Try These Ideas To Work On Your Child’s Executive Functions This Summer!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard from lots of parents who, upon reaching the end of the school year, want to see a different experience for their child-and for themselves-next year.

And chances are, they would like to see their child improve their executive functions.

The executive functions-there are several, although different researchers have different ideas on how many-are the parts of the brain that allow intentions to turn into actions. They can be divided into the “thinking functions,” such as time management and organization, and the “doing functions,” including task initiation and emotional control.

In ADHDers, the executive functions are impaired (although not necessarily all of them, or to the same degree). Additionally, research has shown that ADHD kiddos can be 2-3 years behind their neurotypical peers developmentally, which translates into a lag in the development of the executive functions.

Simply put, when it comes to the executive functions, your ADHD child struggles.

And not only does your kid feel that they are behind, or panic not knowing where or how to start their assignment, they also have to deal with the many-and I mean many-negative messages they get from teachers, coaches, other kids, siblings, and relatives, about their inability to just DO THE THING.

As a parent, I’ll raise my hand here, and say that I, too, said things like “You’re so much smarter than this,” or “Why do I have to tell you a million times??”

It can be downright upsetting.

But, there are ways to both help strengthen those pesky executive functions, and/or to accustom your child to various strategies that can support his weaker skills. And you don’t have to wait for homework or book reports! Here are a few:

1 – Assign chores.  Being given household jobs is a great way for your child  to feel that you trust them to be responsible, and that they are contributing to the upkeep of your home. However, for our ADHD friends, chores should be structured in a particular way. 

  • Saying “clean your room” really isn’t specific enough. Break the chore down to smaller tasks, and depending on your child’s age, consider giving them responsibility for some of the subtasks first, rather than the whole thing. 
  • Also, how often do you think this should take place? It is better to have small daily tasks than one large weekly job.
  • Set a time of day to accomplish these tasks, with an alarm (not you) announcing the time. This should take place BEFORE fun activities that are tough to pull away from.
  • Use this time to do a chore or two yourself. This is called “body doubling,” and seeing you also working can keep your child on track. 
  • Finally, profusely thank your child for helping with the household responsibilities. Consider rewards (small things, like a trip to the ice cream parlor, or a slurpee)-we all get paid for our jobs, why shouldn’t your child??

2 – Work together to plan a trip or outing. Deciding on a place to go, and then working together to identify, prioritize, and execute different tasks is a great way to not only practice using executive function skills, but to enable you and your child to see where the gaps are, and what kind of support might be helpful. For example, if one of the tasks is to map out the trip on Google Maps, and your child has forgotten to do it, setting a reminder might help-and might stick in your child’s brain as a way to remember tasks.

3 – Keep a family calendar. Time blindness is very common for ADHDers (kids and adults). Putting events and responsibilities on a calendar makes it easier for your ADHD kiddo to see time. It will also help with transitions, as the events of the day are readily available.

4 – Allow for unstructured time – WITHOUT electronics. When your child has free time to play ball, read, draw, run around the woods-whatever they like to do-they are flexing their executive function muscles. Putting together Legos takes attention, organization, working memory, and emotional control. Pretending requires flexibility, attention, and non-verbal working memory. And the best thing about play is that, for the most part, you are not involved. They are strengthening their EF skills, and having fun, all on their own.

5 – Play board games. Family board game nights are so much fun! And without even realizing it, your child will be getting executive function training. Following directions, waiting their turn, developing a game plan-all of these involve the executive functions. And it’s such a wonderful way to spend time together.

This is just a sampling of activities that will help your child to put their executive functions to work, and learn what kind of support is helpful, all at a low pressure time of year. Give one or two a try!

Don’t Fear Summer With ADHD Kiddos!

It’s summer!! Woo-hoo!

Said very few parents of ADHD kids, ever.

Parents of ADHD kiddos love their kids. But when summer comes, this small-ish child (or children!) looms large in their parents’ minds-and what goes through their heads are the tantrums, the meltdowns, the mess. And the dread.

I’m here to tell you – you can actually have a good summer with your ADHD child. Maybe even a great summer. Let’s talk about some strategies.

1 – Give your kid(s) ownership of their summer. You all are one team (maybe even give it a name!). You can work together to determine what your family would like to do this summer, and how to make some of those activities happen. You, as the adult, have veto power – but before you outright nix an idea, brainstorm ways to modify or limit the activity to make it acceptable to you. Nothing engages kids (and adults) more than planning an activity. And ADHD kiddos are so often told they are wrong, or bad – helping to plan an activity for the family will be so empowering! However, if after talking it through, you are still 100% opposed, do not be afraid to say, “I’m sorry, but we can’t do that.” You are in charge.

2 – Think out your boundaries, and share them with your kids. What do you need from this summer? Are you working? Then you need time to do that, at a time that you determine. Do you want your house to be straightened up each night? Would you like to work on a project? All of these activities require time, and might require alone time for you. You will need to unflinchingly tell your kids your boundaries, and let them know that these are non-negotiable. Period.

3 – Structure each day/week. ADHD kids do so much better  with structure. Each day should have some basic parts – meal times, TV time, reading time, etc-and every week should also have a plan. The weekly plan can be looser than the daily plan – this week we will go swimming, go to the beach, and visit Grandma – and then you can slot activities in when it works with your schedule.

4 – Have a team huddle every morning – and include praise for your kids’ efforts. 10 minutes to set expectations for the day in the morning can prevent meltdowns later in the day. And recognizing when you see them being team players is so motivating!

5 – Guarantee quiet, solitary time for each kiddo every day. We all wish our kids would wake up each morning and be so thrilled to see their siblings that they’d never argue. Ha! Good one! In order to prevent meltdowns, consider letting your kids hang in their rooms, alone, not as punishment, but just as time by themselves.You can determine the time of day, based on when it seems they are getting on each other’s nerves, and amount of time. But just knowing there will be a breather from their sibs could carry your kids through some rough waters when they’re together.

6 – Assign chores to your kids – and consider paying them. Parents generally feel that kids can’t do chores. Quite bluntly, that;s incorrect. If your kids balk at chores, before you take away TV, etc,find out what’s causing that. It may be something as simple as not knowing how to perform the chore. Paying them a small amount is a great incentive – after all, we get paid for work, shouldn’t they?

Finally, although these strategies will help, be ready for some rough days. Some days during the summer will be awesome, and will provide some wonderful memories for all of you. But there will be difficult days, when you will yell, the kids will cry, and your house will look like the proverbial tornado hit it. Those are the days you pop in a movie, or let the kids play videogames in their pj’s for the rest of the day, while you retreat to Bravo TV and serve something delivered by Door Dash for dinner.

And that’s okay. Because you and your team will go on to play another day.