try:
- Goldilocks parenting: Not too much, not too little! Practice autonomy-supportive parenting and step in occasionally. Don’t be afraid to let your child try on his or her own, get frustrated, or even fail.
- Backpack organization: Start by assigning everything its own specific place. Attach a luggage tag with a to-school checklist and a to-home checklist. Every day, your children can go down the lists and make sure they have what they need in their bags.
- Strategy games: Jenga and chess are fun ways for kids to start thinking more strategically.
Parents of children with executive function problems often make the mistake of structuring their child’s environment to compensate for the lack of skills rather than encourage their development.
Share some tips that have worked for your kids!