Children with ADHD struggle with their impulse control. They can often be disorganized and struggle with following any tasks that are made up of many steps. This can translate into problems at school, affect friendships and harm their career prospects in the longer term.
The technical term for the skills they are lacking is executive functioning skills; sometimes just called executive function or executive skills. These skills are important for a successful and independent life. So how can we help our children master these?
What Are Executive Functioning Skills?
Executive Functioning Skills are related to self-regulation. These are the skills that help with planning, focus, recollecting the steps in a complicated process, and coping with having multiple things to do at the same time.
These skills are vital to organizing yourself, which becomes more important as children get older and are expected to manage more of their lives. Poor executive skills lead to forgotten or late homework, getting lost in school, and forgetting social engagements. If you think your child might have an executive functioning problem, more signs of the disorder are outlined in this article.
The good news is that improving executive function is possible. With a combination of executive functioning interventions, to make life easier, and executive functioning skills training, you can help your child to do more for themselves.
How to Improve Executive Function
Teaching executive functioning skills is something that can be done at any age and can continue through until adulthood. While these skills may not come naturally to a child with ADHD or some other learning disorders, they can be acquired and coping strategies can be adopted to help set your child up for success.
These exercises work to improve performance in three areas that are important for executive function; working memory, impulse control, and cognitive flexibility. Working memory helps with retaining the different steps needed to complete a task. Impulse control is what stops a child doing something they know they shouldn’t. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to change mental gears quickly.
Games for Toddlers
Pat-a-cake and other songs and rhymes help babies to develop their working memory. As the songs are repeated, so they learn what to expect. Songs with a surprise ending, such as ‘Round and round the garden,’ which ends with a tickle are particularly well received.
Copying games help with impulse control. If you can come up with a game, for example, taking turns to put toy animals into a zoo scene helps them to master self-control.
Usually, it is when children get to school that challenges with executive function are noticed. But this is also a great time to begin interventions. For example, storytelling can be a powerful tool in helping children to improve their working memory and cognitive flexibility.
Telling a story, or recalling what happened in their day so far, means that they need to get events in order and tell them in a logical fashion. If you tell a story together, taking it in turns to decide what comes next, you are working on both impulse control too.
To help with focus, play a version of musical statues where the pose of the statue is agreed ahead of time. Get the children dancing to fast music, then when it stops they have to concentrate in order to stop and get into the same pose as the statue very quickly.
Board games and card games are helpful as children get older. Taking turns helps to improve impulse control, and the need to remember the rules; for example, what happens when you land on a snake or a ladder and apply them correctly challenges their working memory.
Sport and other physical activity can be useful too. Not only does it burn off some energy, but it also gives your child the opportunity to work together. That helps them with working memory and cognitive flexibility. Perhaps more importantly, it can improve social relationships and self-confidence, too. If your child isn’t sporty, don’t worry. The same is true of learning to play an instrument or singing in a choir.
At this age, some children begin using a smartphone or tablet computer more often. There are many apps available which can help to work on executive function.
As children grow up to become teenagers, it’s important to start supporting them to develop their own skills rather than trying to do things for them. When they go to college or get a job, you won’t be able to support them in the same way that you have done through their time in school.
Learning organizational skills can be done by working on a practical project. Choose something your child would like to achieve, whether that is college applications or a party for their birthday. Work with them on the plans, but try and let them take the lead. Only nudge when you really need to make sure that things happen.
Older children can be encouraged to ‘self-talk’ when they are struggling with impulse control. In a way, they act as their own parent. When faced with temptation, they mentally explain to themselves why following that impulse is a bad idea. Explaining this process and encouraging your child to find their own way to implement it can be very powerful.
Sport, music and other group activities remain important for this age group. The teen years can be very confusing and isolating, so helping your child to find their clan whether that’s the football team, the cinema club or something else entirely is really useful.
How We Can Help
Speech and Language disorders often go hand in hand with ADHD, and speech therapy can be a valuable part of the process in dealing with this. But if the thought of packing more appointments into your week gives you a headache, you’ll be glad to know that online speech therapy is just as effective as face to face work.
If you have any questions about how we can help you and your child, with executive functioning skills or anything else, please get in touch today.