Six Brain-Based Tips to Help Your Child Get Things Done

Marydee Sklar

Do you constantly nag your child to do homework and chores? If so, you’ve been working really hard as the executive functioning machine (EFM) for your child. The family EFM is the person who directs and reminds everyone about what they need to do. It is exhausting.

Is there a way out of your EFM role? YES!. Focus on building your child’s executive function skills. You can do this, one step at a time.

For almost twenty years, I’ve been working with families and individuals who struggle with time management, planning and organization. Here are six tips I share with my parents to begin the process of building a child’s executive function skills so that they can get things done – independently! 

  1. Blame the Brain–Not the Child: Poor time management, planning, and organization, are a function of brain development, not willpower. When your child struggles with getting things done, take a lot of deep breaths. Approach your child with compassion. Yelling doesn't help.
  2. Understand the Brain–Understand the Child:

    Learn all you can about executive functions of the brain. I recommend The Smart but Scattered books by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. You will find other good titles under the Cool Tools tab on my website (see bio).
  3. Build the Foundation–Eat, Sleep, and Exercise:

    For a brain to function at its best, especially one with ADD/ADHD, an individual must have the foundation of proper eating habits, adequate sleep, and physical exercise. This means no skipping meals and living on junk food. Children and teens need nine hours of sleep a night. Everyone, no matter the age, needs to exercise, breaking a sweat, at least three times a week. Without this foundation of food, sleep, and exercise, your child is going to struggle with having enough brain energy to get things done. 
  4. Change the Environment–Change the Child: A child with ADD/ADHD has a brain with multiple deficits in executive functions, which means that amongst other things, he or she lacks internal time management, planning, and organization skills. The solution is to use external tools and reminders to support your child's brain. It's your job to put the tools your child needs for developing time management and time awareness into your home. Place clocks, timers, calendars, and white boards where your child will SEE them and be able to use them. Model how to use these tools.

  5. Use Analog Clocks—Everywhere:  Children and teens with an ADHD brain live in the NOW. They are oblivious to the passage of time. It is important to use analog, or face clocks, rather than digital clocks, to support the “time-challenged” brain. The digital clock only shows the present. Your child needs the view given by the analog clock that shows three aspects of time: the present, the past, and the future. This helps your child “see” how long she or he has been doing homework (the past), and to “see” how much more time is available to work before she or he needs to leave for soccer practice or get ready for bed (the future). Put clocks in the line of sight wherever your children gets lost in time: in front of TV's, computers, in bedrooms, where they do homework, eat breakfast and even in the shower. Yes, there is an analog shower clock. I couldn't live without mine! There's a link to that on my website, too. 

  6. Don't Guess–Collect Data: A time-challenged ADD/ADHD brain is usually terrible when it comes to estimating how long a task is going to take, which is why your child argues with you over starting homework. A student can be incredibly optimistic about how long homework or chores will take. He is sure ALL homework, chores and projects will easily get finished between TV shows and bedtime. Or a student is pessimistic, imagining a dreaded task will take up ALL of her time, so she doesn't even get started. In order to make realistic estimates, you and your child need to actually time how long different homework subjects and chores take, from start to finish. Do this for a week and create an average. Your child and you might be pleasantly surprised that some tasks don't take as long as imagined. Whatever the outcome, everyone will be more realistic about the time needed to complete a task. 

These six tips are just a sample of how you can change your thinking and behavior to help your child. I invite you to share your favorite tip to help a child to get things done, and learn more of my tips at ExecutiveFunctioningSuccess.com.

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