Executive Functioning (EF) refers to our problem solving, organization, planning and emotion regulation abilities. This morning when you planned out your day and carried it out, you were using your EF skills. When you figured out where to park your car, cook your food, pay your bills, take care of your sick child, put away your clothes, or resolve conflict with your partner, you were using your EF skills. We wouldn’t survive without it, especially in the world that we currently live in.
EF skills use the front part of our brain, called the frontal lobe, which doesn’t fully mature until our early 20s.
This means we don’t reach our peak capacity in our EF abilities until then. Yes, we can improve these skills after that point, but it also means that we cannot expect children and adolescents to have EF abilities of an adult. This is frustrating for parents, especially when they are constantly either repeating themselves or doing everything for their children. But there are ways of engaging with children and teens that will help them develop their own EF skills. It is like putting money in your child’s savings account, and cashing it out when they are adults.
Children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and Learning Disabilities are delayed in their EF development. Anxiety and depression also worsens children’s EF abilities.
How parents can improve their children’s EF skills?
Take a look at how YOU solve problems, stay organized, manage daily tasks, and cope with emotions. The best way you can do is to be a good model. Your children will pick up effective skills by watching you use them.
When your child is having a challenging moment, take a step back and ask yourself what skills are they lacking, and how can you best teach them those skills. When we view children’s challenges and misbehaviors as a result of skill deficits, we feel differently towards our child and treat them more positively.
Ask your child to come up with solutions to their own problems and to give those solutions a try and see how things go. Work on getting them, not you, to do the thinking and problem solving.