Executive Function Coaching
What is the Executive Centre of our Brain or our Executive Function Skills?
Science tells us that brains and minds are built and not born. At the centre of this dynamic, intricate, and complex architecture is the most evolved part of the human brain, the executive centre of the brain, and a set of skills, what we call our executive or executive function skills.
The prefrontal cortex or the front part of our brain is important for executive functioning but it is at the same time linked to all other brain regions. Think of the executive centre of the brain as the CEO of our brain, it controls our behaviour through its interactions with all parts of our brain.
Executive function skills are ultimately the cognitive processes that help us regulate, control and manage our thoughts and actions. They include response inhibition, emotional control, working memory, sustained attention, task initiation, planning and prioritisation, organisation, time management, goal-directed persistence, and metacognition.
What is it and why do you need Executive Function Coaching?
Every single one of us has a totally unique executive function profile with both strengths and challenges. The good news is that due to neuroplasticity we can train our neural connections and change the structure of our brain by enhancing our executive function strengths and working on our challenges. Our executive function profile can look different after 6 months of plasticity based intervention and/or executive function coaching.
How can I help you maximise happiness and performance by enhancing your executive function skills?
As everyone is unique for a bespoke coaching programme tailored to your and/or your child's unique needs, please book a free consultation to discuss your concerns and create a plan together.
What can you do to enhance your and /or your child's executive function skills?
‘‘If your child is struggling with organisation, you can use assistive technology and collaboratively create with your child daily picture schedules, annotated calendars, checklists, systems and routines. Modelling organisation, using storage equipment, labelling and colour coding cupboards, drawers and boxes will help distinguish subjects or projects and create the habit of creating places for important things to be kept. This will introduce the belief that everything has its own place.
If your child is struggling with sustained attention, you can encourage them to exercise and do sports. Exercise immediately releases norepinephrine and serotonin, which play an important role in concentration. You can be alongside your child if they are happy with it to keep them on track or you can use a buddy system. You can encourage your child to work in short bursts followed by movement breaks. You can remind your child that everyone has concentration lapses and that it is okay and that you can help them get back on task. Interesting, exciting, and developmentally appropriate activities will do wonders. Quick wins, genuine specific praise, incentives and small, tangible rewards for a job well done and completely are important. Work in collaboration to increase attention gradually and sometimes stop and do something fun because your child has done so well.
If your child is struggling with planning and prioritisation, you can work with your child to prioritise based on urgency (ex. deadlines) and importance. You can use your child’s preferred calendar system, visual plans, checklists, and reminders. Electronic aides can be wonderful tools for those who enjoy technology.
If your child is struggling with goal-directed persistence, you can simplify processes by breaking big projects and assignments down into smaller chunks together. You can reinforce focus and completion by using a reward system and slowly increase the length of the tasks. Start with goals that your child wants to work towards and provide them with something they look forward to when they finish a task or activity. Ensure quick wins when first starting with a target. Inspiration and motivation are vital. If your child is struggling with getting into a routine at home, you can start by creating together one daily habit that will push them closer to their goals. Once momentum happens you can together add one more habit. It is important to reward your child for following a routine and celebrate small wins with pre-selected motivators that work for them.
If your child is struggling with response inhibition, you can work on delayed gratification. You can use role-play scenarios and social stories that require impulse control. You can read stories about situations where people find inhibiting responses challenging and discuss the consequences of not thinking before acting. You can model, encourage and reinforce thinking before acting. If you are struggling with your child’s behaviour, please know that behaviour is communication. If you change the environment, the behaviours will change.
If your child is struggling with emotional control, you can prepare them for what might be. You can practise coping strategies and role-play so that your child is better equipped to deal with stressful situations in the future. You can remind your child that feelings don’t last forever and express confidence in them dealing with their feelings. Remind your child that they will be okay no matter what happens. Let them know that you are proud of them and that you will always be there to help them.
If your child is struggling with flexibility, including shifting attention, you can encourage choice, control, and independence. You can provide advance warning and think about things that could not go as planned and what to do in that scenario. You can introduce change gradually and reinforce successfully dealing with this. If you are struggling to remove your child from screens (ex. laptops / iPads etc), you can give your child firm instructions before providing them with screen time. This may involve collaboratively deciding when screen time is over. This can be aided by an alarm or timer. You can tell your child that if they independently remove themselves from the screen, they will gain two points instead of one point towards their weekly chosen reward or pleasurable activity. You can then unexpectedly give them an extra point at the weekend just because they did so well by themselves. Specific praise after on-task behaviour does wonder.
If your child is struggling with working memory, ensure you have their attention before giving them instructions. Use verbal, written, visual reminders and schedules with steps required. Repeat and rehearse lists and facts consistently.
If you are struggling with your child’s time management, you can use apps to manage time, alarms, timers, and visual timekeepers. Introduce and follow a reasonably predictable, but not obsessively so, daily schedule. Ask your child how long certain tasks will take. You can invest in an Android watch or use analogue clocks. Use planners, visual reminders, and a calendar system pitched at the right level for your child.
If you are struggling with your child’s metacognition, encourage daily self-reflection (ex. What went well? What would you do differently next time?) and promote a growth mindset.