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Category: Education

Using executive functions to navigate the back to school transition.

Using executive functions to navigate the back to school transition.

This September brings an uncertain time for many children who struggle with executive functioning. Under normal circumstances, we would expect a level of underlying anxiety about facing a new school year, but given some of them have been out of the typical school routine for almost 6 months we know this will be more prevalent than ever. For parents, this too can be an overwhelming time of year as children with executive function challenges are often more reliant on their parents for the support and preparation in getting back to school1. By applying our recommended executive function strategies when preparing for the new school term, they will help your child and yourself navigate this major transition by making it smoother for everyone.  

What are executive functions?

Executive Functions are a set of mental skills that reference goal-directed behaviour and self-regulation2. Residing in the prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain), our executive function skills impact our ability to successfully plan (short and long‐term) as well as to manage the important aspects of daily life such as being organised, managing time and controlling our emotions. Research has even shown that executive function development is a better predictor of school readiness than entry-level maths, English and even IQ3

As a parent, how can I support my child’s transition back into school?

Stage 1: Reflection

Start by making a scrapbook of things that made summer fun and what other things are going to be important when returning back to school such as the morning routine or how to pack their bags efficiently. Be creative by adding photos and drawings to make this as engaging as possible for your child! Take the time to describe the differences between summer and school, and define what is ending and what is beginning. Engaging in reflective and future thinking exercises is a great way to build their metacognition and cognitive flexibility executive functions skills4

Stage 2: Talk about how they are feeling

Many children will be worried about returning to school due to the coronavirus pandemic. For many children, the lockdown period and returning to school during the pandemic has been very challenging especially if they have dealt with bereavement or a difficult home environment. Create a safe space by talking to your child about how they are feeling about this. We recommend taking a walk or cooking together so that it creates a less pressured environment than if you had sat down with them face-to-face. Using empathy is so important here! If you would like some support on how you can use empathy at home using a three-step approach click here to take our online video course.

What should you do if they are worried?

If they do express worry, then start by regularly talking to your child about their school routine and what might be different so that it builds familiarity. To help them build resilience, model good coping strategies that they can use when they are feeling stressed (e.g. talking to friends, taking a break). Make yourself as available as possible so that they know that they have someone to talk to about their concerns and if concerns do arise make sure you share this with their teacher. Importantly, be mindful that they may find it difficult to adjust back into the school routine in the first few weeks because of these concerns, and so may demonstrate some behavioural challenges. 

Stage 3: Preparation you can do now

As the school year is fast approaching, it is essential to start making preparations as early as you can. This includes taking the time to consider the school materials and supplies your child might need. We recommend looking for a planner that focuses on the calendar view of the month rather than just the week. Research has shown that that monthly planning can lead to substantial improvements in grades as it enables students to have a picture of the future beyond just a day or week, which is critical for setting goals for those longer-term projects5. This will also give them an understanding of the planning, preparation and organisation that goes into getting ready for a new year or life stage, a skill that they will need as they become more independent for university and job success6.

We know that children with executive function challenges can often find the thought of starting a new school year a bit daunting. Get them together with their friends and have them decide on the extra-curricular activities that spark their interest. Whilst participating in extra-curricular activities has been shown to improve academic achievement and building confidence7, this is also a great way to support their time-management, prioritisation and decision-making executive function skills8!

Stage 4: Preparation you can do the night before

Getting your child involved in the preparation the night before will help put them in the right mindset and set their expectations once they wake up the next morning. This includes tasks such as getting school uniform ready, packing a school bag, remembering homework and even making lunch. If you are a bit stumped for lunch ideas this year, visit our Pinterest board which is full of easy lunch ideas by clicking here. Preparing a meal is key to developing so many executive functions such as planning, organisation, time-management, task initiation, attentional control and goal-directed persistence9.

It is also worth creating a visual checklist for each of the tasks and have your children time how long each of these takes to complete to build their planning and time-management skills. You can turn this into a game, and introduce rewards if they manage to complete everything on the checklist.

Stage 5: Managing the first few weeks back

Be prepared to support your child through the various tasks that need completing. From here, you can begin to scaffold these tasks until they become independent. For those children who have known executive function challenges, support your child with organising their backpack, school materials and study area. Get them into the routine of completing homework each evening and studying.

One essential exercise that we recommend is encouraging your child to set goals for the beginning of the school year. Check out our Back-to-school Think Sheet resource below to support their goal-directed persistence and task initiation executive function skills. If you would like more free resources like this, become a member of our online Executive Function Support Group for Parents to download the Think Sheet by clicking here.

How can Connections in Mind help?

Whether your child or teen is struggling with organisation, time-management or emotional control, we can support them as they transition back into school. Your child will get to work one-to-one with one of our amazing coaches to address their executive function challenges and develop new strategies so that they can flourish personally and academically. Watch our video for Executive Function Adventures (for younger children) or find out a bit more about our Coaching for independent Learning programme (12 years+).

Book a free 30 minute consultation call

If you would like some more information about our range of bespoke coaching programmes and to find out how we can help your child or teen more specifically, book a free consultation call with Sarah, one of our executive function coaching experts today. You can watch our client testimonials here.

Who are Connections in Mind?

At Connections in Mind, we are a team dedicated and caring executive function and ADHD coaching experts. Through our coaching programmes for young children and teenagers, our coaches combine their expertise and knowledge acquired through experience and education with strategies based on the latest empirical research to create bespoke coaching programmes tailored to individual client needs.

By Rebecca Tyler, Connections in Mind

References

1Hughes, C., Ensor, R., Wilson, A., & Graham. A. (2008). Tracking executive function across the transition to school: A latent variable approach. Developmental Neuropsychology, 35 (1), 20-36.

2Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.

3Morrison, F. J., Ponitz, C. C., McClelland, M. M. (2010). Self-regulation and academic achievement in the transition to school. In Child Development at the Intersection of Emotion and Cognition, eds. S. D, Calkins, M, Bell (pp. 203-224). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 

4Buttelmann, F., & Karbach, J. (2017). Development and plasticity of cognitive flexibility in early and middle childhood. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1040.

