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The Disorganized Child, Now That it’s June…

Ask any teacher—the most challenging month of the year for the chronically disorganized child is June. They’ve had the same notebooks, folders and back packs for a full ten months. They have failed to shed unnecessary materials, making important notes and exam review sheets that much more difficult to keep track of. They are tired. They are stressed, and so are the adults they rely on for help. Teachers and guidance counselors are winding things up and making room in their schedules for end-of-the year meetings. It is a hectic time for all. So how can parents support kids-in-need during the final weeks of the school year? Here are ten (simple) ways to help support your stressed-out teen this exam season:

Be Realistic: If your child has been earning Bs and Cs all year, do not get in the mindset that final exams present an opportunity to “fix” the problem. As parents, it seems like a Just Do It moment—Just get down to studying and ace the Spanish final—how hard can it be? We all pulled all nighters in college and learned a semester’s worth of work in a single ten hour study binge! Beware the “J” word—when we say just get your notes together, just learn all the irregular verbs in one night, we are minimizing a serious challenge. Eliminate the “J” word and ask yourself is this really do-able? High school freshman are not like college freshman. You may have pulled all nighters and aced your exams, but your kid is in a different place. Have high expectations, but do not expect a complete turnaround.
Get a head start: I do not recommend that parents intervene in the nitty gritty of finding a years’ worth of physics notes in a teenager’s binder. Instead, ask if the teachers have given out study guides. If so, sit down with your teen and model how to use the guide—have them check off which topics they have materials for and mark those that they need help replacing. Be prepared for the fact that your disorganized child needs time to pull her notes together—help her not leave this until the final crunch time. If teachers are approached with a week or more before the exam, they are likely to help students replace lost notes. If it is a day or two before the test, the response will not be so generous!
Hold steady—a high stress time of year is not a time to take away electronics or impose new limits. Yes, prioritize studying, but do not put a kid on lock-down for all of June, or impose new, stringent limits on electronics. He will view this as punitive and unfair.
Try to be around—Even if your teen does not often go to you for help, they are probably more productive when you are around. Try not to travel for business or go out with friends when your kid is buckling down for the toughest weeks of the year.
Stay in the moment—Try not to get ahead of your teen in terms of thinking about future challenges—don’t go shopping for summer reading yet, or start talking too much about interventions for next year—you can put the wheels in motion in interviewing tutors without your child’s input at this point. He needs his head in the game.
Say yes—If he wants a night out to go to a concert, and he is doing the best he can on getting ready for finals, give him that well-earned break, without the twenty-minute lecture on what he needs to get done the following day. A great night out listening to music with friends can re-charge an overwhelmed kid, and it is, after all, “festival season.” All kids want to belong, and concerts are often considered one of the year’s social high points.
Re-stock—Make sure the printer has ink, there’s plenty of looseleaf, colored sharpies and new folders around for organizing studying materials. New materials are always a boost!
Get professional help— If your child does not work with a tutor, look on line for study skills tips and templates. I personally love colored Sharpies for memorization tasks. Topics in one color, notes in a second color—The act of switching colored pens ensures the student is thinking about and processing the task. Colors stand out and are easy to visualize! T-charts and outlines are also easily available as are daily planners. Show kids websites and let them choose templates they think look helpful.
Encourage your teen to create lists of questions as they cull through their notes. Disorganized students tend to conceal (from themselves) what they do not know. Explain that you understand they have struggled this school year. The point of exams is to solidify learning. Knowing what you know and what you don’t is not shameful—it is part of the practice. Good students admit their knowledge gaps and fill them. The first step in studying is acknowledging what you do not know. Do not add to panic by expressing dismay about your child’s lack of understanding of a topic. Every fact gained and every concept grasped is a step forward. Questions are the key to filling in knowledge gaps.
Stay positive—Many of us have memories of awful exam periods. It is easy to commiserate and to engage in negative talk about “the system” and how irrational all this testing is. It may be true that your child does not shine on exams. However, research does show that studying for tests is productive for learning and storing information. Be positive about putting in the effort to study hard and avoid fatalistic views on people being good or bad test takers by nature. Good testers are people who focus hard, admit what they do not know and remain positive. No one learns on auto-pilot. Dispel the genius myth, and reinforce the fact that, although some skills come more easily for some people, everyone needs to learn how to learn and everyone needs to put effort in to succeed.

