Executive Functioning

“‘Bright Kids Who Couldn’t Care Less'”

A common complaint that parents bring to me is some variation on the theme of the child being poorly motivated.

Parents will say things like, “He just doesn’t seem to care about anything (other than screens).  We’ve tried everything and nothing seems to motivate him.   Now, if it’s something he likes doing like surfing at the beach, he will get up early and do it all day. For that, he’s motivated.”

One of the things that gets my back up is when professionals fall to simplistic explanations after the parents have checked off a few of the classic items on a rating scale at the doctor’s office that point to “ADHD.”

While the child may have this neurodevelopmental disorder, I could easily come up with about 20  different things that contribute to the child having low motivation.

A favorite author of mine who has written a number of excellent books on learning issues and struggling children is Dr. Ellen Braaten.

While cruising around Barnes and Nobles recently (yes, people still go to real bookstores sometimes), I came upon her latest book whose title says it all:  “Bright Kids Who Couldn’t Care Less:  How to Rekindle Your Child’s Motivation.”

Even though we don’t know each other, I’d like to think we are kindred spirits.

While parents often want to focus on the question, “How do we fix it,” I try and push back and remind parents that their children are not car engines and that there’s nothing broken.

I encourage parents to follow the child’s strengths. (That is the theme of The Shut-Down Learner.”)

Following the child’s strengths is a lot easier said than done and getting a child through the rigors of school can be extremely challenging  (The last time I looked surfing wasn’t a part of most school’s curriculum.)

Dr. Braaten also emphasizes building on strengths to help break the cycle of low motivation.

One of the things I particularly liked about Dr. Braaten’s book is a chart that she includes that highlights what low motivation looks like at different ages.  For example,  how does low motivation look with a five year old compared to a 17-year-old?

If you’ve been frustrated as many parents are with issues of motivation, I strongly encourage you to get a hold of Dr. Braaten’s book.  It’s loaded with great ideas and offers good food for thought.

I believe your perspective on why your child is unmotivated will broaden once you go through her book.


(***Please note:  All blogs represent the opinion and perspective of Dr. Richard Selznick.  Comments and questions are welcomed, but are blocked by the hosting site.  Please email questions or comments: rselznick615@gmail.com)  

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022, www.shutdownlearner.com.

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email rselznick615@gmail.com.

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“Rolling the Dice”

Oh, my, my, my, I’m the lone crap shooter, playin the field every night.”  ‘Tumblin Dice,’ the Rolling Stones)

In the last post we talked about kids who are “rudderless (see “Rudderless”).  This week we focus on the older ones, high school and college kids, who are rolling the dice in their attempt to avoid the pain.

The dice roll comes down to “should I face the current pain of my school work, or put it off for a later date (or never).”

Many choose the latter and hope that they get a good roll.

When college grades come out for the past semester, many of these kids are stunned by the result, having been in their ongoing state of denial.

“I don’t know how I could have failed,” reported 20-year-old, James,  “I did my work.”   Thinking that he was meeting his basic responsibilities, the reality is James probably handed in about 60% (at best) of  what was required.

The truth is on a day-to-day basis, James kept avoiding pain, continually rolling the dice.

James’ lifestyle also caught up with him. Never going into the library (not sure that James knew where it was on campus), he probably spent about 10 hours or more  tooling around the internet, texting his friends or playing video games (and probably doing too much vaping and edibles).

Another young man that I know attended a local college.  After getting to campus Liam avoided going to class, choosing instead to hang in the student lounge filling his time on a range of social media sites.

The internet is a safe haven for these pain avoiders. YouTube, TikTok and Instagram  can be quite the narcotic when there is all this painful and utterly annoying stuff like schoolwork out there to deal with.

504 Plans and various services are available at school if there is an identified diagnosis like ADHD, but unless the student makes an active decision to take responsibility for his or her own learning, the accommodations are essentially meaningless.

The two students mentioned above, did not avail themselves of any accommodations or services, even though their parents had spent a great deal of time and money to obtain a diagnosis leading to a 504 Plan.

Takeaway Point

Rolling the dice has its own inherent thrill and when you come up with the numbers you want  there is a payoff (“Yeah, baby”); there are endless ways to stay in the shadows and avoid the pain.


Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022, www.shutdownlearner.com.

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email rselznick615@gmail.com.

To receive future blog posts, register your email: http://www.shutdownlearner.com.

“Rudderless”

13-year-old Liam comes in trudging behind his mother, staring at his phone.

While I think I have a decent relationship with Liam having evaluated him a while back with a follow-up session or two, I also think there’s a pretty big part of him that is annoyed about being dragged in.  (He had been “socializing” with his friends up in his room on-line on a video game when his mom interrupted him about the appointment.)