5Kirschenbaum, D. S., Mallett, S. G., Humphrey, L. L., & Tomarken, A. J. (1982). Specificity of planning and the maintenance of self-control: 1 Year follow-up of a study improvement program. Behaviour Therapy, 13 (2), 232-240.

6Bailey, C. E. (2007). Cognitive accuracy and intelligent executive function in the brain and in business. Annuals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1118, 122-141. 

7Fredricks, J. A. (2012). Extracurricular participation and academic outcomes: Testing the over-scheduling hypothesis. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 41, 295-306.

8Schroeder, V. M., & Kelley, M. L. (2009). Associations between family environment, parenting practices and executive functioning of children with and without ADHD. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 18, 227-235.

9Doherty, T. A., Barker, L. A., Denniss, R., Jalil, A., & Beer, M. D. (2015). The cooking task: Making a feel of executive functions. Behavioural Neuroscience Journal, 11 (9). 1-10. 

The ADHD Brain: How to get the most out of your teen

The ADHD Brain: How to get the most out of your teen

Being a parent to a teen with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be an extremely rewarding experience; their boundless energy, personalities, creativity and the drive of their hyperfocus which can be a powerful advantage if channelled in an effective way.

However, as we all know, teen years are a really challenging time of life with lots of hormonal changes and life transitions. Forming self-identity, planning for the future and moving towards a more independent life are just some of those bigger transitions. For teens with ADHD, these changes and transitions can seem overwhelming with greater highs and lows in comparison to their peers1

ADHD and executive functions

It is well understood that ADHD symptoms are strongly related to deficits in executive function skills2. These executive functions are a set of mental skills in the brain that enable us to manage our thoughts, behaviours and emotions. For teens with ADHD, this means that they can find it difficult to regulate their behaviour, take on responsibility, set and achieve goals and function independently. Understanding what is going on in your teen’s brain can help you identify their executive function challenges so that you can support them in their journey through adolescence towards happiness and success.   

What are executive functions?

Executive functions are a set of mental processes that help us with daily skills such as prioritising, filtering out distractions and controlling our impulses and emotions. Residing in one of the most evolved brain regions known as the prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobe, these skills work together to control all of our thoughts, emotions and behaviour3. Our executive functions include skills like working memory, organisation, time-management and goal-directed thoughts. 

If you want to find out what your executive function strengths and challenges are, then take our Executive Function questionnaire.

Do ADHD symptoms present in the same way during childhood and adolescence?

During the teen years some of the symptoms and associated behaviours of ADHD, particularly those related to hyperactivity, can become more subtle4. However, the other pronounced symptoms such as impulsivity and inattention can mean that teens find it difficult to cope with frustration and progress academically. Other common challenges include emotion management and working memory which can lead to problems with social relationships, home life and decreased confidence and self-esteem5,6.

Why does this happen?

Delayed frontal lobe maturation is common in ADHD which often results in children and adolescents having delayed development in their executive functioning in comparison to their peers6,7. Research has shown that maturation can be delayed by up to 5 years8 meaning that teens with ADHD differ in maturity levels and are often a few years behind in terms of cognitive and emotional development in comparison to their peers. Be mindful of this when you find yourself in conflict with your teen!

Neuroplasticity

As many parts of the adolescent brain are still maturing, your teens brain is at an all important stage of neuroplasticity . Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to structure and organise itself through its environment by forming neural pathways. The stronger the neural  pathway, the stronger the attitude, habit or belief9

The good news is that your teens’ brain has much more plasticity than yours or mine. In fact, during our 20s our brains stop forming natural neural pathways which means that our habits, biases and attitudes are harder to change10. However, your teens brain is primed to change, adapt and respond to their environment through a process of strengthening and accelerating neural pathways between brain regions. So, when you feel particularly challenged by your teen, just remember that they are able to adapt their attitudes and improve their executive functioning because their brains have a high plasticity.

How will this support my teens executive function development?

As executive functions underpin all behaviour, emotions and thoughts, harnessing their executive functions is so important. All you need is the right strategies. That’s why we have created our online Executive Function Support Group for Adults and Parents which is full of executive functions strategies to help your teen, and even yourself, succeed and flourish. We highly recommend watching our short video which explains neuroplasticity in simpler terms. 

How can Connections in Mind help?

At Connections in Mind, we are a team dedicated and caring ADHD and executive function coaching experts. Through our Coaching for Independent Learning programme, our coaches combine their expertise and knowledge acquired through experience and education with strategies based on the latest empirical research to create bespoke coaching programmes tailored to individual client needs. Whether your teen is struggling with organisation, time-management or emotional control, they can work one to one with one of our amazing coaches to address their executive function challenges and develop new strategies so that they can flourish personally and academically. 

Book a free 30 minute consultation call

Seeking additional support can also reduce tensions in relationships and create a happier and calmer household. To help you understand the coaching process and to find a bespoke programme that works for your teen, or even yourself, book a free consultation call with Sarah, one of our executive function coaching experts today. You can watch our client testimonials here.

By Rebecca Tyler, Connections in Mind

References

1Gotlieb, E. M., & Gotlieb, J. S. (2009). Helping adolescents with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder transition toward adulthood. Adolescent Medicine, 20, 203-222.

2Rapport, M. D., Orban, S. A., Kofler, M. J., & Friedman, L. M. (2013). Do programs designed to train working memory, other executive functions, and attention benefit children with ADHD? A meta-analytic review of cognitive, academic, and behavioural outcomes. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(8), 1237-1252.

3Diamond, A. (2013). Executive FunctionsAnnual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.

4Resnick, R, J. (2005). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in teens and adults: They don’t all outgrow itJournal of Clinical Psychology, 61(5), 529-533.