Exam times are highly stressful for everyone, but especially for the disorganized child. Problem solving is not easy when everyone is under pressure. If you are too busy or frazzled to help a flailing teen, a college student or specialized tutor may have availability, even in June. If you do hire a college student or new tutor on an emergency basis, be sure to brief the person on your child’s needs, state of mind, and academic performance throughout the school year.

Which Ten Executive Function Interventions Should Parents Try at Home? Claire Needell Hollander

Executive function is beyond the buzzword stage—It’s become the way of describing children who appear to be underperforming in school, but who do not have a discrete, diagnosed learning disability. There are private companies who train executive function coaches in week-long workshops, even if coaches have no classroom teaching experience, or training in a related field. There are multiple games developed by scientists and being marketed to improve focus and stamina in children with diagnoses of ADHD and Executive Function deficits. It all sounds very technical, professional and, well, like we can fix Executive Function deficits with specific trademarked, commercialized products.
Well, not so much. As my colleagues and I remind ourselves daily, there’s a reason they’re called kids…and all kids are cognitively different both from each other and from adults. Executive function is a grab-bag descriptor of the various functions “executed” in the pre-frontal cortex. These include: impulse inhibition, task initiation, working memory, cognitive flexibility, focus and organizational skills. Executive function deficits are sometimes heritable, are always a matter of maturity, and are also affected by fatigue, stress, emotional state and hunger. Reliable strategies for improving Executive Function skills are in huge demand and the marketplace is getting crowded. But sadly there is little evidence that the current gains in understanding brain function have direct implications for “educational delivery.” (Educational Neuroscience, Wiley Blackwell)
So, what’s a teacher, tutor, coach or parent to do? While I can’t claim to “fix” a child’s Executive Function issues, I can say that experienced, well-trained, reflective practitioners, who keep up on the research, can help children improve their school performance. Parents can too. Here are some methods which have positive results in classroom engagement and task completion:

Validate: We know what it’s like to be given a seemingly impossible task. When your child cries when he does his homework, when he becomes hopeless and helpless, the feeling is contagious. We feel hopeless and helpless as well—and that feeling can turn to anger. Break this cycle by validating his frustration. Say, yes, you realize math is difficult and his teacher might be a weirdo. He still needs to try his best, but first he needs to take a breather, dry his eyes, and have a glass of water (and maybe a cookie).
Differentiate: Help your child learn to distinguish between types of tasks: memorization tasks can take a lot of energy and should be prioritized. Multi-step projects need to be planned out, even when teachers do not provide a planning template. Planning templates can be found on-line or through a tutor or coach.
Create a fail-safe environment. Yes, your child should be able to keep track of her chargers, pens, pencils and folder. Yes, she knows where her eyeliner is at all times. Still, the problem is real. She has nothing to write with and this wastes precious time and energy—have charger, paper, a working printer, mechanical pencils, and extra folders around the house.
Praise—Go positive. “Wow, great, you did your art project during your free period,” will go down a lot better than “You are spending way too much time on nonacademic stuff.” Doing pleasurable activities actually primes the brain well for moving onto more aversive or challenging work.
Model good coping mechanisms. Notice if you vent when frustrated or give up easily on unpleasant tasks in front of your child. We all do this sometimes, but venting frustration as a habit can cost a student (or adult) a lot of much-needed energy. Next time you break a wineglass, do the silent screaming thing, then calmly find the broom and dustpan and show her what perseverance looks like.
Redirect a distracted kid, but do so kindly. When we treat a distracted student harshly, we’ve added to his cognitive load. He now feels annoyed/humiliated in addition to his frustration or fatigue. Say, “Hmmm, are those Pokemon cards part of a school assignment?” not “I am going to flush these damn things down the toilet next time I see them.”
Ask/don’t tell- when a child is frustrated, lost, unfocused, ask what’s up rather than lecture them on what they are not doing. They know already! But they may have some important information on how they are thinking. Sometimes, kids day-dream while they are reading, fantasizing about what it would be like to be a character or to live in a certain time period. This is age-appropriate, even for teens. Such dreaminess is not time-effective, but it can feed creativity.
Help with task-comprehension, but not with task-fulfillment. Often kids over-react when they see a new word in an essay question or if a page of homework looks unfamiliar in format. Model how to engage with a novel task/concept. Read the task aloud and ask which parts are difficult to understand, but then let your child muddle along in completing the assignment. It can be frustrating, even saddening, to watch a child struggle, but learning to struggle is essential. School assignments today are often more complex than assignments we may have gotten as students. Open-ended, thought-provoking, complex questions prepare middle schoolers for high school and high schoolers for college. These assignments are supposed to be challenging.
Use timers and short breaks to help your child focus. Many kids rush through assignments while others drag out work, so that a task that should take half an hour takes an hour instead. When they see how time-effective focused attention can be, kids are often delighted! Don’t take this from them by keeping them busy with chores or music practice. Let them taste the freedom! For the rushers—the timer demonstrates how much time they should actually be investing in their work. They may recognize that when they read for thirty minutes straight, not ten, they can keep up with the pace set by the teacher.
Listen to failure—Be a listener when your child fails, not a lecturer (or at least wait to lecture). Ask how he feels about his low performance on his math test and ask how he would like to problem-solve. When your child believes he has been given agency, he will focus better and be more self-motivated. He may not suddenly become an A student, but self-control must be experienced to be improved upon!

