Executive Functioning Skills

What are these skills you speak of?

“Executive functioning skills” is a term that is used to describe our brain’s ability to plan, organize, and complete tasks. Brain functions such as short-term memory, mental flexibility, and self-control are all involved in these types of tasks. In your day to day life, this means that you are capable of developing strong executive functioning skills if your brain does well with remembering, being able to shift gears or “think outside of the box,” and being self-aware enough to enable you to control impulses and adjust your actions when change is helpful. If you are lucky enough to have strong executive functioning skills you will more easily develop the ability to:

  • Find things when you need them rather than spending half of your planned task activity just trying to locate the items that you need.
  • Keep track of tasks that need to get taken care of or appointments/dates to keep instead of constantly needing to apologize for forgetting to do things or show up when you promised to.
  • Prioritize things that are the most important over accomplishing other perhaps the easier ones…or the ones that are less tedious…or the ones that just happen to be in front of your face (I call these rabbit holes…a major weakness of mine, I go down rabbit holes all the time.  My professional husband also uses the term, “project creep” when he is encouraging me to avoid it and stay on task. ).
  • Chunk/plan out long term projects so that you can gather the necessary materials and then work on them gradually rather than leaving it all to the last minute.
  • Estimate how long a task will take, fairly accurately, so that as you plan things in your schedule or on your “To Do” list, you have reasonable expectations of yourself rather than expecting yourself to have 8 hands and 2 brains and then feel like a failure when you don’t accomplish everything on your list.

The Gift of Reaching Out to People Who Struggle Socially

Michele Garcia Winner is the creator of the Social Thinking framework, which teaches social skills to individuals who are struggling due to issues such as “Asperger’s” and ADHD. She writes this article inviting us to be more flexible about how we respond to people who might come across as not interested in socializing with us but really are quite lonely and would love to be a part of the conversations. The more we take the time to try to understand people we encounter, from all walks of life, the more connected we feel to each other, our families, our communities, and our world. What a great topic to consider during this busy holiday time. 

Parenting a Child Who Has Intense Emotions: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Help Your Child Regulate Emotional Outbursts and Aggressive Behaviors by Pat Harvey, ACSW, LCSW-C

Parenting a Child Who Has Intense EmotionsA truly insightful book that helps parents to step out of the power struggles that we adults can so easily find ourselves in with children and teens who experience emotions in a big way.  Kids who seem to blow-up over nothing, struggle with transitions, seem to be constantly challenging adult authority, or be intent on badgering you into submission for whatever they want are actually really struggling.  They don’t like feeling out of control like this but don’t yet have the skills they need to calm themselves down, to soothe themselves, and to handle things in a calmer manner.

Often our first impulse as parent is to come down harder on these kids, grappling with the feeling that we have lost control of a situation that we “should” be in control of and trying to re-establish a sense authority.  We put a great deal of pressure on ourselves to fix the problem and this stress makes us even more likely to lose our temper.  We find ourselves reacting in ways that we never would have imagined back in the days when having a child was a dream and not yet reality.  We wonder, “How have I come to be a person who yells, physically intimidates, or even possibly gets into physical altercations with my kid?”  We think, “I have punished them with every consequence I can think of and nothing works!”  We worry, “How is all of this conflict affecting our other children?” and “What will become of my child if we don’t get this turned around?”

The reality is that these kids respond VERY poorly to attempts to dominate them and punish them into compliance and it only serves to escalate the arguments and tension in the household while, at the same time, make them feel worse about themselves. Secondary problems can crop up like depression and suicidal thoughts.

What else is there to do?  Based firmly in scientific research, this book helps parents understand the emotional struggles that kids like this are grappling with and how miserable they really feel when their emotions are out of control.  It helps you find ways to show your child or teen that you love them, understand that they are struggling, and gradually teach them coping strategies that can help them to regulate their emotions.  Additionally, it helps parents to set limits and expectations that are realistic and even therapeutic.  If you have been reading this review and have been brought to tears by how much this describes your life with your child, I truly can’t recommend this book enough.

