Executive Functioning ~ What’s that?

Your Child’s Conductor

Executive functioning is the new buzz word around the water cooler in psychology and neurology offices.  It’s common for disorganized children or children with ADHD to have executive functioning weaknesses.  I like to explain the term to parents as this:  Picture your child’s brain as a band or an orchestra.  There are some very good musicians in the orchestra, maybe an excellent drummer and percussion section, and a stellar trombone player.  All these players (or parts of the brain) can be very good, and they can actually sound pretty impressive when they all play together.  However, they need a conductor (the executive functioning part of the brain) to really sound their best: to be precise in their playing, to complement each other, etc.  Without a great conductor, the orchestra will just be okay.  Some kids have more trouble getting their conductor to the podium to lead the band.

Kids without a conductor have trouble getting organized for the day.  They have trouble planning what is next.  They have difficulty keeping track of homework assignments or following through on chores.  They need to learn these planning and organizing skills early on.  They need to build and develop their conductor.  Most middle school students have a homework planner that they are forced to use, and some take to it, color-coding different sections and using tabs and dividers.  This planner serves as an external conductor to get them organized for their days and weeks, and help plan long-term projects. 

In my opinion, however, middle school is much too late to be introducing a daily planner.  I would argue that even a kindergartener or first grader be exposed to the daily planner.  A much more simplified version, yes, but a daily planner nonetheless, with a picture schedule of that day’s events and any new or unforseen activities (like a pickup at the bus stop by dad instead of mom.)

Try to create this external conductor for your child.  Use some pictures to prep your child for upcoming events.  Refer back to them throughout the day.  These daily calendars or schedules are also great for hearing about your child’s day after it has happened.  When dad (or mom) gets home from work, the daily calendar can be used to help your child tell you about their day.  A visual map helps ground their thinking, and they develop important sequencing skills using these to retell their story.  Here are some examples: Daily Worksheet and Calendartime. I would recommend cutting some of these pictures out and adding your own to develop a personalized calendar for the day.  List the daily plan, using more or less detail depending on your child’s age.

Pictures, written lists, and chore checklists are also helpful to give some structure to your child’s day.  The visual organization of calendars and daily dockets help your child see the passage of time and what lies ahead, decreasing anxiety around the “unknown”.  As adults, we hold a lot of information in our heads.  And, as parents, we often whisk our child to and from activities, the grocery store, doctor’s appointments… without prepping them for the next event.  These unknowns can often be confusing for a child, causing disorganization in their thoughts or even anxiety.  Help them train their conductor to manage all parts of their orchestra.

What other ideas have you found to work with your children to get them prepped for the day?  How do you help them get their conductor to the podium?

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