Kid-Made Solutions

kid made 1

I love this example of a kid-made study solution!

A high school sophomore copes with learning Chinese vocab by creating a weekly study guide she inserts into her pencil case.  Every time she needs a writing implement, she’s glancing at the week’s vocabulary and English translations.

The take-away: In a complex educational environment in which students are learning in a variety of modalities throughout the day, creative problem-solving beats a one-design fits all approach.  Organizational/Executive Function Coaches sometimes get rigid about methods and like to “kid-proof” their designs.  We do not like clutter, or multi-use objects –like a pencil case that is also a study-tool.  But organizational strategies must intersect with the improvisational nature of active learning.  Think pre-school classroom and all those objects that are labeled, so children engage with print as they gather materials throughout the day!  Great students learn to improvise strategically and keep their study needs foremost in their minds.  Cognitive flexibility and functional independence are always goals for executive function coaching.  Modeling techniques for meeting personal learning goals is a great way to help kids learn to help themselves.

Are You Even Getting Anything Done? Teaching Time-management skills through mentalization of focus, stamina and task difficulty.

Your kid says she’s been working on her homework for hours, but what you’ve seen is nothing like focused attention—she’s doodled, eaten, texted, taken selfies, played with the dog and finally, groaned, stomped and cursed her way through a grueling half-hour of math. The saddest part of the spectacle is math is her best subject. On a good day, you open a book and steer clear of argument. On a bad day, you say something like, if you’d just focus, you’d be in honor’s classes like all your friends.
For many kids, sitting still just isn’t easy. Plowing through two hours of homework on a nightly basis feel nightmarish to her, and you get sucked into the bad dream. Increasing efficiency and focus in a student who is struggling may require some professional help. But whether you hire a coach, a subject area tutor, or get your child help at his public school, there are some basics when it comes to increasing focus and stamina in a child who struggles. It is best when a parent understands these approaches:

1) Increase awareness of time on and time off task
Use of a timer. Introduce timer-use initially for short bursts, like sprints. This allows students to see how much they can accomplish in just eight to ten minutes of focused work. Gradually, increase the time to twenty minutes and on from there. Most students can, with the help of a timer, stay focused for short bursts. When working for only ten minutes straight, take very short breaks of only a minute or two. Use the timed-session to build in useful break-periods. Often kids take breaks only once they have exhausted themselves sitting at their desks for long periods of time, without working effectively. Or, when on break, lose track of time completely. A break should never be more than about a quarter of the period worked and need not be introduced until at least twenty minutes is up. (During short, timed bursts, don’t break for cookies or a walk, simply review what has been accomplished, then set the timer again.) Most kids will be shocked by what they can accomplish in ten minutes of straight work. They will be empowered by this. Twenty minutes may be too challenging at first and you may not get the same “wow” reaction from the student if he struggles to get through the full twenty minutes.

