Executive functioning refers to a set of mental skills that enables people to get tasks done
Zipora Schuck MA, MS and Devora Schuck LCSW
You may have heard the term executive functioning and thought that it has something to do with how offices operate or high-level business meetings. You wouldn’t be completely wrong, but you wouldn’t be entirely right either.
Executive functioning refers to a set of mental skills that enables people to get tasks done. Executive functioning covers a host of organizational, time-management, and flexible thinking skills that are often most prominent in their absence. Many of us are generally strong in some, neutral in others, and weak in a few.
Strong executive functions skills will help a child shine in school. There are many activities you can do at home to help strengthen these skills:
For young children
- If you find yourself nagging your child at every point in the morning or bedtime routine, you may want to try a visual reminder. Take a picture of your child completely ready for school: uniform, shoes, packed bookbag, etc. Print out multiple copies, and each morning have your child circle all the elements that made them ready as they occur — hair brushed, snack bag packed, folder in schoolbag, etc. Another option is to take a separate picture of the child performing each of the bedtime routine activities — placing clothes in the hamper, wearing pj’s, brushing teeth, etc. These cards can be laminated and the child self-monitors by checking off completed tasks with a whiteboard marker or moving a colorful paper clip along the photos until she’s done. No more nagging needed!
- Does the morning have you running around the house trying to find everything the kids need for school? Designate a specific area near the front door, or even a large plastic bin, for everything needed, and make sure it gets filled the night before. It should include everything: packed bookbag, snacks, school shoes, and even a coat if needed. Leaving will require just one stop each morning instead of a scavenger hunt around the house.
For elementary school children
- Create a central homework location, with necessary school supplies: seforim used, calculators, and any additional items. Having everything in one place saves time searching for what they need, and doing homework in the same place each day cuts down on the time children spend settling themselves to work.
- Almost every kitchen has a junk drawer to hold whatever currently doesn’t have a permanent home or hasn’t yet been placed in its right place. Much like an actual junk drawer, a “junk drawer folder” is a folder children fill during the day with papers they’re unsure about. Designating one folder as a depository for these papers keeps them safe in one place rather than floating in a desk or schoolbag. Each evening, help your children remove the items from this folder and place them in their correct sections or notebooks.
For tweens and teens
- Help your tweens fill their school planner calendar with goals broken down into manageable chunks. Nightly schoolwork should be divided into three main categories: First, written work that’s due the next day, which should be attended to first. For example, math homework page 63 #1-12, or Chumash questions. Second, prep for the next day, which may include reviewing and rereading notes, a supplies check, or required text reading. Third, a bite-size piece of long-term prep. If a child has a report due in ten days, help him figure out something that can be done that day to help him meet his goal. Or if there’s a history test next week, on day one he can check if he has all the notes needed; the next day, he can review the first chapter, etc., leaving a manageable amount nightly.
- Time estimation at this age is crucial to help tweens manage their days. “Guesstimate” with your children how long certain tasks will take, then monitor the task in real time. Helping children feel time elapsing and being realistic about what can be accomplished in five or ten minutes helps grow students who can plan their after-school tasks effectively, and adults who have realistic to-do lists.
Last but not least, be a shining example. If you’re challenged in your everyday life with some of the same skills, improving or finding ways to compensate for your own organization and time-management lags will have a ripple effect on your children as well.
Zipora Schuck MA, MS is a NYS school psychologist and educational consultant for many schools in the NY/NJ area. She works with students, teachers, principals, and parents to help children be successful.
Devora Schuck LCSW is a psychotherapist who treats anxiety and trauma in children, teens, and young adults.
Where Anger Takes Us
No one would describe themselves as “an angry person,” but there’s an awful lot of anger being expressed. It’s important to take an honest look at where we fall on the anger-meter. Consider it in three dimensions: frequency, intensity, and duration.
Mesillas Yesharim lists five levels of anger, the most intense of which encompasses all three dimensions: an intense, long-lasting anger that occurs frequently. A person with such a temperament is likened to a wild animal.
Daniel Goleman, in Emotional Intelligence, explains what happens to the body when we get angry. When a person is physically endangered, he goes into fight or flight mode. Blood rushes away from his head toward his arms and legs, to enable him to flee or fight.
When we’re angry, we physiologically react to a threat to our ego the same way we react to a threat to the body. The increased blood flow to the extremities explains why an outraged person often moves his arms or legs (slamming a door, hitting someone), and the decreased blood flow in his brain (i.e., limited cognitive function) can lead him to say things he’d normally never utter. We’ve literally been reduced to a subhuman state. We must realize that since our cognitive filters are compromised, we’re more likely to be harsh or insulting and to use expressions that are not in sync with our value system. To avoid this, we should attempt to regulate ourselves as soon as we start feeling angry, before the situation escalates. We should also attempt not to respond until we’ve calmed down.
Dina Schoonmaker has been teaching in Michlalah Jerusalem College for over 30 years. She gives women’s vaadim and lectures internationally on topics of personal development.
Shira Savit, MA, MHC, INHC
Often, the way we relate to life is mirrored in the way we relate to food. For example, if one has a hard time setting boundaries in relationships, she might also have difficulty setting boundaries with food. Or if one feels like things in life are unstable and inconsistent, she’ll likely feel out of control with her eating as well.
Perfectionism (the need to be the perfect mother / have a perfectly clean home / be a perfect student) often shows up as perfectionism with regard to eating (the need to be a perfect eater / perfect dieter / have the perfect body).
The good news is that as we develop a healthier attitude in life in general, and continue to grow as individuals, we experience healing in our relationship with food as well.
Shira Savit MA, MHC, INHC is a mental health counselor and integrative nutritionist who specializes in emotional eating, binge eating, and somatic nutrition. Shira works both virtually and in person in Jerusalem.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 816)
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