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  • Writer's pictureThuy Truong, M.A. Ed.

Three Most Overlooked Emotional Hacks to Improving Executive Functioning

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

| by Thuy Truong, TPT Teaching and Coaching, 9/22/2020|

My heart always tells me that the secret is within each student. What I mean by that is, if you listen closely to a student, you will uncover to some extent where exactly is their roadblock. Sometimes, it is a physical roadblock like the student is using the wrong type of planner to optimize organization. Other times, their roadblock is an emotional one, like I once told a student with writing anxiety that “you’re only wrong if you can’t back it up.” This deceptively simple yet thought provoking sentence had unleashed an unlimited amount of creativity and freedom for her because it completely liberated her from the fear of being wrong. This was what I would call an emotional or psychological solution, and it took this student to a new plateau as she blossomed from a cocoon into a butterfly in the realm of academic writing.

Three powerful psychological hacks to help a student get unstuck with executive functioning challenges:

Craft a Motivational Mantra

Words are powerful at their core. They move us; they also give us wings. Words simply make our souls take flight. It would be helpful to keep track of what kinds of words inspire and motivate your student, especially when they are feeling frustrated, angry, and stuck. If parents notice consistently, you will soon see a pattern after a while and use this language pattern to help your student craft a personal saying that resonates with them emotionally. It will be an astounding solution that soothes and heals deep seated feelings that got your student stuck in the first place.

Listen and Detect the Blind Spots

Each student sees the world in a unique lens. The only way to enter that world with a student is to listen intently to them. By listening, you will hear where your student is stuck, their perception of their challenges, and how they even got there. This invisible gateway to their imagination and emotional museum is what I would call the listen and detect process. You can’t solve a problem until its identity is revealed and acknowledged. It is critical to listen to your child and unpack the challenge layer by layer like an onion. I once had an extraordinary student with a beautiful mind; she learned everything by listening and observing something only once. Yet, one day I asked her to keep a diary in the perspective of a fictional character and she was stuck. After I listened to her talk for a while, I realized she was stuck because she thought I wanted her to base her diary entries on events that haven't happened yet in the book we were reading together. I remedied her misunderstanding by clarifying that her diary entries for the fictional character should be about events that had already taken place in the book. Ah, the smile on her face said it all. Roadblock unblocked.

Develop Go-To Kits for Common Problems

No two students are alike; their mental landscapes are vastly different. However, each student has common challenges that they encounter over and over again. The trick to getting the student unstuck is to create step-by-step processes in advance for your student to practice and follow on a regular basis. The student would feel safer by having a go-to protocol to turn to when the problem arises. This is a great boost for their self-regulation, but this also helps them feeling less overwhelmed, scared, or tempted to shut down completely. The first step is to identify one challenge that your student often experiences and then execute a step-by step action plan for the student to follow when they feel the problem surfaces. For example, when you feel overwhelmed by school work, then do this:

Step 1: Acknowledge the feeling and know that it is normal

Step 2: Break down your tasks into manageable pieces and start early

Step 3: Double up the cushion time next week if you felt a time crunch this week

The root of students’ challenges are often deeply emotional. It is very revealing to uncover the psychological aspects behind a student’s difficulties. Students often don’t have the ability to verbalize it, but it can be observed and remedied. But once addressed, these emotional, intricate systems within a student can take them to new heights personally and academically. Emotions can really make or break a student with executive functioning challenges. If you help your student acknowledge and smooth out their deeply rooted emotions, you are showing them a constellation of stars exists inside their heart and mind. All they have to do is know where to look and follow the light. As a parent, you can bring them closer to the light. Start today!

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