When a child struggles with inhibition, you may see obvious behaviours such as being disorganised or yelling inappropriately. To make the most of Executive Functioning strategies, it is important to practice them so that they can be used by the child independently.
Because each child is unique and every situation will be different, there is no “one size fits all” so we must assess each situation:
· What happened before that?
· What happened in the moment?
· What did the child see or hear?
· What was the setting and time of day?
· What were the emotions of the child?
Look at all aspects and take them into consideration. Then devise a set of strategies that can work for that specific issue, e.g. spontaneously walking around the classroom or taking a pencil from another child’s hand. Some tools that might work include holding a fidget toy, having a visual prompt to refer to, the use of gestures, or creating a specific routine before starting a desk-based task. It is important to note that a strategy that works will depend on the needs/interests/strengths of the child. If the child has a strong interest in a specific topic, use that topic in the coping strategy.
Follow up by talking about the situation with the child. It is key to discuss the event or situation afterwards and not in the moment. This way, the child will be more emotionally regulated, leading to a more purposeful discussion. Ask the child - Was that a successful event? Did the strategies help in that situation? What worked? What did not work? What can we try next time?
Have a plan for every time you might be faced with such situations and have the tools available and back-ups in mind. Some children benefit from visual cues, others need physical prompts, and some will need verbal reminders. It takes a lot of practice to get this right, and automatic.
Follow up with less prompts, cues, and reminders and check on how the strategies are working. They may need adjusted as children grow and develop. Here are some ways you can help children to work on slowing down and thinking before acting.
· Try role play. Practice some of the situations where impulse control has been an issue in the past.
· Use real life situations to assess what worked, what did not work, and talk about it.
· Research shows that as the day progresses, it is harder for us to maintain and utilise self-control. Make smaller goals later in the day.
· Play the "freeze game" with music to practice stopping during an action.
· Use encouraging statements that use imagery to picture successes in typical situations. Find an encouraging statement that the child responds well to and ask them to repeat it, sing it, or dance to it. Being silly often makes it stick in their minds.
· Practice mentally shifting by changing activities gradually.
· Teach children how to manage stress.
· Self-control and managing impulses require monitoring - keeping track of your thoughts, feelings, and actions in any given situation. Help children monitor their actions with quick self-checks.
· Write down the rules. A necessity to impulse control includes a knowledge of the rules. These steer us in the "right direction".
Follow up regularly. Break the day into morning and afternoon and help the child to self-reflect on what has worked for them.