5Rinsky, J. R., & Hinshaw, S. P. (2011). Linkages between childhood executive functioning and adolescent social functioning and psychopathology in girls with ADHD. Child Neuropsychology, 17(4), 368-390.

6Shaw-Zirt, B., Lehane-Popali, L., & Chaplin, W. (2005). Adjustment, social skills, and self-esteem in college students with symptoms of ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 8(3), 109-120.

7Shaw, P., Eckstrand, K., Sharp, W., Blumenthal, J., Lerch, J.P., Greenstein, D., & Clasen, L. (2007). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is characterised by a delay in cortical maturation.

8Kakuszi, B., Szuromi, B., Bitter, I., & Czobor, P. (2020). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Last in, first out – delayed brain maturation with an accelerated decline? European Neuropsychopharmacology, 34, 65-75.

9Rossignoli-Palomeque, T., Perez-Hernandez, E., & Gonzalez-Marques, J. (2018). Brain training in children and adolescents: Is it scientifically valid? (2018). Frontiers in Psychologyhttps://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00565

10Pauwels, L., Chalavi, S., Swinnen, S. P. (2018). Ageing and brain plasticity. Ageing, (10) 8, 1-2.

Cultural differences in the early development of executive functions.

Cultural differences in the early development of executive functions.

Our children are living in diverse and ever-changing cultural societies with different educational systems, social systems and values. But what effect do these cultural differences have on the early development of our executive functions? And even, do some of our executive functions develop differently because of these differences? Understanding how our cultural environments shape developing brains could account for some of the differences we see in executive function development. Importantly this could contribute towards knowledge of new strategies that promote healthy development for all children as well as challenging assumptions about the universality of ‘normative’ executive function development. 

What are executive functions?

Executive functions are a set of mental processes that help us with daily skills such as prioritising tasks, filtering out distractions and controlling our impulses and emotions. Residing in one of the most evolved brain regions known as the prefrontal cortex, these skills work together to control all of our thoughts, emotions and behaviour1. Current research suggests that these skills are better predictors of school readiness than entry-level reading or maths ability, and even IQ2. Strong development of these executive function skills are strongly related to better outcomes in social-emotional functioning, physical health and mental well being throughout life2. If you want to find out what your executive function strengths and challenges are, then take our Executive Function questionnaire.

What does the research say about cultural differences in executive function development?

We know that children in Eastern and Western cultures perceive, process and organise information in different ways3. We also know that culture plays an important role in the development of our executive functions as huge differences have been found between children in Western and Eastern societies. 

Common findings in psychological research report advantages in executive function development for children in Eastern Asian cultures (e.g. China, Japan, Korea). For example, they have been found to acquire their executive functions much earlier than children in Western cultures4, and outperform their Western counterparts on executive function tasks measuring working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility – our three core executive functions4,5.

Why might children in Eastern Asian cultures have an executive function advantage?

Researchers think that these differences could be attributed to social and cultural variations in parenting practices, classroom expectations and language6. Eastern Asian cultures highly value self-control, compliance and attention to instructions in both school and home environments. Self-control and self-regulation are also skills that parents in Asian cultures expect to be mastered at the age of 2, whereas Western cultures do not have similar expectations until the ages of 3 or 4 years7. Self-control relies on our attentional processes and reasoning skills. The development of these foundational skills can determine how well other executive function skills develop such as planning and goal-directed behaviour8

Language is key. 

If you think about it Chinese children have to develop strong memory-based techniques that allow them to retrieve the correct pronunciation of 4000-5000 logographic characters from their memories9. Whilst in the English language, we only need to develop solid memory techniques for the 26 letters of our alphabet and rely on a letter-sound correspondence system (i.e. the relationship between sounds and the letters which represent those sounds). Executive functions such as working memory, inhibition and attentional control have been found to be uniquely related to Chinese reading, but not of English reading4. This suggests that the developmental trajectory of our executive functions could be culturally dependent, at least in the context of reading and working memory. 

There is also a bilingual advantage. The majority of children who live in Eastern and Eastern Asian cultures are bilingual, sometimes even multilingual, and are learning and using different languages every day. Learning another language during childhood can shape and advance our cognitive processing10 as it uses many of our executive function skills including task-switching, attentional control, working memory and response inhibition11

Are there cultural differences in our executive function development?

So the big question is do our executive functions develop as coherent, unitary traits across a range of diverse cultures? Or alternatively, do our executive functions develop based on the demands of specific tasks and experiences that vary between different cultures – for example – a working memory advantage in Chinese children with reading? 

Well, yes. The development of cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control are two of our core executive functions that have been reported to have different developmental trajectories based on the demands of tasks explained by cultural variations, and even in cultures which share similar parenting and educational practices12,13

We know that executive functions are complex processes, and like most of our behaviours, they are hugely influenced by genetic factors. However, what this research does tell us is that environmental factors are just as important as genetic factors in the development of executive functions, and importantly that our executive functions are not fixed or immutable. It is worth keeping an eye on how this research develops over the next few years as it will have important implications on our developmental and educational interventions and policy. 

How can Connections in Mind help?

At Connections in Mind, our team of dedicated and caring executive function coaches combine their own experience, expertise and knowledge with the latest research to create bespoke coaching programmes tailored to individual client needs. Our coaches are available to help your children, and even yourself, overcome challenges with executive functioning. If your child or yourself have difficulties with starting tasks, prioritisation, time-management, controlling emotions or even just staying focused for longer periods of time, a coach can help your child develop new strategies so that they can continue to grow and succeed. 

Our Executive Function Adventures programme is a fun and engaging programme for young children who are struggling with executive functions at home or with school work. They will work one to one with an executive function coach and will learn new strategies but in a fun, story-telling way! Watch our video here to find out more!  If you would like any further information about any of our coaching services then please book a free 30 minute discovery call with Sarah, our Client Services Manager today.

By Rebecca Tyler, Connections in Mind

References

1Funahashi, S., & Andreau, J. M. (2013). Prefrontal cortex and neural mechanisms of executive function. Journal of Physiology-Paris, 107(6), 471-482.

2Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.

3Kelkar, A. S., Hough, M. S., & Fang, Xiangming. (2013). Do we think alike? A cross-cultural study of executive functioning. Culture and Brain, 1, 118-137.

4Lan, X., Legare, C. H., Ponitz, C. C., Li, S., & Morrison, F. J. (2011). Investigating the links between the subcomponents of executive function and academic achievement: A cross-cultural analysis of Chinese and American preschoolers. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,108, 677–692.

5Sabbagh, M. A., Xu, F., Carlson, S. M., Moses, L. J. & Lee, K. (2006). The development of executive functioning and theory of mind: A comparison of Chinese and U.S. preschoolers. Journal of Psychological Science, 17(1), 74–81.

References continued

6Roos, L. E., Beauchamp, K. G., Flannery, J., & Fisher, P. A. (2017). Cultural contributions to childhood executive function. Journal of Cognition and Culture.

7Jaramillo, J. M., Redon, M. I., & Trommsdorff, G. (2017). Children’s self-regulation in cultural contexts: The role of parental socialisation theories, goals and practices. Frontiers in Psychology, 8: 983. 

8Tiego, J., Testa, R., Bellgrove, M. A., Pantelis, C., & Whittle, S. (2018). A hierarchical model of inhibitory control. Frontiers in Psychology, 10: 3389.

9Handley, J. R. (2005). Learning to read in Chinese. In M. J. Snowling & C. Hulme (Eds.), The science of reading: A Handbook (pp. 316-335). Malden: Blackwell. 

10Blom, E., Boerma, T., Bosma, E., Cornips, L., & Everaert, E. (2017). Cognitive advantages of bilingual children in different sociolinguistic contexts. Frontiers in Psychology, 8: 1025.

11Arredono, M., & Yoshida, H. (2019). Executive function: The influence of culture and bilingualism. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 22(4), 714-732.

12Legare, C. H., Dale, M. T., Kim, S. Y., & Deak, G. O. (2018). Cultural variation in cognitive flexibility reveals diversity in the development of executive functions. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 16326.

13Cheie, L., Veraksa, A., Zinchenko, Y., Gorovaya, A., & Visu-Petra, L. (2015). A cross-cultural investigation of inhibitory control, generative fluency, and anxiety symptoms in Romanian and Russian preschoolers. Child Neuropsychology, 12(2), 121-149.

Adopting a growth mindset is key to your success and happiness.

Adopting a growth mindset is key to your success and happiness.

By Rebecca Tyler, Connections in Mind

Do you often try new things and push yourself outside your comfort zone? Or are you the type of person who sticks to what they know?

The answer to this question can reveal whether you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence, ability and performance can be improved with effort and the right strategies, and that failures are an opportunity for growth and learning. A fixed mindset is the belief that brains are ‘hard-wired’ and incapable of dramatic change1. Individuals with a fixed mindset give up easily, ignore constructive feedback and feel threatened by the success of others. We all have different mindsets for different things. For example, you could have a fixed mindset about intelligence (i.e. “My intelligence is fixed and can’t be improved”), but a growth mindset about strength (i.e. “I can get strong if I just practice lifting weights enough”).

Actively seeking out challenges and improving your executive functioning will help you adopt a growth mindset that will increase your motivation, improve your work relationships, and make you happier and more successful in all aspects of your life2.

What are executive functions?

Executive functions are your ability to start tasks, stay focused, keep track of information, plan the necessary steps to reach your goals and manage your emotions to direct your behaviour. These skills are essential to your happiness, general wellbeing and to your success in every aspect of your life3. Whilst these skills peak in our 20s, they still need conscious and consistent work to be improved and maintained. If you want to find out what your executive function strengths and challenges are, then take our Executive Function questionnaire.

Is it too late for me to adopt a growth mindset?

The short answer is no. However, to answer this question properly we need to first understand the science behind a growth mindset. Within our 20s, our brains stop forming natural neural pathways and our habits, biases and attitudes become harder to change. However, the good news is that throughout adulthood, and even in old age, our brains are malleable, flexible and are able to shift more than was first thought4. This is known as neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to reorganise itself through your environment, behaviour, thinking and emotions5. This works in a similar way to training a muscle. The muscle will get stronger through practice and the more you practice, the easier it will become to follow the same routine. In the same way, your brain is capable of forming and strengthening neural pathways when adopting new beliefs and attitudes in line with a growth mindset. The more you practice a growth mindset, the easier it will become. 

How can I develop a growth mindset?

Face the fear.

A fixed mindset stems from fear, whether that’s a fear of failure, or being judged. Fear is the emotion that will hold you back and can stop you from reaching your full potential. Self-awareness and inhibitory control are executive function processes that can help you monitor your progress so that you can identify and actively challenge your fixed mindset inner dialogue. Have a look at some examples of growth mindset mission statements that you can start using straight away to challenge your inner dialogue.

Learn to relish the challenges.

Taking on new challenges may at first seem daunting, but take the time to stop and rethink the situation in your mind. Viewing this challenge as an opportunity can help shift your mindset. Navigating your way through new circumstances will often come with many obstacles and even mistakes. Organisation, time-management, planning and prioritisation, emotional control (to keep calm!) and cognitive flexibility are all executive functions that will help you take on these new challenges. Cognitive flexibility will help you adapt to changing situations and is the skill, alongside motivation, that will help you adopt the growth mindset attitude of not giving up. Remember, from struggle comes growth!

Reflection is key. 

Reflecting daily on your experiences is key to keeping track of your progress and developing a growth mindset. Put simply, reflection or metacognition reflection is thinking about one’s thinking. It is the executive function that enables you to plan, monitor, and assess your understanding, performance and learning. Metacognition helps you to make those key decisions. Reflecting on your strategies, the effectiveness of those strategies, and other resources that might be useful to solve your problems can be instrumental to your success. Your executive function skill, known as self-regulation, is your ability to monitor your actions and beliefs and reflect on them. Developing your self-regulation skills can help you respond positively to setbacks so that you can remain focused on future success and reach your goals6. Keeping a reflective journal is a simple and effective way to do this.