An irritated mom kicked off the session.  “He’s doing nothing, nothing and failing classes.  Nothing seems to get through to him.”

I do my best to go low-key and use some type of humor with Liam to try and lighten the mood, but he’s not biting, not taking the bait.

The best I get is the “13-year old shrug.”  (I’m sure you know the look.)

Animatedly, I raise the joking level, “This is a ‘No Shrug Zone!!!!,” I shout.  “You have to give me something.  Throw me a bone.”

Shrugging again, at some point he mumbles, “I think I have executive function deficits.”

In over-the-top astonishment, I state, “Executive Function deficits!!!!  Do you know what that is?”

More shrugging, I get a low mumble, “No.”

“It means you are a rudderless ship.  Nothing is steering the boat.  The wind blows one way and you go where the wind blows.  It blows another way and there you go.”

Takeaway Point

The fact of the matter is children and adolescents showing these rudderless ships are difficult to turn around to the point where they are not just bobbing around on the water.

We’ll talk more ore in follow-up posts.)


Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022, www.shutdownlearner.com.

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email rselznick615@gmail.com.

To receive future blog posts, register your email: http://www.shutdownlearner.com.

“Stamina” (Part II)

Last week we talked about the idea that “stamina” is not a word  parents reference much to when talking about their concerns (“Stamina” (Part I)

This lack of stamina probably manifests in many different forms, much of which overlaps with some of the concepts of the popular term “executive function disorder.”.

While evaluating children I am always on the lookout for how quickly they may fall to answering “don’t know,” or giving up on a task.

Reading comprehension questions often reveal this style.

With factual questions (e.g., “How many ducks were on the pond?”) these can be quickly answered.  The answer is either known or it is not.  There’s no effort involved.

Inferential reasoning questions are a different matter.  The answer is not readily apparent.  Clues in the text  must be considered requiring a certain amount of what I call, “Hmm, let me think about it,” consideration before answering.

Usually, these are revealed in “Why” type of questions (“Why did the ducks leave the pond?).

Stamina (effort) is  required to answer such questions or complete challenging tasks where solutions are not readily apparent.  One must “tough out” the impulse to shrug and quickly give up.

One piece of advice for parents is to not dive in too quickly to offer help.

You might try and say something like, “You’re a big girl, I bet you can figure it out” may give the right message.  It conveys confidence that the child can figure it out, but that it may take some effort.

This issue of stamina is not just with schoolwork.

For example, I saw a mom readily help her child open  her snack bag while on  a break.  In spite of the fact that the child was perfectly capable of opening her bag, she was getting “help.”

As talked things over with the mom, I gently (I hope) chided her for helping her daughter too quickly.  The mom readily admitted to babying her too much rather than have her  “tough it out.”

I joked with the mom telling her not to worry that I would cure her of that problem quickly.

The mom took the chiding and said she would readily take on the mission and she was ready for the challenge.

Takeaway Point

Don’t be so quick to dive in.’


Copyright, 2022 www.shutdownlearner.com

Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick:  rselznick615@gmail.com

“Stamina?”

It’s always interesting to me how words or terms come in and out of favor.

When parents come in to talk about their children, “stamina” is a word that I don’t hear mentioned too often.

Parents will make reference to a child having difficulty with “executive functioning,” they rarely know what it means and when I press them a bit to explain further, they look at me a bit quizzically, like why am I asking that?

Take a snippet of a conversation I had recently.

“I think my kid has some type of executive function deficit,” said Martha, parent of a 9-year-old girl in the fourth grade.”

“How do you mean,” I ask.

“I don’t know,” Martha went on.  “The teacher said something about it, even though I wasn’t sure what it meant.  She also said she gives up quickly on tasks, which I see all the time.  I think it’s because all she does for hours each day is swipe on her screens. It’s Tik Tok and YouTube all day and night.”

“So, you’re telling me she can’t tough it out.  She lacks stamina.”

“Yeah, that’s it.  Why can’t people talk like that.  I wish they’d stop using all of the fancy terms – it’s always ‘disorder this’ or ‘disability that.’  No stamina…that’s it.  Is that a brain dysfunction?  My dad used to say I lacked ‘grit.’  Now that’s a word I never hear used anymore.”

Takeaway Point

For the moment, stay away from “brain-disorder” thinking. Reflect on the word “stamina” and whether this is an issue for your child.

(More next week.)


Copyright, 2022 www.shutdownlearner.com

Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick:  rselznick615@gmail.com

“Executive Functioning” – Are You Too Hot or Too Cold?

