Tag Archives: executive function

How to Make an Omelette: Eggs and Executive Functioning

Frontal lobes are the head chef of your kitchen. I teach teens how to make an omelette as an illustration of executive functioning: planning, initiating, obtaining and organizing ingredients, sustaining attention, sequencing, timing, and self-monitoring.

  • Here are the key steps I teach in my office kitchen for a simple omelette:
  • Organize and prep all your ingredients. Mis-en-place.
  • Beat the eggs: Use two or three eggs per omelette, depending on how hungry you are. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork.
  • Melt the butter: Use a 9-inch skillet for 3 eggs. Melt the butter over medium-low heat, and keep the temperature low and slow when cooking the eggs so the bottom doesn’t get too brown or overcooked. Low and slow matters.
  • Add the eggs: Let the eggs sit for a minute, then use a heatproof silicone spatula to gently lift the cooked eggs from the edges of the pan. Tilt the pan to allow the uncooked eggs to flow to the edge of the pan.
  • Fill the omelette: Add the filling— whatever vegetables or cheese that you might want to use. Ingredients are personal choices, but don’t overstuff the omelette—when the eggs begin to set.
  • Cook for a few more seconds. Monitor for over-cooking.
  • Fold and serve: Fold the omelette in half. Slide it onto a plate with the help of a spatula. Top with fresh herbs.
  • Admire and enjoy.

Learn more about executive functioning: https://embolden.world/what-is-executive-functioning/.

The Neuropsychology of Chores

Neuropsychological research shows that those children who have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in relationships, school, and future endeavors. These are all aspects of executive functioning, which include planning, organizing, sequencing, sustaining effort, and self monitoring, all mediated by the frontal lobe of the brain. One study by Dr. Martin Rossman showed that the best predictor of young adults’ career success in their mid-20’s was participating in household tasks when they were children. Also see the What Is Executive Functioning

In my practice, parents often express concern that their kids are so busy with school work, sports, and social life, that they have little or no time to contribute to household tasks. I believe that household tasks and chores are absolutely essential, contribute to brain development, and help with prioritizing, scheduling, and multitasking. I specifically assign household tasks that are developmentally appropriate as part of a treatment plan for each family.

The gains:
Life Skills
I often ask kids, are you important in your family? Kids begin to see themselves as important contributors to the family. They feel a connection to the family. Holding them accountable for their chores can increase a sense of themselves as responsible and capable. Not being taught the skills of everyday living can limit children’s ability to function at age appropriate levels. By expecting children to complete self-care tasks and to help with household chores, parents equip children with the skills to function independently in the outside world.

Self-Esteem
If you let children off the hook for chores because they have too much schoolwork or need to practice a sport, then you are saying, intentionally or not, that their academic or athletic skills are more important than life skills. I work with young adults who go off to college and don’t know how to do their laundry or who live with roommates and leave piles of dishes in the sink, causing friction. Chores are an important part of relationships, with family, colleagues, and friends. One goal I emphasize is for kids to plan and help make a meal for the family each week. By accomplishing goals that are not related to school or athletic prowess, there can be huge gains in self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Role Modeling
You can model a message that there are tasks that need to be completed in order for the entire household to run smoothly, and that everyone in the family is encouraged and expected to participate. Or, alternatively by being allowed to avoid tasks, children may receive the message that chores are boring, mundane, can be put aside, and are to be done by others.

Encouraging Participation
Young children naturally want to be a part of the family and want to help. Ideally, you will encourage their participation (even if it takes more work on your part in the short run). The size of the task does not matter; the responsibility associated with it does. Praise hard.

Withholding Judgment
When tasks are assigned, and completed on a consistent basis, they are creating new neural pathways. Being overly critical or judgmental is not the objective, making chores part of a daily routine is.

Assigning Chores
For those parents who did not begin a chore regimen when their kids were little, you can still start a plan now. You can take some time to think about what tasks you need help with in the home, what life skills your children need to learn, and what are each child’s interests and abilities.