2) Mentalizing: Introduce the idea of ‘pre-work’ and try some ‘pre-work’ exercises. Pre-work is any kind of mentalizing about the tasks ahead. Have students rate homework assignments as easy/medium/hard when they record tasks during class. This will help in prioritizing the work later. Older students can classify their homework tasks as “memorizing,” “research/gathering information,” “analyzing information,” “practicing a new skill,” “being creative.” Labeling the type of work necessary helps in prioritizing tasks and in strategizing.
Once a student knows how to classify her work, she can qualify her own reactions/attitudes toward different types of tasks. Memorization tasks are boring to some students, while other students find rote memorization fun, like playing a game, while they avoid analyzing and synthesizing tasks. Thinking about categories of work, rather than just what subject the work is for, helps students accurately estimate the time and energy a particular assignment may require.
Parents can gain insight into which types of tasks their kids find troublesome by looking at the child’s report card. We tend to think of kids who do poorly at foreign language as kids who lack language facility. But foreign language, at the lower levels, involves a great deal of rote memorization. Math and science at the 6-12th grade level, on the other hand, tends to involve more skills-acquisition than history and English, which present the greatest difficulty when receptive and expressive language are a challenge—keep in mind the distinction here, as many kids who have excellent comprehension (receptive) skills struggle with expressive language—producing her own thoughts in writing/answering questions orally when called on. If your child reads well and writes slowly, this means her expressive language skills are not on par with her receptive language skills and she needs support in this area.
Thinking about the types of work involved in each subject area helps students to think differently about their capabilities. Your daughter may say she is “bad at science,” when what is difficult about science for her is how much new information she must consistently absorb. The kids she thinks are “talented” in this area may simply spend more time on it. When students are invited to consider the difficulty level inherent in the tasks they have ahead of them, they are less likely to blame themselves for their struggle and more likely to put more effort into the work.

3) Change the self-talk: Finding something difficult is not the same as being bad at something. Increase awareness of types of struggle and challenge and the language kids use to describe their experience with work. As with physical exercise, not everyone begins at the same level. Discussing work challenges in task-specific/process-specfic ways helps move students away from black and white thinking. “I hate math” can be transformed into insightful thinking like“learning complicated, new skills makes me anxious.”
Struggling to complete an assignment is an aversive experience. Struggling while we say, this kind of thing is hard for me, maybe there are some ways I can get better at it so it won’t be so difficult is very different from struggling and saying to ourselves this is impossible, I hate this, I’m a terrible student. If you have any doubt, try it at the gym. Positive, reality-based self talk keeps the brain engaged and working.

4) Identify and celebrate task-specific strength areas, not just ‘favorite subjects.”
Kids tend to think of themselves as good or bad in certain academic subject areas. While this may be an observable fact, it is also true that many skill sets are important across the subject areas— research, creative thinking and meticulous, detail-oriented planning can be useful in any academic subject. Unfortunately, when kids decide “I’m not good at science, I’m good at English,” they do not fully engage the skills they have the most confidence in when working in the problem subject. So, the good English student reads the science text book poorly. If we say to a student, “Wow, you can really take good notes. You know a lot about reading for information,” we validate their ability to do well in any academic area. Students can compensate for some of their perceived weaknesses by drawing on their perceived academic strengths.

When working with students on the multifaceted skill of mentalizing, we always take things slow. Begin with the concrete. Stay with one area over many weeks. If a student has difficulty with a concept, back off and try a different approach or catch phrase. There are many ways to mentalize on focus, time-management and stamina and no correct terminology. The language should be accessible and meaningful to the student.

What Would Really Happen If You Stopped Nagging Your Teen About Homework?

My fifteen-year old daughter defines nagging as “something people do that they know is annoying to the other person.” Hmmm.

