8 Tips to Improve Executive Functioning Skills in children with ADHD
As I write this post, it is late May 2020, and schoolchildren from all over the United States have been learning from home for about two months. They were thrown into this situation without much warning or preparation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some kids may be taking the situation in stride – keeping up with schoolwork, staying connected to their teachers, appropriately asking for help when needed. Some – probably the ones with weak executive skills – are struggling. If you need a quick overview of what executive functioning skills are, please read my blog post, What are Executive Functioning Skills?
Parents, I want you to know that I see how hard you have been working, too. You’ve been in power struggles with your child. You are sharing space with everyone and patience is low. You may have become defensive with your spouse, not feeling like you are on the same page. You’ve put in extra time with the teachers during their virtual office hours to ensure that your child’s needs are still being met in whatever ways possible. You have been praying that grades can only go up, not down, in this new reality that no one asked for. You’ve suddenly taken on the role of parent and teacher, and you may not know how to improve executive functioning skills, much less maintain them.
As we enter summer vacation, and Google classroom and Zoom meetings become a thing of the past, it is helpful to keep a few things in mind that can smooth the way for the time when school resumes in person. Your child may have experienced a regression in learning during the last few months. Routines and systems that were in place and working may need to be completely re-done. If there is anything this crisis has taught us, it is that we need to be better prepared for a major crisis when it comes to educating and supporting children with different needs.
I know you want to breathe a sigh of relief that you are “done”! Please do that. Then, when you are ready, join me in the next chapter of this journey. The hard work is, unfortunately, not over. In fact, it may be just the beginning.
The point I am trying to make is this: please do not wait until August or September to just pack your child off to school and hope for the best. The challenges he or she experienced with distance learning will not magically go away when heading back to school. We can tackle some issues over the summer to make school re-entry (or continued distance learning) much smoother and effective. You had to wing it in March, but now you have a few months to really get a handle on how to best work with your child with ADHD.
Summer tips to improve executive functioning skills in your child with ADHD:
- Allow a true break, even if you will not be taking a summer vacation. Let your child have some lazy, sleep-in, do-nothing days when school is officially over. This tip, and the next one, address emotional control.
- Address social and emotional issues before worrying about what was not learned over the last part of the school year. Our children have been isolated, torn away from friends, sports, hobbies, and all of the structure they have ever known. They missed out on parties, dances, yearbook signing, and teacher and friend good-byes. They see folks wearing masks and protesting, they may hear parents or friends having conflicting and confusing opinions, they may be scared of COVID-19 or not really even understand what it is. Acknowledge their fears and concerns, no matter how big or small. Validate without judging. Accept and meet them where they are emotionally. Seek help through a counselor if necessary. Re-introducing social time with friends can occur when the time is right.
- Assess academic needs. How did the remainder of the school year go from March – May/June? Was your child engaged? Did he or she learn and retain the required information? Are there gaps? What subjects were the most challenging? This tip addresses sustained attention, task completion, planning/prioritizing and working memory.
- Seek help for any academic challenges that can be addressed now. Speak with your child’s counselors or teachers, and involve him or her in understanding why extra help is needed and creating a plan for how. This tip addresses planning and prioritizing, as well as flexibility.
- Teach your child how to make a daily schedule and follow it. Summer is a good to learn and practice structure with low stakes. Yes, summer days are full of Disney+ and Netflix, swimming and playing in the yard, chilling with friends, and sleeping in. Having a day of “nothing” scheduled is the perfect time to learn how to structure one’s free time, no matter how loose. Give your child at least one thing to do each day and schedule it, whether that is a simple chore, or book reading time, etc. Allow him or her to decide when to do it. They can also put in other specifics, like going swimming or block out their YouTube or Xbox time. This skill will carry over when they need to use it when it counts! This tip addresses organization and time management.
- Limit electronics time. Yes, we all know that most of our kids with ADHD are glued to their devices 24/7 if left unchecked. Fast moving video games hit the dopamine centers of the brain and entice kids to keep coming back for more, more, more. Now is a good time to set limits! We are going to need their brains to be able to focus on slow moving classroom learning in a few months, so please set hard limits on number of hours for the computer, Xbox and iPad! This tip addresses sustained attention, response inhibition, emotional control, and self-monitoring.
- Engage brains during the summer without framing it as “learning”. Form an online writing or book club, a cooking club or recipe challenge among friends, daily science or art projects, messy play time, puzzles and board games, and other creative pursuits. Explore nature with family hikes and walks, learn to fish or pitch a tent or identify your area’s wildlife and plants. Strengthening executive functioning skills is about more than just those needed for academic learning. This tip addresses flexibility.
- Start to talk about returning to school well before it actually happens. For younger children, you can create a social story to help them deal with changes that may be required. For older children, have a discussion that begins with asking them what they are thinking. Are they worried? Anxious? Looking forward to it? All of the above? This tip addresses emotional control and self-monitoring.
Not sure which executive functioning skills are weak in your child with ADHD? Contact us for a complimentary 20-minute consultation!
We have a milestone year coming up in our household. My oldest son is starting his Senior year in high school, and my youngest is starting his Freshman year in the same school. We plan to have a fairly chill summer while still getting ready for the challenges that await them in a few months! From one hard working parent to another, I want you to know that I understand you, and I am here to help! Remember to also join our free ADHD Facebook support community .