Family Meetings
As you contemplate these decisions, you can ask your children for their feedback and input. This shows teamwork and connection. Also, brainstorm ideas for overcoming any obstacles faced in the past, such as children not following through, arguing, or not doing a thorough job. Many parents hold a family meeting to discuss chores and when and how they will be starting, revising, or re-instating them. Such times together can build morale, improve relationships, and facilitate creative problem solving.

Giving an Allowance
One question that parents frequently ask is whether allowance should be tied to the completion of chores. This is a personal call for families. Many parents want their children to help around the house as a contributing member of the family, not because there is money or other external rewards associated with it. The option I most often discuss is that chores and allowance can be separate. I also encourage providing an allowance or reward for a task that is above and beyond everyday routines, such as cleaning the garage, painting a shed, or other major house projects.

Earning Privileges
One alternative to paying an allowance may be to have children earn privileges for completing their chores. For example, a teen may earn the right to use the car on the weekends by washing the automobile. A school-age child may earn the privilege to have friends over to play if he throws away the trash and puts away the games after a previous gathering with friends. Often parents expect kids to finish their schoolwork, before they get on their favorite video game. All of these actions demonstrate earning privileges, and when done consistently, show that chores and fun are both important.

Eight hacks to improve mental flexibility

Eight hacks to improve mental flexibility, an executive function that helps with transitions, change, and uncertainty.

1) Change your scenery. Go for a walk around the block. Take a coffee break. Take a vacation. Switch up your environment, and you will feel your mind shift.

2) Exercise offers a great mental boost. Oxygenation of the brain, particularly from cardiovascular exercise is literally fuel for thought.

3) Try something different. Learn to play an instrument or dance, cook a new recipe or even pick up a new language. Sometimes, I even have clients spend time writing using the opposite non-dominant hand. Older adults who participated in a variety of novel and stimulating activities over a six-month period demonstrated a significant gain in creativity, problem-solving abilities and other markers of ‘fluid intelligence’ helped prevent mental stagnation, and even helped stave off dementia. Novelty encourages mental flexibility and over-time supports brain growth to maintain those changes over time.

4) Debate with yourself. Become more aware of what you are saying and thinking. Listen to your words. Instead of being attached to your current way of thinking, try a different perspective. Critical thinking helps with brain functioning and flexibility.

5) Be spontaneous. Change up your routine. Drive a different way to work, take a new class, talk to a new person, or try a new recipe.

6) Mix tasking with breaks, especially physical movement. Going back and forth between a focused/detailed task and then something more physical can lead to more creative and innovative ideas. Research shows that allowing children and young adults who have ADHD to actually engage in fidgeting or physical movement improves performance and concentration. The movement allows the frontal lobe to be able to focus on the task at hand, rather than attempting to keep still.

7) Sleep. REM Sleep is a necessity for consolidation of memory. Memory, in turn, facilitates mental flexibility, and being able to switch between ideas and tasks.

8) Socialize. Reciprocal communication facilitates thought and keeps our brains fresh.

On talking to the kiddos and executive functioning

It’s hard for many people to put the coronavirus global crisis into perspective. It’s even harder to explain it to children. But understanding the big picture can often help us make sense of what’s happening around us.

Some kids—and adults—have a hard time seeing the bigger context in situations. (It’s common with kids who have trouble with executive function.) That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially for kids who get more nervous the more they hear and know.

But for other kids, not understanding what’s going on makes it harder for them to cope. It raises their anxiety level because they don’t always recognize that people are doing things to reduce the threat. 

To help them get a broader idea of what’s happening and be less anxious, start with what they know, says Ellen Braaten, PhD, director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) and co-director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Correct their misconceptions and then help them organize their thinking on the topic,” Braaten says. “Emotions tend to ‘de-organize thoughts,’ so you need to keep things real.

“You could say things like: ‘Scientists predict that this kind of virus can spread quickly. But it can’t spread as much when people stay apart for a while. That’s why you’ll be home from school for a while,’” she says.

It’s important to talk about what you’ll do during the time off. Share how you’ll continue to do things to stay healthy, like washing hands and getting enough sleep. Explain that doctors, nurses, and other health care workers are working very hard to understand how to help people, and they’re doing a good job at it. Emphasize the importance of having a routine.