For those of you who follow this blog or read my other “stuff,” you know that my overall is to present to parents in down-to-earth, understandable terms, concepts that I think have become unnecessarily complicated.

“Executive Functioning” is a term I hear parents use a great deal, but when I ask them what they are referring to, I usually get a shrug and a look of confusion (even though they are pretty sure their child has it).

When it comes to “executive functioning,” here are few points to keep in mind:

Ship’s Rudder: Think of “executive functioning” like the rudder to a ship helping to steer things along.  For many kids they have firm “rudders” and their boat is well-steered. Tasks get started and finished.  Completing homework is no big deal.

For others, their rudder is quite floppy, which leads to floundering around and not staying on course.  Homework is rarely completed.  Basic tasks like walking the dog or putting things away are an enormous chore.

Late Maturing of the Rudder: For many of the students of concern (especially the boys), there is a late maturing of the “rudder.” Effectively, these children are not on the same timetable of school.

 Be careful with comparing your child to the average or the “norm,” as your child may be outside of the norm with the various executive functioning skills, such as task initiation and sustained effort.

The Goldilocks Rule and the 10% Standard: One of the toughest questions parents grapple with is how much they should be involved on a day-to-day basis.

Many parents that I meet (ok, the moms) are very involved with the child’s school work.  As the mom does everything she can to get the child to do their work, the child is ignoring it all while they are on TikTok, Youtube or whatever.

When it comes to parent involvement, I like parents to be thinking of the “10% solution,” which means that the parent should be approximately 10% or so involved.

The “Goldilocks Standard” is also something I mention when considering their involvement.

That is, if you are in too deep (i.e., the soup is too hot) then the kid will not be taking sufficient personal responsibility for things like homework.  Why worry about work if the parent is doing most of the worrying, anyway?.

On the other hand, if you are not involved  (i.e., the soup is too cold) with a weak-rudder type of child, then the child will flounder.

Takeaway Point

Try and find the sweet-spot of parental involvement – not too hot, not too cold, but just right and you will be on the path to helping move things forward.


Copyright, 2022 www.shutdownlearner.com (revised from 8/20/21)

Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick:  rselznick615@gmail.com

“P.A.D. – ‘Pain Avoidance Disorder’ & the Reality of School”

In the landscape of modern childhood there is something that I have come to call, “P.A.D.” or “Pain Avoidance Disorder.”

For children showing P.A.D., basic tasks/chores asked of them are viewed as enormous impositions and they will go to great lengths to sidestep the perceived discomfort.

Take, Callie a 9-year-old who begged her mother for two years to get a dog.

After about three months of having the dog, the novelty wore off and asking Callie to take the dog out for a walk upset her, as it interrupted her ongoing TikTok viewing.

“How could her mother dare interrupt her pleasure on TikTok?  Didn’t she know it was important,” was Callie’s thought process.

P.A.D. style children also have the notion that school should be fun most of the time.

While school has its fun, inevitably there will be hard work and periods of boredom.  As 11-year old Peter protests to his mother while playing Fortnite,  “School is so boring – I hate the work.  It’s just not fun.”

So, Peter largely avoids completing school work.

Similarly, 14-year-old Kyle offers a litany of complaints about the horrors of school, complaining that school is boring and not fun.

During a session  Kyle continues his complaining about the intensive boredom.

After a few minutes of listening to the complaining, I joke back at him and respond, “Wait! Stop.  I can’t listen anymore.  When was school ever fun? Since at least the year 1650 school’s always been a pain in the rear end (said differently), so why should it be any different now?”

I ask Kyle to translate to see if he understood what I said. “School sucks and it always sucked, Kyle translates.” “Brilliant analysis,” I tell him.

While laughing, he continues to tell me the horror of his teachers and why his classes are so terrible, trying to convince me that his problems are due to the teachers and the way they run their classes.

I continue poking fun at Kyle explaining to him about the law of averages regarding how many teachers out of five or six are going to be fun and entertaining.

I do my best to bring a dose of reality to his head, but it’s not making too much of a dent.

Takeaway Point

P.A.D. can run very deep especially when pleasure is at their fingertips throughout the day.  There’s a built-in reality to school and school work that needs to be understood to help these kids work through their issues.


Copyright, 2021 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick:  rselznick615@gmail.com.

 

Executive Functioning & the Goldilocks Standard

My overall mission on www.shutdownlearner.com is to present to parents in down-to-earth, understandable terms, concepts that I think have become unnecessarily complicated.

“Executive Functioning” is a term I hear parents use a great deal, but when I ask them what they are referring to, I usually get a shrug and a look of confusion (even though they are pretty sure their child has it).