When parents nag, we usually have a valid reason, but reason does not make us effective, and when it comes to homework, this undoubtedly holds true. We repeatedly ask what homework tasks our kids have, have they begun the work, when will they start and why didn’t they start it sooner. The frustration builds and we go from nagging to threatening, to taking a punitive action we regret as soon as we’ve done it—After all, taking the kid’s phone for a week means he’s harder to get ahold of, grumpier and just as disorganized the following day.
But there is a middle ground. To find the middle way, I suggest finding the baseline first: investigate what your homework-challenged teen will do, or not do, if left to his own devices. Take an entire week off from the homework battle: Don’t nag, question, cajole or even gently inquire. Let the issue be. Then, do that “noticing” thing they talk about in mindfulness class. Notice how often you have to redirect yourself away from the nagging compulsion. Notice what your kid does when you let him alone.
Once you’ve taken the nagging hiatus, you’ll have a week of valuable data. The data may show that your kid slacks about as much as you’d expected, but that home-life is exponentially more peaceful. If your kid seems like he’s taken advantage of the situation and you get calls from teachers or he simply hunkers down and plays games all week, you know you have to take effective action. This means NOT nagging, which is exhausting, and as my daughter clarified for me, is given to teen misinterpretation of adult intention. Rather, try some of these teacher-suggested strategies:

Let the Data to the talking: Share with your child what you observed during the nag-free week. Tell him that he must prioritize his work and that certain activities will be prohibited until the work is complete. Ask him which activities he finds most distracting. Have him write up a list of activities he will avoid until homework is complete. You may not agree with him as to which habits/hobbies are most detrimental to his schoolwork, but try to stick with the self-reflection model. Then, agree on a consequence you will put in place to reinforce his new routine. Most teens respond well to being given more responsibility for themselves and respond poorly to having control taken away. Make it clear that this agreement is about trust and that you share their goal of self-reliance.
Model efficiency: Once you’ve established some basic expectations, stick to your own routine. If we want kids to value work and to establish good habits, we need to model those values. My own kids work better when I am around most weeknights, not nagging, but reading, answering emails, and finishing up the day’s chores.
Eat Family Dinner: There is a lot of data around school success and eating dinner as a family. I’m not talking about fancy food, just eating pizza or rotisserie chicken around the table is fine, if that’s what you do on weeknights. The point that matters about dinner time is the structure, the sense of time and having a break. Before dinner is early evening and after dinner is night. If kids take food into their rooms or eat on their own, this sense of structure is lost. Think about your work day and the importance of lunch, whether you eat at your desk or go out. The meal is part of how you organize yourself all day. If you cook for your family, even better. The sounds, smells and routine of meal preparation are all cues. My kids always want to know what’s for dinner and how long until we eat. It’s a nonverbal, nonintrusive cue-ing about time.
Keep it simple—don’t conflate the homework problem with the bedtime problem or the social media problem. Yes, they are related. But if you want to be heard, spearhead what matters most. Kids know social media is distracting and they know how tired they are in the morning. Encourage them to empower themselves to make better choices. Don’t take a black and white point of view on technology or social media—this tends to be interpreted as a generational slight. Point out the usefulness of timers, calendars and notes. Remember that you probably spent hours on the phone as a teen, while Snap Chat and Instagram may actually make checking in with friends comparatively efficient.
Back off when your kid hits his frustration point. Even older teens can be moved to tears or rage when they feel incompetent. A raging, crying, foot-stomping person is not ready to work. Gently tell them so. They should take a bath, listen to music, go out for a walk and re-charge. If they really are trying, and can’t understand or complete an assignment, they should ask for help from their teacher the following day. Try not to do an end-run around this process. Asking for help is an important skill/exercise in self-regulation. If you try to “rescue” a fit-throwing teen, you are likely to end up in a heated conflict. Know it is not just your teen who regresses when he’s frustrated. Venting and off-loading frustration through tears and rage is common (sometimes even in the classroom). Wait for the storm to pass and address these issues of self-restraint when he is calm and ready to reflect—likely the following day or even the following week. Above all, do not shame/humiliate teens when they lose control. They already know they are being jerks. Walk away. That is judgment enough.
Say “Do the best you can,” and back this statement up meaningfully. When we say we care about effort, this is an abstraction for many kids. Ask him how he copes with his most difficult classes. Share how you cope with your work challenges. Avoiding difficult tasks, leaving them for last, and spending little time on them does not constitute making an effort. Tutoring is generally effective as it increases time on task, while decreasing task-related frustration, since help is readily available. If you are willing/able to hire a tutor, point out how this may help. But know also that teachers are generally willing to give extra help to kids who need it.
Go positive. Talk to your kids about the classes and activities that interest him. When he shares with you about his successes, don’t turn around and ask him about the class he hates the most. When checking in about work, ask about his favorite subjects first. Sometimes, we unintentionally devalue what our children are most successful at for fear they will not put the effort in when they are faced with challenging subjects.
Catch your own emotions with regards to your kid’s work. Many times, we are bringing a good deal of anxiety to the homework conversation. When we feel anxious, kids often feel like they are “in trouble,” or being scolded. They do not differentiate well between our anxiety and our anger.
Don’t go all Tiger Mom: Hyper-aggressive parenting may lead to skills-acquisition. Data supports, however, that creativity and grit are more important than acquiring skills others insist you have. Successful people have both talent areas and areas of deficit or weakness. The Tiger Mom book is a memoir that is filled with self-examination, cultural-criticism and regret. It is not a parenting manual. Remember, your kids know you as well as you know them. Be authentic. If your style is gentle, do not adopt an aggressive parenting style around the single issue of homework.
DO, remind your kid that work is hard. Validate the struggle. Share with them how you overcame a struggle at work or in school. Our kids are busy. Their lives are changing fast and they have many distractions, most internal and emotional. The social media fixation is a manifestation of what it means to be adolescent—they care enormously about what others think, including you. Let them know you trust them, beginning with the week off of homework nagging! You may be surprised by the peace. You may also be surprised by the level of productivity. Sometimes, our parenting strategies are doing more harm than good. Everyone in the family may benefit from a more deliberate, less intrusive, approach to homework guidance.

