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Does This Sound Familiar?There are kids who are self-directed learners and doers even at early age. Smarty, however, is a daydreamer. She usually has big plans on what she might be doing, but she fails to execute on them. On weekends and summer days, she can spend hours reading while absent-mindedly shredding paper with her hands. Picking up her room can take ages, because she will stop to play or to read. On the other hand, her best friend has the hardest time with change in plans while some of her classmates struggle with following multi-step direction. All these "quirks" are signs of executive function deficits that all of us have. As we grow into adulthood, some of us learn strategies for compensating for our weaknesses, and some take the wrong turns in the life journey, especially when the difficulty resides in self-control areas.
What Is Executive Function?When Smarty was still fairly young, I saw a title in the library called Smart but Scattered. I had to laugh, because the title of the book described Smarty so well. That was the first time when I was introduced to the concept of Executive Function – a set of mental processes that enables us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Since then I read more on executive function and started to wrap my mind around this concept. All executive function skills are integrated, but there are three major areas – mental flexibility, working memory, and self control. The interesting part is that executive function is growing rapidly in preteen years, as shown in this picture, so we, parents and caregivers of older kids, need to help our children to develop and exercise these mental skills just as we helped our younger kids to develop and exercise their gross and fine motor skills. Since Smarty is approaching 9 now, I feel that it’s time for us to focus on the areas where she is not as strong as in others – specifically in the areas of self control.
Executive Function Pillars
- Initiating Action
- Flexible Thinking
- Sustaining Attention
- Working Memory
- Managing Emotions
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