When it comes to “executive functioning,” here are few points to keep in mind:

Ship’s Rudder: Think of “executive functioning” like the rudder to a ship helping to steer things along.  For many kids they have firm “rudders” and their boat is well-steered. Tasks get started and finished.  Completing homework is no big deal.

For others, their rudder is quite floppy, which leads to floundering around and not staying on course.  Homework is rarely completed.  Basic tasks like walking the dog or putting things away are an enormous chore.

Late Maturing of the Rudder: For many of the students of concern (especially the boys), there is a late maturing of the “rudder.” Effectively, these children are not on the same timetable of school.

 Be careful with comparing your child to the average or the “norm,” as your child may be outside of the norm with the various executive functioning skills, such as task initiation and sustained effort.

The Goldilocks Rule and the 10% Standard: One of the toughest questions parents grapple with is how much they should be involved on a day-to-day basis.

Many parents that I meet (ok, the moms) are very involved with the child’s school work.  As the mom does everything she can to get the child to do their work, the child is ignoring it all while they are on TikTok, Youtube or whatever.

When it comes to parent involvement, I like parents to be thinking of the “10% solution,” which means that the parent should be approximately 10% or so involved.

The “Goldilocks Standard” is also something I mention when considering their involvement.

That is, if you are in too deep (i.e., the soup is too hot) then the kid will not be taking sufficient personal responsibility for things like homework.  Why worry about work if the parent is doing most of the worrying, anyway?.

On the other hand, if you are not involved  (i.e., the soup is too cold) with a weak-rudder type of child, then the child will flounder.

Takeaway Point

Try and find the sweet-spot of parental involvement – not too hot, not too cold, but just right and you will be on the path to helping move things forward.


Copyright, 2021 www.shutdownlearner.com  Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick. 

Not in the South Jersey area?  For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com.

Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up: My interview with Dr. Ellen Braaten

Processing speed isn’t a one-dimensional concept. It’s not just about how fast received, or how fast we write or how fast we can process what we’ve heard. It’s really a combination of all those factors. In fact, processing speed deficits can be observed in visual processing, verbal processing and motor speed. Problems in one or more of these areas can manifest and problems with academic fluency and general difficulties….In every day life there is a cost to processing everything more slowly.
My interview with Dr. Braaten will take place over two sessions. Within the first, she will discuss some of the more common variables with processing speed weaknesses and in the second, she will discuss different aspects of how parents and teachers can approach children with processing speed weaknesses.

Part I Dr. Ellen Braaten author of “Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up” discusses many of the signs and symptoms of children with “processing speed” or sluggish cognitive tempo. Dr. Braaten highlights the many factors that can affect processing speed and what to watch for at home and in the classroom

Part I

[podcast_episode episode=”5422″ content=”player”]

Part II

[podcast_episode episode=”5436″ content=”player”]

“What’s the Ratio?”

In the consulting done with parents regarding their children’s school issues, I often talk about the “ratio,” that is the percentage of parent involvement with homework and other school work.

Even though it goes counter to the approach often adopted by parents, I find myself governed by the basic principle, “Do not do for others what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves.”

Using that as a guiding principle, the ratio I typically recommend is about 80 – 20.

In other words, a child should be able to manage about 80% of their school work on their own, with a relatively small percentage of parent involvement or support.

Of course, there will be exceptions and you will need to go task-by-task to determine whether what is being asked of the child is in their legitimate range of capability.

But, far too quickly without letting the child work through his/her own difficulty, the parent attempts to rescue the child from feeling a sense of challenge or discomfort with the work.

Let’s take young Maria, age 9, a fourth grader.  Complaining to her mom on a near daily basis that she, “hates homework, because it’s so boring,” Maria does anything to avoid doing her work.  Rolling around in the chair, flopping on the floor and sobbing hysterically, are common occurences.

While her mother is kicking out all kinds of energy to get the work done, Maria will pull out her phone (yes, she has a phone at age 9) playing games that she has installed there, as her mother has apoplectic fits.

After a great deal of arguing and tense back and forth, Maria’s work gets completed (largely by her mother) and Maria goes off to play games on her phone and iPad (the other device she got for the holidays).

Takeaway Point

Write down 80:20 and keep it visible in every room of the house as a reminder.

Remember, it’s called “homework.”  It’s not called “homeplay.”

And, yes, it can be very, very boring.


Copyright, 2021 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com.

To purchase a signed copy of  “What To Do About Dyslexia: 25 Essential Concepts” & Dr. Selznick’s other books and to receive blog updates go to https://shutdownlearner.com.

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