Let A Body Roll

Let a Body Roll: Why Our Kids May Need Less Coaching and More (literal) Down Time

There is a new service parents with resources can supply for their kids: executive function coaching. Numerous companies train, market and match executive function coaches to families in need. In my suburban town, parents, therapists and physicians all seem to agree these services are in high demand and worth the hefty fees of well over a hundred dollars per hour-long session, with some kids receiving two to three hours of executive function coaching per week. But what is executive function coaching and do so many kids really need it?
Executive function became a buzzword in classroom teaching over the last ten years. As every middle school teacher knows, eleven year-olds will not always do as asked, and do not always adapt well to receiving assignments from three or four different teachers. Many coaching services advertise for teachers experienced with ages eleven and up. Middle school students are expected to become more independent in school than their elementary school siblings, but their executive functioning is famously erratic. I asked my oldest daughter why she thought one of my students rolled around on the floor every day after lunch period. My then seventeen-year old replied “Mom, in my head, I’m rolling around on the floor last period, too.” That’s executive functioning— becoming mentally, but not physically, prone.
Good classroom teachers engage, motivate, organize, and discipline students while remaining warm, empathetic and, on occasion, fun. Kids need to know what to take out of their book bags at the start of class, how to organize themselves for work, how to get started on a big project. Some kids need additional help with these “task-initiating” skills. Some kids have book bags that smell suspiciously foul. Unsurprisingly, the kids with old sandwiches molding between the pages of their text books are the kids who are missing assignments, never have a pen, and ask to go to the bathroom every day in every class. Executive function coaches distinguish themselves from tutors because coaches address the habits and beliefs that surround school work, and not only the work itself. Kids who struggle to remain organized often fall ever farther behind, in part because they spend less time on task. Most experienced teachers know how to address these issues and dedicated ones will use their own lunch periods to help floundering kids catch up and get help processing multi-step directions.
But if teachers are great executive function coaches (and most companies hire former or current classroom teachers as coaches), why are parents hiring executive function coaches at all? Shouldn’t kids be learning these self-regulating and organizational skills in the classroom?
The answer is two-fold. Some kids have inherent struggles with executive functioning and this has an impact on learning. Students with Attention Deficit Disorder often have other cognitive disruptions that affect language learning. Language, in the form of self-talk, is essential for good executive functioning. You tell yourself not to roll around on the floor, even when you are tired and frustrated. A good special education-trained teacher can help students with this struggle; many kids with ADD diagnoses receive supplemental services during school hours. But not all parents seeking executive function coaching have kids with ADD and ADD, itself, has become a common diagnosis, with some parents worrying that screen-time, social media and over-scheduling are interfering with the development of essential executive function skills. At a recent networking event, several therapists remarked to me that they were in “dire” need of executive function coaches for client referrals. The room buzzed with theories.
As a parent, educator, and (yes) self-employed executive function coach, I have my own hypothesis. First, the increased attention paid to yearly tests may be creating a hyper-vigilance in some parents, leading parents to seek expert help for children who are already doing their best. Executive functioning coaching companies may not promise improved test scores, but the cognitive abilities targeted—increased frustration-tolerance, time on task, working memory, speed of processing would all seem to a concerned parent likely to improve performance on high stakes tests.
Second, homework struggles, which I can personally attest can sometimes last hours, turn parents into tired, frustrated, unpaid, untrained teachers. Helping kids get organized, focused, and to move efficiently from one task to another, while answering the occasional technical question, is more than most parents can handle in an evening filled with other tasks—driving, cooking, cleaning up, making lunches and trying to get an hour to relax or catch up on the work emails you don’t want to face in the morning. It’s unclear whether kids really get more homework than they did twenty years ago, but the perception that they have too much is widespread. That there are more distractions in the home for all of us is irrefutable.
I am happy to coach children in their homes and believe some executive function coaching companies provide a service that helps kids develop essential skills. However, we ought to keep in mind that one go-to strategy in executive function coaching (and classroom teaching) is to give “brain breaks”—a moment to get a cold drink, snack, or take a walk. Breaks, however, can themselves lead to that dreaded executive function bugaboo: procrastination. At a certain point, the cure (which itself consumes time and energy) becomes a toxin. What the developing brain really needs is rest, the kind of sustained break that marks the blessed end of a hard day’s work, a break from self-scrutiny and the judgment of others, a break from focused attention, and the long-awaited chance to go ahead and roll around on the floor.