I would also like to add a message of hope.  Kids and adults who tend to experience their emotions very intensely also have many strengths and can “use their powers for good.”  These are folks who are passionate and tenacious.  They are artistic.  They feel the pain of other’s deeply and care about making positive changes in the world.  When they learn to harness their feelings constructively and focus their energies on projects that interest them, the things that they are capable of is incredible!  Looking through the “lens” of the medical model, labels/diagnoses that are often connected to these types of kids are: ADHD, ODD, Asperger’s, Bi-Polar Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder.  I caution you to only lean on labels like this for what they can do for you.  Often labels like this cause harm because some people take it to mean that something is “wrong” with them; that they are “broken.”  I don’t think this is a helpful or healthy perspective.  You can read more of my thoughts on this here.

So, if you are struggling with a child who has intense emotions, get this book.  Also, I urge you to strongly consider finding a therapist (or two) who has experience working with children/teens AND who has experience using the theoretical framework this book is based on, DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy).  This is a tough road to go alone for both the child and the parent.  If you are at your wit’s end, it can also help a great deal for you (together with other parental figures in the home) to have your own therapist to guide you though the process, helping to shift your approach with your child to one that teaches emotion regulation instead of constantly doing battle with them.  Ideally, signing release forms so the two therapists can coordinate the work they do with your family will help the process to be as effective and efficient as possible.

PS – You may also want to check out this video, Teen extremes: Regulating Moods in the Age of Anxiety, as it based on the DBT concepts described in the book and presented by Dr. Marsha Linehan, the actual psychologist who developed DBT.

* I don’t make any money from the books that I recommend.  My reviews are solely based on wanting to let people know what’s out there and could be helpful to them.

The Work-Smart Academic Planner: Write It Down, Get It Done by Peg Dawson EdD & Richard Guare PhD

Work-Smart Academic PlannerA review of this is yet to come. I have ordered my copy… just learned that this planner exists! Amazon reports that it’s geared to kids in 6-12th grades.  These authors have two other books that I recommend, Smart but Scattered & Smart But Scattered Teens.  The authors’ do a great job of making things understandable in a way that doesn’t leave the reader feeling stupid.  When you struggle with these skills, it can be easy to get down on yourself. These authors can do a great job of pulling you back up to feeling like you are smart and capable. So, this letter might be worth having.

* I don’t make any money from the books that I recommend.  My reviews are solely based on wanting to let people know what’s out there and could be helpful to them.

Smart But Scattered by Peg Dawson, EdD & Richard Guare, PhD

Smart but ScatteredWhile I own this book, I have not had a chance to give it a read. It is geared towards parents of 4-13 year-old kids.  You can check out my review of their companion book, Smart but Scattered Teens, which I suspect is pretty similar to this one. Additionally, in creating this review, I was excited to learn that they now have a Work-Smart Academic Planner that I will be reviewing as soon as I get my hands on a copy!

 

* I don’t make any money from the books that I recommend.  My reviews are solely based on wanting to let people know what’s out there and could be helpful to them.

Smart But Scattered Teens by Richard Guare, PhD, Peg Dawson, EdD, and Colin Guare

Smart but Scattered TeensWith a sense of humor and practicality, the authors of this book provide concrete, step-by-step ways to take a look at your teen’s (and yours!) strengths and weaknesses in terms of organization and planning. They then provide information about how people’s brains work and how having “executive functioning” challenges effects people’s day-to-day lives.  They guide you through ways to improve these types skills with respect and compassion. The thing I like most about this book is that they emphasize that people with very smart brains can struggle with these skills. Geared to the 13 and up crowd, they also have companion books for younger kids (Smart but Scattered) as well as a new, Work-Smart Academic Planner that I’m excited to be checking out!

* I don’t make any money from the books that I recommend.  My reviews are solely based on wanting to let people know what’s out there and could be helpful to them.