How can Connections in Mind help?

At Connections in Mind, we are a team of dedicated and caring executive function coaching experts. Our coaches combine their skills acquired through experience and education with strategies based on the latest empirical research to create bespoke coaching programmes tailored to individual client needs. If you can identify challenges with meta-cognition, time management, emotional control, prioritisation, working memory or motivation we are here to support you. You will get to work one to one with one of our amazing coaches who will help you regain control by developing new strategies you can use in both personal and professional aspects of your life. You can read testimonials from our clients here. To help you understand the coaching process and to find a bespoke programme that works for you, book a free consultation call with Sarah, one of our executive function coaching experts today.

References

1Dweck, C. (2017). What having a growth mindset actually means. Harvard Business Review.

2Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Penguin Random House: New York.

3 Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions.Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.

4Pauwels, L., Chalavi, S., Swinnen, S. P. (2018). Ageing and brain plasticity. Ageing, (10) 8, 1-2.

5Sarrasin, J. M., Nenciovici, L., Foisy, L-M., Duquette, G., Riopel, M., & Masson, S. (2018). Effects of teaching the concept of neuroplasticity to induce a growth mindset on motivation, achievement, and brain activity: A meta-analysis.Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 12, 22-31.

6Burnette, J. L., Babij, A. D, Oddo, L. E., Knouse, L. E. (2020). Self-regulation mindsets: Relationship to coping, executive functioning, and ADHD.Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 39(2), 101-116.

Positive parenting approaches for children with ADHD.

Positive parenting approaches for children with ADHD.

By Rebecca Tyler, Connections in Mind

Parenting a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be an extremely rewarding experience; their boundless energy, sense of humour, creativity and enthusiasm for life is unparalleled. However, it can also be extremely challenging and frustrating at times, both for you as a parent and for your child. By making a few adjustments to the parenting strategies you use to interact and react to your child, you can provide them with the tools they need to effectively manage their own behaviour, improve their social skills and increase the likelihood of success in education and throughout their adult life1.

One approach that has been successful in reducing the intensity of behavioural challenges in children with ADHD is using a positive parenting approach2. This approach aims to build self-esteem and improve behaviour using strategies such as giving detailed instructions, setting clear expectations and positive attention. However, understanding how ADHD affects your child and their executive functioning is a crucial first step in this approach that will enable you to identify their difficulties and recognise that your child really does have reduced control over their actions and their behaviour.

How does ADHD affect my child and their executive functioning?

Whilst the exact causes of ADHD are not yet fully understood, we do recognise a number of ways that ADHD affects the brain. ADHD has been linked to an underlying neurotransmitter deficiency, specifically a deficiency in norepinephrine3. As norepinephrine is a stress hormone that affects attention and also acts as a neurotransmitter that communicates with the brain, low levels of this neurotransmitter can result in inattention, poor focus and distractibility, common symptoms reported in children with ADHD4.

Additionally, children with ADHD often have impairments in several areas of executive functioning5. Residing in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, executive functions are higher-level mental processes that direct all behaviours, thoughts and emotions. Reduced levels of norepinephrine can impair the functioning of the prefrontal cortex which can present externally as symptoms of ADHD including impulsivity and locomotor hyperactivity6. This has a major impact on your child’s ability to perform tasks such as planning, organising, paying attention, remembering directions and in controlling their emotional reactions. Sound familiar?

The key point here is that your child may not be able to control their behaviour. Reacting in a negative and punitive way time after time will actually reduce the effectiveness of the punishment7. It can also confuse your child if you’ve accumulated a wide variety of different punitive measures (e.g. yelling, threatening, giving a time-out, taking away toys. etc). Although defiance is not a symptom of ADHD, it can occur as a result of ADHD symptoms.

Implementing positive parenting strategies into your family routine will have numerous benefits including increased confidence and knowledge as a parent, in addition to healthier relationships and more positive and consistent interactions with your family8.

What are the positive parenting strategies I should use to help my child?

Give effective instructions.

As children with ADHD struggle with executive functions such as attentional control and working memory they often have difficulty following and remembering instructions. When giving them instruction you need to make sure you have their full attention. Being physically close to your child, maintaining eye-contact and removing all immediate distractions can help you achieve this. You should also break down their instructions into small, direct steps and assign them one task at a time (e.g. “eat your breakfast”, “put your shoes on”, “get your bag”). This will make it easier for them to understand what you want them to do. 

Another useful strategy is repeating your instructions only once. The long term benefit of this is that your child will learn to listen to the instruction the first time as they know it will not be repeated again. If you do need to repeat the instruction then use a calm tone and try not to get impatient if they are having difficulty following you. By using these positive parenting strategies to deliver instruction, you promote self-motivation in your child and facilitate the development of their executive function skills by allowing them to engage in problem-solving, goal-directed behaviour and self-regulation (i.e. their ability to monitor their own performance and reflect on it)9

Give them positive attention.

On days where perhaps you’ve had a particularly stressful morning, it is not uncommon for parents to overlook their child’s positive behaviours. When you see your child behaving in a desirable way make sure you give them positive attention. Positive attention can be in the form of verbal praise, high-fives, hugs or other positive physical contact. Using positive attention will not only positively reinforce that behaviour, but will be more effective in changing other non-compliant behaviours than if you had used negative attention2. To facilitate a growth mindset in your child (i.e. the belief that they can improve their intelligence, ability and performance with effort and with the right strategies.), praise them for effort, progress, rising to challenges and for persevering.

Psychological research has shown that parental praise and displays of affection model good self-regulation for your child and will promote their core executive functions; working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility10. Strong executive function development in these areas will further support their ability to problem solve and make decisions, be organised and make plans to reach their goals. In turn, negative attention can have a negative impact on your child’s development10. As a parent, learning how to control negative outbursts and avert unrestrained conflict is essential. You also need to remember that praise is important for children with ADHD as they typically get so little of it, even when they have behaved well11.

