Home Life: Executive Function

daughter-helps-raking-the-leaves-1407633Oh, yea, this is summer! All (well, lot of) parents are thinking of how to get kids to find that structure, do the chores at home and stay motivated to carry on what is minimally expected of them. Yes, getting up or going to bed within standard deviation of 1-2 hours is norm than exception. But then what? What about the rest of the things to do? We know that organization to get things done, and execute the actions, especially the mundane things of daily life is essential skill.

Kids often dig in the heels and say Uuuuuggghhh when demands are made of them! First of all I ask myself the right developmental age to take on the tasks.

How old is old enough to cook their own breakfast?
The answer is a 12-13 year old responsible kid can make an omelette or bake sausages. Or summer can be the time to reach them, yes?!

How old is old enough to do laundry? (or) Making the bed?
Well, I think they can begin to get the wash to the washing machine by 7, and can pretty much learn anything based on interest since then, but do they? Not often, till they turn into teenage.

A lot of parents do a fabulous job teaching their children instead of Mom or Dad slaving at these mundane tasks, here in USA. I often educate families that the oppositional outbursts and frustration for children in doing the tasks is because:

(a) Their brain is still developing  in terms of impulse control, information processing and emotional control. They are yet to integrate and rationally use all the various interfacing brain capabilities. They would freeze if pushed early, “Its just too hard,” they say.

(b) At around 9-12 years of age, they are developing Eriksonian’s life stage of Industry vs. Inferiority. That means, they are learning so many exciting new things they enjoy and cherish. These new other competencies (sports, education) compete with the more mundane home chores.

(c) Some of the competing activities are pure fun such as video games and it is hard to kick the reward system into high gear with mundane chores, you know! Remember the reward circuit and dopamine surge with doing things you love!

Now that we surfaced what we are dealing with, here are some things to reflect. I also think that young people do not always need to do everything all the time. Engaging in any aspect of life fruitfully is good enough. As far as they are functioning, I really am not worried! Anyway, back to our story of trying to teach some real life executive skills:

  1. Giving choices. A mom said she asks while doing laundry- when do you want to help, do you want to do it in pantry or your bed room, in 5 minutes or 30 minutes, shirts first or pants, and so on. Great! But story does not often end there. They do push back, ward you off, then take the clothes and throw them in the closet. A familiar story?
  2. Sometimes enlisting their help like a teamwork from their favorite TV show, or even doing the task when watching the TV show will add value through ingraining value system and offering rewards respectively.
  3. Also remember that supervision takes enormous time. Be prepared and do not do it yourself for them unless one of you parents has obsessive compulsive tendencies and cannot stand the wait.
  4. Create the groove. Everything has time and place to do. Make this a routine chore done exactly at the same time window (I said window, not exact time) and train them. Then kids know that it is something they have to do as a routine expected of them.
  5. ‘Over learning’ helps to maintain the habit. So be ‘on it’ till the skill is learnt. You negotiate when mood is good and through making sure they know you care and give what they- love- like- want- need rest of the time! Tell them that you actually do all that for them. Basically guide them through the nuances of life, the transactional elements. Trade horses!
  6. Also as parents, we are stressed knowing we need to somehow be doing things perfectly and take the responsibility. There is that nagging unfinished feel in our head till all this is accomplished. Know that things progress slowly, and that our kids do not need to be perfect and that it is sooo.. ok to have fun ourselves, while we reboot and try again later!
  7. When kids are angry and they are feeling the anger that oozes out often, there could be something that is bothering them. Gently ask them what the stress (use simple words if anything is hurting or bothering them) is? At least it gets them to think, and gives some space between you and them with empathy!
  8. I also tell kids that anger is like salt in drinking water which spoils the joy of doing things. They need to think of simmering down the flame to not get it out of control. Parents can help with their upbeat- lighter attitude to create happy and safe place to practice.
  9. Teach kids that not all tasks need some reward or present and we simply learn to take care of life’s little tasks. That will make them a beautiful adult later on!
  10. Finally believing in them that they can do it and telling them the same!

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