Could Your Child Benefit From A Reading and Writing/Executive Function Coach?

Could your child benefit from a Reading and Writing Coach? Many times, students who struggle in ELA (English), also struggle in other classes that require proficiency in both reading and writing. A student who lacks confidence in word recognition, struggles with writing stamina, and is a slow verbal processor, often gets bogged down in biology and global history. Homework takes forever, but your kid just won’t get started. You take away the games, the phone, the hanging around with friends, but all you get in return is resentment.You never used to fight, but now the entire family is brooding and the sense of failure is becoming contagious…A coach can’t make all the pain go away, but the situation may not be as bad as you or your child think. Your child’s procrastination may stem from a sense of inadequacy that stems from her adolescent tendency to compare herself with others. The habit of comparison leads to self-conscious, self-defeating behaviors that inhibit learning. It may be true that her vocabulary is less sophisticated than her best friend’s or that she reads more slowly than her younger brother. In the coaching relationship, we work through beliefs and behaviors that are not working, so we can gain behaviors, beliefs and skills that will help clients become better students. Not the BEST, but better. The best is simply a fiction.
Coaching can be long-term, transitional or project based. Clients may require coaching on a first book, a ten-page term paper, or a family memoir. Skills practiced may be global, or “executive functioning” skills, like project planning, time-management, conceptualization, or enhanced stamina, or granular–like how to paragraph, create dialogue, use quotations or write a literary scene. Reading coaching may also occur at any level (ages 10+) and for any length of time. If your child is a reluctant or advanced reader, coaching goes beyond the book at hand, extending to reading habits and reading progressions–which books prepare us to read higher level books–how do we go from enjoying The Hunger Games to reading more challenging novels? How do reluctant readers get from comic books to Chaucer? The path may be straighter than we think! Chaucer, after all, is comedic, filled with raunchy jokes and scatological humor.
Coaching is not tutoring. But it is also not not tutoring. When enlisting a coach, expect an experienced educator, who will observe work habits, and inquire about client attitudes and client beliefs. Reading and Writing coaches offer support in both granular skill development and in a broader sense, looking at the habits, beliefs and behaviors that boost client productivity and success. DON’T expect coaches to offer short cuts, or to hover over clients as they work. DO expect coaches to foster independence and client growth!
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