“To do this, you need to be informed yourself,” says Braaten. “You also need to be able to discuss this in a fairly non-emotional way.”

(Stats from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics).

What is Executive Functioning?

Executive Functioning has become a catchphrase in psychology, parenting, and, increasingly, education.  Executive functioning is mediated by the frontal lobe. You can think of it as the conductor of the orchestra. Or the chef of a bustling kitchen. You can have very talented musicians, but the orchestra doesn’t do so well without the guidance and direction of the conductor. Similarly, even in the most delicious or skilled restaurant settings, the head chef is required to pull together all of the stations, to make and serve the perfect meal.

We use executive function when we perform such activities as planning, organizing, prioritizing, self-monitoring, strategizing, and paying attention to and remembering details. People with executive function problems have difficulty with planning, organizing, processing information, and managing time and space. They also show weakness with “working memory” (keeping information in your mind while working).

Why is executive function important?
In school, at home or in the workplace, we’re called on all day, every day, to self-regulate behavior. Normally, features of executive function are seen in our ability to:

  • make plans
  • keep track of time
  • keep track of more than one thing at once
  • meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
  • engage in group dynamics/interactions
  • evaluate and analyze ideas
  • reflect on our work
  • change our minds and make corrections while thinking, reading and writing
  • finish work on time
  • ask for help
  • wait to speak until we’re called on
  • seek more information when we need it.

These skills allow us to finish our work on time, understand if we are doing it right, ask for help when needed, manage our time, and seek more information.

Problems with executive function may be manifested when a person:

  • has difficulty planning a project
  • Frequently procrastinates
  • has trouble comprehending how much time a project will take to complete
  • struggles to tell a story (verbally or in writing); has trouble communicating details in an organized, sequential manner
  • has difficulty with the mental strategies involved in memorization and retrieving information from memory
  • has trouble initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently
  • has difficulty retaining information while doing something with it; e.g., remembering a phone number while dialing.

How do we identify problems with executive function?
There is no single test or even battery of tests that identifies all of the different features of executive function. Educators, psychologists, speech-language pathologists and others have used measures including the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (Berg, 1948), the Category Test (Reitan, 1979), the Trail Making Test (Reitan, 1979), and the Progressive Figures and Color Form Tests (Reitan & Wolfson, 1985) to name a few.

Careful observation and interviewing are invaluable in identifying, and better understanding, weaknesses in this area. It’s often helpful to receive information from another person who observes the behaviors, such as a parent, coach, spouse, or teacher.

Strategies to improve executive function.
There are many effective strategies one can use in when faced with the challenge of problems with executive function.

Here are some methods to try:

  • Take step-by-step approaches to work; rely on visual organizational aids.
  • Use tools like time organizers, reminders, computers or watches with alarms.
  • Prepare visual schedules and review them several times a day.
  • Ask for written directions with oral instructions whenever possible.
  • Plan and structure transition times and shifts in activities.
  • Create checklists and “to do” lists, estimating how long tasks will take.
  • Break long assignments into chunks and assign time frames for completing each chunk.
  • Use visual calendars to keep track of long term assignments, due dates, chores, and activities.
  • Use management software such as the Franklin Day Planner, Palm Pilot, or Lotus Organizer.
  • Organize work space.
  • Minimize clutter.
  • Consider having separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities.
  • Schedule a weekly time to clean and organize the work space, including your desk, work bag or backpack.
  • Make a checklist for getting through tasks and assignments. For example, a student’s checklist could include such items as: get out pencil and paper; put name on paper; put due date on paper; read directions; etc.
  • Meet with a teacher or supervisor on a regular basis to review work; troubleshoot problems.
  • Doing chores at home has been shown to improve executive function for young people. Sequential tasks facilitate frontal lobe development. For example, learning to do laundry includes sorting clothing by fabric or color, learning how to put the correct amount of clothing into the washer, putting in laundry detergent and softener, learning stuff how to pick the correct settings, taking clothing out in a timely fashion after it’s completed, putting clothes in the dryer, the correct setting for the dryer, removing clothing, folding, putting items away.
Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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