Discipline using positive attention.  

So how does this approach work in challenging situations? There will be times when your child does need to be held responsible for their behaviour. When it comes to discipline, there are a number of strategies you can use to discipline effectively and reduce the frequency of that non-compliant behaviour. 

As children with ADHD are very routine-oriented, one way to reduce the frequency of non-compliant behaviour is to create a clear daily schedule that they can visualise. Setting expectations of what they need to do and when will create a warning system, making it easier for them to understand why they are being reprimanded if they are not compliant with instructions. Establishing a routine will support their executive function development including task initiation, sustained effort, goal-directed persistence, planning and prioritisation. These are essential life skills that are associated with academic success, happiness and wellbeing12.

Stay calm.

If your child does misbehave then one of the most important things you need to do is stay calm. Demonstrating self-calming techniques (e.g. deep breaths, leaving the room) can help them learn how they should manage and control their own emotions. If you lose your temper then your child will not only learn that behaviour but will only respond to you once you have reacted in that same emotional state. In fact, this type of reaction is unlikely to prevent the behaviour from reoccurring as you are inadvertently reinforcing that behaviour by giving it attention.

Only address the event once everyone is calm. It is quite common for children with ADHD to develop cycles of negative behaviour patterns that escalate in severity. This is in response to years of negative parent-child interactions in which both the parent and child attempt to control one another’s behaviour through negative reinforcement13. Instead, use positive attention to acknowledge and validate their feelings. Reflecting back on their emotional experience with them whilst reaffirming your expectations as a parent will serve as reassuring but also remind them of your boundaries. Consistency in these approaches will be key to seeing concrete changes in their behaviour and will lay the foundations for strong executive function development that will help them learn, develop and flourish.

How can Connections in Mind help?

At Connections in Mind, we are a team dedicated and caring ADHD and executive function coaching experts. Through our Coaching for Independent Learning programme, our coaches combine their expertise and knowledge acquired through experience and education with strategies based on the latest empirical research to create bespoke coaching programmes tailored to individual client needs. Whether your child struggles with organisation, time-management or emotional control, they can work one to one with one of our amazing coaches to address their executive function challenges and develop new strategies so that they can flourish personally and academically. You can read testimonials from our clients here.

As our Coaching for Independent Learning programme is most effective when combined with our online Connected Minds Parenting course, when you enrol your child on our coaching programme by the 15th of May 2020, you will get access to our online Connected Minds Parenting course online for £50, that’s two thirds off the original price! Watch our Connected Minds Parenting course video here.

To gain access to this offer, or help you understand the coaching process and to find a bespoke programme that works for you or your child, book a free consultation call with Sarah, one of our executive function coaching experts today.

References

1Raggi, V. L., & Chronis, A. M. (2006). Interventions to address the academic impairment of children and adolescents with ADHD. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 9, 85-111.

2Hoath, F. E., & Sanders, M. R. (2002). A feasibility study of enhanced group triple P – Positive Parenting Program for parents of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Behaviour Change, 19(4), 191-206.

3Kim, C-H., Waldman, I. D., Blakely, R. D., & Kim, K-S. (2008). Functional gene variation in the human norepinephrine transporter: Association with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Annual New York Academy of Science,1129, 256-260.

4Rivas-Vezquez, R. A. (2003). Atomoxetine: A selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36(6), 666-669.

5Biederman, J et al., (2004). Impact of executive function deficits and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) on academic outcomes in children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(5), 757-766.

6Arnsten, A. F. T. (2009). The emerging neurobiology of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: The key role of the prefrontal association cortex. The Journal of Pediatrics. 154(5), 1-20.

References continued.

7Kiff, C. L., Lengua, L. J., & Zalewski, M. (2011). Nature and nurturing: Parenting in the context of child temperament. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 14, 1-51.

8Whittaker, K. A., & Cornthwaite, S. (2000). Benefits for all: outcomes from a positive parenting evaluation study. Clinical Effectiveness in Nursing, 4(4), 189-197.

9Watson, S. MR., Gable, R. A., & Morin, L. L. (2016). The role of executive functions in classroom instruction of students with learning disabilities. International Journal of School and Cognitive Psychology, 6(167), 1-5.

10Bun Lam, C., Chung, K. K., & Li, X. (2018). Parental warmth and hostility and child executive function problems: A longitudinal study of Chinese families. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1063.

11Danforth, J. S. (2006). Parenting training for families of children with comorbid ADHD and ODD. International Journal of Behavioural Consultation and Therapy, 2(1), 45-64.

12Diamond, A. (2017). Want to optimize executive functions and academic outcomes. Minnesota Symposium on Child Psychology, 37, 205-232.

13Pfiffner, L. K., & Haack, L. M. (2014). Behaviour management for school-aged children with ADHD. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 23(4), 731-746.

In the time of Covid-19.

In the time of Covid-19.

By Hannah Wellburn, Executive Function Coach, Connections in Mind

I found I have been slow to process what’s been happening. Each step of the way I have wanted to rail against it. Like many, I’ve found it hard to believe that this time of the Coronavirus and isolation is really happening. 

When we were told it was necessary to stay indoors I felt desperately unhappy. I’m the type of person that feels the need to get outdoors regularly to maintain a positive state of mind. This, on top of the shock that my kids were to have no school for the foreseeable future; including my 16-year-old having his GCSEs cancelled and the prospect of no school whatsoever for five and a half months, my year 6 daughter possibly missing the rest of what is an extremely important coming of age, end of primary school year. I feel she’s been robbed of experiencing the various rites of passage she’s looked forward to sharing with the classmates she’s grown up with. Her turn to be part of creating a talent show similar to those they’ve watched every year 6 perform as long as they can remember, the post-SATS fun trips out. She was even disappointed that she wouldn’t be sitting her SATS!

