Most parents use the foundation of their own childhood to help them make decisions for their children. They either spend all their time and energy avoiding things they negatively experienced as a child, or they spend time and money finding ways to help kids experience the things they loved and enjoyed as a child. However, parenting is not just about creating or avoiding positive experiences and activities.
Parenting is about forming a child's soul, mind, and body to help them grow into a healthy, motivated adult who knows how to work hard, successfully form relationships, manage emotions, problem solve, cope with loss, and even be self-motivated to form and accomplish goals.
Parenting is hard work. When most of us get ready to buy a car or even purchase a new home we take time to make a plan. We prioritize our finances and make a list of what is a want, what is a need, and what is non-negotiable. Shouldn’t parenting get the same amount of attention? Making a parent game plan should be essential, and the good news is that it is never too late to start.
A great place to start is an intentional focus on Executive Functioning Skills (EFS). Executive Functioning Skills include: impulse control, emotional control, working memory, flexible thinking, self-monitoring, task initiation, planning and prioritizing, and organization. Children and adults who have strong EFS have more confidence, are independent, have good coping skills, and are typically self-motivated individuals. All children and teens need to work on developing their EFS. However, individuals with ADHD, anxiety, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities often struggle to develop executive functioning skills at the same pace and maturity as their peers. Underdeveloped EFS can cause problems with family relationships and dynamics, school responsibilities, and friendships.
Here are a few great strategies for parents when trying to develop strong EFS with their children:
Figure out what is important to you as a parent. What do you value and what is non-negotiable? What are your strengths, and what are the areas you want to grow in as a parent or spouse? Demonstrate good boundaries and goal-setting for your children.
Slow down. Plan for extra time, especially for kids with a learning disability, anxiety, ADHD, or Dyslexia. Rushing kids frustrates them, and ultimately builds unwanted negative attitudes. Allow kids time to think and process, answer the question, or complete the task. Be patient.
Teach kids how to be independent and problem-solve. Use one word instead of long explanations … Shoes … Backpack … Dishwasher. Assume they know and are competent enough to figure it out on their own. Let them figure things out.
Get organized. If kids know the routine, understand where things are kept, and see you being organized it is much easier for them to help out. Help them learn what good organization looks like, and they can be more independent. Kids are watching and learning from you. Assess your own organization needs. Where can you improve?
Teach kids how to tackle things themselves by spending time teaching and practicing everyday skills. Teach them how to make a sandwich, get dressed, recycle, run the vacuum, fold and sort clothes, and empty the dishwasher. Teach them, but don’t do it for them! Yes, it takes infinitely much more of your time upfront, but they’re worth the investment!
Teach kids how to use time to their advantage. Set timers, use an analog clock to set boundaries, and use calendars from early on in life. Teach them how to see the big picture. This helps them feel like they are in control.
Help them make decisions on their own by initially giving them options. Let them struggle with the consequences. This helps kids know the difference between a good decision and a bad decision. When they struggle or fail, they develop the necessary coping skills needed to be self-motivated, independent, and resilient. After they start to develop some decision-making skills, stop giving them options and let them strategize on their own.
Ask questions and give them time to figure out the answer. What will you need to bring, what did the teacher say? Don’t accept answers like, “I don’t know, or I can’t remember.” Don’t give them multiple-choice answers or answer for them. Be patient, give them time to think, and let them know you will wait (and expect them to answer). If they don’t answer, ask more questions. This takes time … so be patient!
Every day as parents we are given multiple opportunities to help foster our children’s independence and coping skills, focusing on EFS is an easy place to start especially if your child struggles with anxiety, ADHD, autism, or dyslexia.