Executive Functioning for Beginners

A piece by Nicole Bediako, Doctor Franklin Perkins School Occupational Therapist.

Hello! My name is Nicole Bediako and I’m an occupational therapist here at DFPS. I am also a mother of two small children, one toddler and one very active third grader. These times have shaken us to our very foundation. As an OT providing virtual sessions, I find myself blurring the sacred line of home versus school. All of my systems and routines that were so well established in my office have gone out the window. As a mother, I now find myself (like you) now taking on the role of teacher, technology specialist, coordinator, and regulator all in one. “Exhausting” doesn’t quite capture it – perhaps “a sturdy ship at the mercy of the Atlantic ocean during hurricane season” does?

One thing I do know is that we are all doing the very best we can. Our brains have never encountered this before. Our bodies are relying on the signals of a brain that is trying its best to keep up. There are some silver linings! Our brain is hardwired with some “cheats” that can help us despite the amount of current stress and/or lack of control we may be feeling. It all comes down to a word that we all know, but often forget – the importance of routine.

Routine builds a sense of achievement. It’s important to feel accomplished even in the “little things.” For our kiddos, include personal care tasks in a routine. Ride that momentum!

Start small. Instead of scheduling every half hour between wake up and bedtime, try scheduling the following: wake up time/bedtime, morning hygiene, meals, time outside, scheduled “productive times,” and at least 30 minutes to unplug and connect (I know it’s hard to not answer those emails that you hear on your cell phone!) Schedule time for fun. This doesn’t have to be a perfectly planned game night if that’s not your thing…watch some funny outtakes or google some easy Minute to Win It games. My son likes a schedule but he loves a checklist and then a simple activity when all the things are checked off. Try putting post-its along a wall with the last one being something you and your child both enjoy. Having a goal is helpful and with the added visual of making progress as you rip those post-its off the wall this can be great for those kiddos (and adults) that need immediate gratification.

Don’t make your frontal lobe work harder than it has to. This area of the brain is where all the planning, problem-solving, and thinking take place. Keep all school or work materials in one place. This is hard! But having things accessible will help both you and your child…our goal is to lessen the question “hey, where is my..?”

In my house we have begun a brief morning meeting, no more than 15 minutes. This helps us to map out what we have for that day and has helped to “share the load” between my children and me. It also is a perfect time to review the day’s routine.

Predictability and rhythm are naturally regulating for most adults and children. Pick at least 3 times of the day where the same thing happens. Some things we have implemented in our house is an after lunch backyard break, 3 o’clock sit down snack and every Friday is pizza and a movie. These are also times to connect and get on the same page as much as possible.

This is not a perfect prescription on how to get your child engaged in a full day of academics. I can’t promise that he/she will put away the video games and request to go for a walk. I choose to focus on small successes and those days where we stick to even 50% of our “schedule”. Thank you for reading. You are doing an amazing job!