Trying to manage my feelings as well as those around me was a struggle for a while. Not everyone finds the same aspects of what we are going through challenging. Some feel most anxious about the illness itself, many face financial worries, some are feeling lonely and isolated stuck at home, others feel overwhelmed and overcrowded surrounded by a houseful of whom they are responsible for the daily physical, educational and mental well-being, I could go on…

When it comes to how the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic affects our executive functions, we know that in times of stress our executive functions can go completely off-line; our emotional control can go, well simply out of control. Our response inhibition, thinking before we act or speak, initiating tasks, sustaining our attention, being flexible in the face of so much rapid change all take a huge hit.

It’s taken me this couple of weeks to get myself into the right headspace, dealing with my own challenges and those of my family. It’s taken all sorts of practices to realign and manoeuvre my way to a positive state of mind. I’ve incorporated; meditation, positive affirmations, chi gong, pilates, walks outdoors, chats with friends, many humorous videos and drinking wine into my daily (well only some evenings for the wine, honest) routine. Feeling good is still a work in progress, I continue to have difficult moments.

My next goal, I think I’m ready for this now is to instil a little more routine, a little bit of planning although nothing rigid, flexibility is key here whilst we still don’t really know what’s going to happen next.

I wonder what other coaches have been doing and how you’re coping. Does anyone have any tips for making the best of this time as well as keeping well enough to support others?

About Hannah.

Hannah Wellburn is one of our Connections in Mind executive function coaches and transformational life coach. Hannah has over 20 years of experience coaching, mentoring and supporting adults and young people who experience challenges with executive functions. Hannah’s passion is working with mums and adolescents to beat the challenges life presents, enjoy life to the full whilst being the best they can be.

How to reduce stress and improve your executive functioning.

How to reduce stress and improve your executive functioning.

By Victoria Bagnall, Co Founder, Connections in Mind

As adults, we all have our share of unavoidable chaos to deal with during a typical day which can lead us to feel stressed, sometimes for extended periods of time. One particularly important set of skills that are interrupted when you are stressed are your executive functions1. Understanding how you can improve your executive functioning and reduce stress, in addition to understanding the bidirectional effects they can have on one another, will benefit you in almost every aspect of your life, whether that’s personally or professionally.

What are executive functions?

Executive functions are a set of higher cognitive functions that help us with daily skills such as organisation, planning, forethought, concentration and goal-directed action. Essentially, our executive functions influence all of our thoughts, actions, behaviour and emotions. Whilst these skills peak in our 20s, they still need conscious and consistent work to be improved and maintained at all stages of life.

What effect does stress have on executive functioning?

When you feel stressed, your adrenal glands release high levels of catecholamines which impair the functions of the prefrontal cortex2. The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that is necessary for our executive functions to operate properly. When you feel stressed it disrupts executive functions such as working memory and cognitive flexibility which alter your ability to be organised, work productively and remember information3.

It is important to understand that the relationship between stress and executive functioning works both ways; stress impairs our executive functioning, whilst decreased executive functioning can increase stress. For example, those who struggle to make a plan, get organised or make a good decision will end up putting themselves in a stressful situation.

After a certain point stress can start causing major problems to your health, mood, relationships and quality of life. Stress can have adverse effects on our bodies including low energy, insomnia, frequent colds or infections and chest pain. In extreme cases, chronic stress can lead to shrinkage in the branches of neurons in the prefrontal cortex, which can increase a persons’ vulnerability to stress-related disorders such as depression4. The good news is that due to the neural plasticity of the brain, the negative effects of stress on executive functioning can be reversed in healthy, cognitively intact adults5.

How can we reduce stress and improve our executive functioning?

Take control.

The feeling of losing control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing. The act of taking control in itself is empowering. One way you can do this is learning how to manage your time effectively. This will help you feel relaxed, focused and maximise the use of your time. You can achieve this by spending 10 minutes in the evening before work writing a list to help you work out what your goals and priorities are for the next day. Colour code your tasks into one of four categories: (1) urgent and important, (2) not urgent but important, (3) urgent but not important, or (4) neither urgent nor important. Learning how to reduce the number of urgent and important tasks will help you feel less stressed. Remember, focus on completing high-quality work, not quantity.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is having an awareness to present-moment experiences whether that’s thought, feelings, body or purpose. Practising mindfulness can help you control racing, repetitive and non-productive thoughts that can lead to stress. Research has shown that mindfulness can advance your executive functioning including working memory, self-control and the self-regulation of stress3. There are a number of mindfulness practices you can start incorporating into your daily life. For example, mindfulness meditation involves sitting silently and sustaining attention on the current moment by focusing on your breathing or body. There are plenty of mindfulness apps available such as Headspace or Calm to help you get started. Remember you can do this pretty much anywhere; on your commute to work (when that becomes a regular thing again), on your daily walk or run, or even when you’re cooking.

Stay connected.

Spending quality time with someone who makes you feel safe and understood is a huge stress reliever. In fact, our bodies naturally respond to social connectedness in ways that help us feel calmer6. Building and maintaining a network of friends and family will improve your ability to combat stress and help you build resilience so that you can deal with life’s curveballs. They may not be able to fix the problems that are making you stressed, but they are there to listen, relate and empathise with you.

As we are currently experiencing huge changes to our daily working and social routines due to the coronavirus pandemic, it can be difficult to feel like you have a supportive network when you are physically distant from some of the people you rely on for this kind of support. Make sure you schedule plenty of time to talk and video call friends, family and work colleagues. With platforms like Zoom, Skype and House Party you can maintain your personal and work-related relationships without feeling isolated.

How can Connections in Mind help?

At Connections in Mind, we are a team dedicated and caring executive function coaching experts. Our coaches combine their expertise and knowledge acquired through experience and education with strategies based on the latest empirical research to create bespoke coaching programmes tailored to individual client needs. If you struggle to cope with stress or can identify challenges with time management, emotional control, prioritisation, working memory or motivation we are here to support you. You will get to work one to one with one of our amazing coaches who will help you regain control by developing new strategies you can use in both personal and professional aspects of your life. You can read testimonials from our clients here. To help you understand the coaching process and to find a bespoke programme that works for you, book a free consultation call with Sarah, one of our executive function coaching experts today.

