Being a parent, especially a single parent, comes with challenges. But what about parenting when your child has executive function issues?
Frustration is common for everyone. Children often feel shame, isolation, and hopelessness. Parents often feel guilt, anxiety, and anger. These emotions are difficult for the child and the parent, and they can wreak havoc on the parent-child relationship thus compounding the problem.
It turns out, though, that acknowledging and addressing these emotions can play a key role in successfully navigating the executive function issues. First, let’s take a look at executive function.
What is Executive Function and Why Is it Important?
Executive function encompasses three main areas: working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. Working memory helps you focus on the task at hand and remember the steps needed to get there. Flexible thinking helps you switch between multiple tasks when circumstances change and to creatively solve problems. And self-control helps you avoid acting impulsively such as deviating from the task at hand and focusing instead on things that are unimportant or in ways that are harmful. Without executive function skills, it’s hard to get things done. It can also be hard to sustain relationships.
Executive Function and Neurodivergence
Executive function issues go hand in hand with neurodivergent conditions such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, Autism, Dyslexia, and disorders affecting physical coordination (dyspraxia.) Whatever the diagnosis, children with executive function issues struggle to stay on task and follow directions, forget assignments or don’t turn them in, don’t keep track of belongings, act impulsively, find it difficult to make and keep friends, and throw tantrums when rules and schedules change.
Focusing on a specific situation and learning from it is key. For example, if your child is being disruptive in class, talk to your child’s teacher, school support team, therapists, health care providers, friends and family etc. who can offer advice, resources, and support. And, equally important, talk to your child so they can be an active participant and shed light on what may be helpful.
But often the valuable interventions we put in place such as visual task charts, reminders, and lifestyle changes like bedtime, meal, and exercise routines don’t work because we aren’t addressing the underlying emotions such as frustration, shame, guilt, and anxiety. By acknowledging the emotions that arise for children and parents as a result of the executive function issues, it’s easier to find solutions.
Emotions and Executive Function Issues
It’s important to release judgment for the emotions that come up. Of course a child can feel frustrated, doubtful of their abilities, and misunderstood if called lazy or stupid because they didn’t do their part of a group assignment. And of course a parent can feel frustrated and angry when a child doesn’t complete chores or keep track of their sports equipment.
It’s OK to Feel a Range of Emotions
Don’t beat yourself up for feeling what you do! It’s understandable. You’re human, and the whole spectrum of emotions is part of life’s journey. Having “negative” emotions doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. There are no doubt lots of things you’re doing well.
And just because your child is facing challenges now, they can absolutely overcome them and find what works to be successful.
Emotions Can Interfere With Finding Solutions
It’s important to acknowledge the impact of emotions. For example, if you feel frustrated, you may yell at your child. If a child feels misunderstood, she may lash out at classmates. Becoming reactive to and consumed by emotions can make it hard to see and understand the executive function issues. Also, emotions can lead to unwanted results.
Conversely, acknowledging the emotions and recognizing them as secondary to the primary challenges can help you think more clearly about solutions. Doing so also depersonalizes the issues and fosters an open, trusting, and supportive relationship with your child.
Reflect on Your Emotions
Take some time to reflect on your emotions and ask yourself, without judgment, are these emotions helping me focus on solutions, build on my child’s strengths, and support the relationship I want to have with my child? If not, try to release them.
Be intentional about recognizing and releasing your emotions. Perhaps write in a journal, talk to friends and family, or reach out to professionals to open up about your feelings. Not everyone will be open to listening and understanding, and that’s OK. Don’t force it. Focus on practicing feeling all of your emotions and being OK with them.
It can also be helpful to acknowledge to your child how some of your emotions have impacted them and the situation. For example, you could say, “I yelled out of frustration that you didn’t clean up your room when we agreed that you would do it AND I love you and want to agree on a way to keep your room clean.”
However, it’s important to recognize that your child’s role is not to help you work through your emotions or take responsibility for them. Showing your child you are taking their feelings into account and that you are taking responsibility for your emotions can help your child feel loved and safe sharing her emotions – even if sometimes you feel frustrated.
Compassion is Key
It’s OK to feel all of your emotions AND be a loving and effective parent at the same time. It’s the same for your child: they can struggle, behave in ways you wish they didn’t, and you love them anyway for who they are. Being compassionate will let your child know they are not alone or misunderstood, give them the security and confidence to learn and evolve, and strengthen your relationship. From there, you will both be in a much better position to find and sustain solutions that work for both of you.
If you’d like support or guidance on parenting and self care, I’m here to help! You can book a free consultation with me to learn more. I look forward to hearing from you 🙂
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