Do you routinely find your child’s completed homework forgotten on the floor of the car? Is her backpack a black hole from which nothing emerges? Does he struggle with taking turns or following directions? Late, Lost and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning,by Joyce Cooper-Kahn, Ph.D., and Laurie Dietzel, Ph.D., offers practical tips to help parents and teachers guide disorganized children at home and school.
Don’t be put off by the term “executive functioning,” which Cooper-Kahn and Dietzel define as the skills that “help you manage life tasks,” such as organizing a trip or a research paper. Much of the book is written as if they are chatting with parents on the playground, as in this passage:
“Practice these words: ‘Wow, you do have a problem. What do you think you can do about it?’ Apply as needed when your child forgets to bring his book home from school, arrives at the beach in the summer with no bathing suit, et cetera. Help with problem solving, as needed, rather than taking over the problem or getting stuck in chastising, lecturing, or punishing.”
Using easy-to-read summaries, case studies, tips and “Try This!” boxes, Late, Lost and Unprepared offers, among others, “Strategies to Help a Child…
- Control Running Off in Stores
- Adapt to New Situations
- Complete Chores
- Who Has Trouble Following Directions
- Who Does Homework but Doesn’t Turn It In
- Who is Genuinely Surprised When She Gets in Trouble for Misbehavior
Real people, real solutions: The clinical psychologists offer stories of families who are finding solutions. For example, Ivan has trouble remembering anything except his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Before Ivan goes to bed each night, his parents remind him to put his homework folder in the fridge on top of his lunch. Forgotten homework problem solved.
Prioritize goals. Work on one goal at a time, the authors say. While her messy room may bother you, her disorganized backpack may be a higher priority.
Short-term supports, long-term success. Cooper-Kahn and Dietzel advocate a two-pronged approach. In the short run, parents need to help a child manage demands, whether chores, school work, or putting the brakes on interrupting. That may mean picking up the books in his room while he cleans up the art supplies, or having him dictate to you the first sentence of a paper, to help him start a task that may otherwise seem overwhelming.
Meanwhile, parents must work on the long-term goals that will help a child develop habits so that certain tasks — handing in the homework, hanging up the jacket — eventually become automatic. “Here’s the bad news; It really does require repetition, ad nauseum,” they write. The good news? By offering both support and skill building, and adopting a “no victims” approach, parents can help guide a disorganized child to success.