1 Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.

2 Arnsten, A. F. T. (2009). Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10, 410-422.

3Shields, G. S., Sazma, M. A., & Yonelinas, A. P. (2016). The Effects of Acute Stress on Core Executive Functions: A Meta-Analysis and Comparison with Cortisol. Neuroscience & Biobehavioural Reviews, 68, 651-688.

4Akbaryan, F. (2014). Executive Function and Mental Health: A literature review. Retrieved from (PDF) Executive Function and Mental Health: A literature review

5Williams, P. G., Tinajero, R., & Suchy, Y. (2017). Executive Functioning and Health. Oxford Handbooks Online (pp. 1-53). Oxford University Press.

6Eisenberger, N. I., Taylor, S. E., Gable, S. L., Hilmert, C. J., & Lieberman, M. D. (2007). Neural pathways link social support to attenuated neuroendocrine stress responses. NeuroImage, 35 (5), 1601-1612.


How to build motivation in your child.

How to build motivation in your child.

By Victoria Bagnall, Co Founder, Connections in Mind

Every parent wants their child to succeed, whether it’s with their school work, socialising or in developing general life skills. Naturally as parents we often hold high expectations for our children and lack of motivation can be a huge barrier to their success. Your child’s motivation to learn is encouraged by the experiences that you provide for them. In other words, you play a vital role in fostering motivation in your child.

Why is motivation important?

Motivation is essential for self-development and for maintaining well-being during periods of rapid change where we need to adapt quickly*. It interacts with our executive functioning and explains why we set goals, make plans, start tasks and strive for achievement. Research with children has also shown that motivation is one of the most important factors in determining school success**.

So, how can you build motivation in your child? Based on psychological research, there is now a set of science-based approaches that can be used to build motivation and support learning during development.

Let them decide.

Children are more motivated when they have self-determination to complete a task or activity that is personally meaningful. For example, start a conversation with them to set the goals for the day or decide how a task is going to be carried out. By letting them make meaningful choices and supporting them, this will not only keep them engaged and motivated for longer but they will also learn that they are capable of initiating their own learning.

Challenge them…just enough!

Like all of us, children are motivated to work towards achievable goals. Create levels of challenge according to their current capabilities and give them feedback on their performance. If a task is too easy or too hard they will lose motivation. Make it fun by turning it into a game. For example, you could switch roles and let your child step into the role of the educator and explain concepts as the teacher. This works very well for science subjects! You could also plot their progress on to a graph and challenge them to improve on yesterday’s progress. Remember, the more they relish the challenge, the more they will persist and not give up. If this brings them success, this will build their internal motivation which will lead to more success!

Praise the effort rather than the outcome

When we praise children for their effort this helps them learn that even if they fall short they can use it as an opportunity to reflect, improve and develop new approaches. Say your son or daughter performed well on a piece of school work, don’t just share your excitement. It is better to praise them for the process by asking them what they did to achieve it and how they did it. This will motivate them to work hard and they will be more likely to believe that they can achieve anything they put their mind to. This process will support the development of your child’s ability to reflect, an executive function skill that is essential for more complex and systematic thinking.

Foster a growth mindset

A growth mindset revolves around the belief that we can improve our intelligence, ability and performance with effort and with the right strategies. Children with a growth mindset have a willingness to confront challenges and view failures as an opportunity for growth.  As children can often avoid trying new things when they experience negative outcomes, it is important to have a discussion with your child that focuses on what they can do to improve next time. Encourage reflection by talking about a time that you fell short and what you did to improve. Ask them questions, discuss new strategies and emphasise the importance of practice. At Connections in Mind we particularly like the WWW (What Went Well) and EBI (Even Better If) approaches which are really positive but also support growth. By doing this you will be supporting the development of a growth mindset within your child. Not only will this increase their motivation and encourage them to take on new challenges independently, research has also shown that a growth mindset is strongly associated with greater happiness and achievement in life***. Fostering a growth mindset in your child will be one of the greatest contributions you can make towards building their motivation, and their success! Following decades of research Carol Dweck, a world-renowned psychologist, has a bestselling book that explains more on how to foster a growth mindset to achieve success professionally, academically, interpersonally and in general daily life. You can find the link to her book here. You can also download our free growth mindset poster here to add to your child’s workspace!

Does all of this sound interesting – these are the fundamental underpinnings of our Connected Minds Parenting Course which has recently moved online to our new online learning portal. This evidenced based approach to parenting, focuses on empathy and connection whilst building a shared language and set of tools to overcome executive function challenges at home. Hear from the course facilitator Imogen Moore Shelley in her informative video.

At Connections in Mind, our executive function coaches combine their own experience, expertise and strategies with the latest research to create bespoke coaching programmes tailored to individual client needs. Our coaches are available to help your children, and even yourself, overcome challenges with motivation and executive functioning. If your child or yourself have difficulties with starting tasks, prioritisation, time-management or even just staying focused for longer periods of time, a coach can help you develop new strategies so that you and/or your child can continue to succeed. 

Our Executive Function Adventures programme is a fun and engaging programme for children who are struggling with executive functions at home or with school work. They will work one to one with an executive function coach and will learn new strategies but in a fun, story-telling way! Watch our video here to find out more!  If you would like any further information about any of our coaching services then please book a free discovery call with Sarah, our Client Services Manager today.

*Psychological needs, motivation and well-being: A test of self-determination theory across multiple domains. (Milyavskaya & Koesnter, 2011).

** Gender differences in school success: What are the roles of students’ intelligence, personality and motivation? (Spinath, Eckert, Steinmayr, 2014).

*** The neuroscience of growth mindset and intrinsic motivation. (Ng, 2018).

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