We like to say that Executive Functioning is everything that it takes to succeed in school, besides the actual content that is taught at school. Students in our executive functioning program learn how to be organized, take notes, manage time, study effectively, and advocate for themselves. These are skills that all parents want their children to master, but how can you help?
First, we’d love to share our problem solving process. We take a unique approach to executive functioning in that we combine it with positive discipline. This means that we involve students very directly in the problem solving process. For example, we actually don’t have one set way for students to take their notes or organize their materials. We teach a variety of key strategies and techniques, but most importantly, we engage students in a process where they learn to come up with solutions and make the best choice.
Why do we do this? If we simply give the students a solution and say “do it this way,”
What if students make the wrong choice? We don’t let students choose solutions that do not work, but we do give them some freedom, within limits, to choose a solution. We believe that it’s the tutor’s role to set the boundaries and “veto” things that really won’t work, but also to give the student enough room to think, make choices, and be truly involved.
What if the solutions don’t work? Whether we choose a way for the student to keep track of assignments or he does, chances are something isn’t going to work immediately. It takes time for students to “buy in” to strategies, overcome the fear that is holding them back from success, and get used to new habits. We typically have to adjust a few times before we find something that really works.
Why are students afraid? Students learning executive functioning will often make awesome progress early on and then have a huge backslide. They will suddenly stop using the strategies. Why?
How can I help?
1) Be patient: Developing these skills will take time. Expect leaps of progress followed by backslides. Overall, though, the progress will continue “uphill.”
2) Use probing questions: It’s easy to direct your child when he should be using a new strategy. Instead of saying, “Fill out your assignment notebook,” or “Go study,” ask questions: “Have you worked through your daily checklist from your tutor?” “Have you used all your strategies today on your homework?” Try to get your child to verbalize what he has or hasn’t done and come up with what he should do.
3) Talk openly about your emotions: It’s okay for you to be frustrated with your child, and for him to know it. The goal is to share these emotions without blame, shame, or pain for your child. The best way to do this is to use “I” statements: Say, “I’m feeling nervous that you are not going to pass your classes,” or “I’m frustrated when you don’t follow the strategies you have learned,” instead of “You make me mad,” or “You are not going to pass your classes.”
4) Allow mistakes: Let your child know that you understand he’s learning new strategies and habits, and that they are not all going to work. You expect him to try them out, to really give them an effort, but you know there will be ups and downs. You will be there to support him with finding new solutions when that happens. Mistakes are always okay when you learn from them.
5) Try positive discipline: Positive discipline and family meetings provide a great format for weekly discussions with your child about problems, celebrations, and family business. This can be a non-confrontational time to talk about what’s happening and to continue the problem solving process as a family.