Keeping up at school, doing homework, doing projects, attending extra lessons or extra mural activities, preparing for tests, and coping with social and/or emotional challenges, are just too much for many children. So, they struggle to get stuff done! Currently many of my referrals are also finding it hard to get stuff done.
‘Getting stuff done’ is a simple way to describe the role of the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC). The PFC is mainly responsible for Executive Functions (EF’s), but other parts of the brain play a role too.
More and more children struggle with Executive Functions (EF’s) but luckily there is no shortage of information about EF’s. It however remains a very unfamiliar concept for many people and a confusing concept to understand. EF’s have to do with skills such as organization; time management and being on time; remaining focussed and not getting distracted; prioritising; self-monitoring; flexibility in thinking; emotional regulation; managing overwhelm; etc. These skills are vital to ‘get stuff done’ and the PFC is like the ‘CEO of the Brain’ to help us to get things done.
Seth Perler’s website, Researchild, and may other websites provide excellent information about EF’s for parents, teachers, and professionals.
In The Executive Function Online Summit (TEFOS), hosted by Seth Perler in August 2021, many presenters emphasized the right kind of support for children with EF challenges. But how much support must be given and how?
We want children to ‘access and use’ their EF’s. Imagine a ladder that is going to the PFC (the red area in the brain visual). Some children might not even be on the ladder yet, other children might be on the first step, others might be halfway up the ladder and others might be at the top of the ladder. By using the right kind of questions, we can help children to move up the ladder so they can ‘access and use’ their EF’s.
A child that is not even on the ladder yet or on the bottom step, will require lots of support to develop EF’s and to get stuff done. If the child is not getting any stuff done for example, you can use questions like:
- Can you tell me what you must do that is outstanding right now?
- Can we make a deadline list of all the stuff you need to do?
- Where can we look to find out what is outstanding right now?
- Let’s decide what you should do first.
A child that is halfway up the ladder will require medium support to use and further develop EF’s. If the child is getting some stuff done for example but not everything and not consistently, you can ask questions like:
- Can you show me what you have done so far?
- What is your strategy for keeping track of your deadlines?
- What is your plan to get things done?
A child that is at the top of the ladder will probably require very little or no support but might need encouragement and recognition. Statements or questions like the following could be used:
- I notice that you are keeping up…
- It seems like you are…
- Tell me about the strategies that you are using to get stuff done.
- Is there anything that you are concerned about at present?
A simple visual/drawing of the brain and a ladder can be used to talk to children about where they are and how much support they need. They can often tell you immediately if they are at the bottom of the ladder, halfway up or at the top.
Sometimes it is necessary to ‘Be a child’s EF’s’ for a while but no parent, teacher or professional can do this on a permanent basis. If we do not grade our support and if we do not give the right kind of support (and/or intervention), we are not helping children to become more independent and agile learners.