How Executive Functions Coaching Can Transform Your Adolescent’s Life
Takeaway: Coaching differs from tutoring because it goes beyond helping your adolescent with schoolwork. Instead, it offers strategies and techniques to improve their executive functions – which then triggers large-scale life changes. The result? Your adolescent has an action plan to gain more control of their life gradually. And this transformation can help them feel calmer and more fulfilled.
Adolescents need their executive functions for a range of daily activities.
Our brains have a series of mechanisms called ‘executive functions’ that help with day-to-day activities. These include mechanisms to remember and use new information, stay mentally flexible, and control our impulses. We aren’t born with these skills and it takes years to develop them gradually. This development is regulated by the brain’s frontal lobe – which matures significantly during adolescence. So, adolescents whose executive functions aren’t developing on track will struggle with essentials like solving problems, goal setting, making friends, focusing in class, and more. Learn more about executive functions.
Thankfully, we can improve adolescents executive functioning through targeted coaching.
The right coach can help adolescents improve their executive functions and their quality of life significantly. For instance, a coach might address your teen’s planning challenges by improving their goal setting, prioritisation, and time management (using calendars, planners, etc.). Or they can work on your teen’s mental flexibility – helping them adapt to rapidly-changing schedules, control their anxiety, and overcome obstacles/mistakes by tweaking their plans. Similarly, the coach could help your teen with self-management – teaching them to recognise when they need help, find mentors, and reach out to them the right way.
Note that this is coaching, not tutoring. It’s about developing broad strategies, not just keeping up with schoolwork.
Tutoring tends to be about improving your adolescents academic life. So, a tutor might focus on your child’s trouble with maths – tweaking maths-specific skills (e.g., in algebra), giving them academic drills to work on, and that can help with maths homework. In contrast, an executive functions coach would work on broader life strategies. For instance, they might recognise that your child’s algebra skills are fine but that the real trouble is their focus. So, by tweaking general study techniques, the maths challenges could sort themselves out without specific tutoring. Remember, coaching is about using a particular problem as a starting point to address an entire ecosystem of skills that could improve your child’s quality of life.
The best coaches have an array of techniques they can tailor to your child’s needs.
A skilled coach knows to assess your child’s primary needs and address these with niche tools and techniques. This might mean setting up an external set of reminders (to-do lists, visual calendars, etc.), reverse-engineering multi-step projects to figure out the right starting point, using your child’s passions to motivate them during boring tasks, and celebrating little wins to set up a positive feedback loop.
These tweaks and techniques add up and can transform your child’s life.
Working on your child’s executive functions can trigger a domino effect – transforming their personal, academic, and social life. For instance, school becomes easier when you can remember/follow instructions, sidestep distractions and impulses, and solve complex problems. Meanwhile, making friends becomes easier when you know how to get along with others, adopt a social (rather than individual) mindset, and contribute to (rather than simply take from) social groups. Further, executive functions coaching can help your child make smarter decisions through reflection and positive self-talk. (For example, they will learn to say ‘no’ to friends who try to pressure them into taking dangerous risks.)
Really, it’s about helping your adolescentss feel more in control.
Teenagers often feel out of control because life has many new challenges on them. They have to juggle homework assignments, overbearing teachers, and a daily routine they didn’t choose for themselves. So, the right coach can help them pause, recognise everything they can control, and develop skills to make life more fulfilling.
But it’s also about helping you as a parent feel in control.
As parents, we often sideline our needs when looking out for our children. So, we need to acknowledge how important coaching can be for our mental health, too. Remember, when your child suffers, you suffer as well. So, as they gains more control of their life, you become less worried, afraid, and frustrated about their struggles and unmet potential. Further, as they learn to express themselves better, the two of you will start engaging more meaningfully – which, in turn, will add to your child’s sense of contentment.
So, what’s coaching like? Well, it begins with the coach asking smart questions.
A coach has to gauge your teen’s current skill level and help them figure out who they want to be. And this means asking the right questions. What kind of problems does your teen face? For instance, do they struggle to get started with homework? Are they easily distracted? Is the school backpack always a mess? Do they put off assignments until the last minute? Questions like these help a coach define problems to solve. But just as important, they help a coach explore your child’s learning profile and design a custom coaching plan.
Only after this does the actual coaching start. And it’s a slow, iterative process.
Coaches have an entire toolkit of techniques, but it takes time to figure out what works for your teen in particular. They’ll try something new, see how your teen responds, and tweak the next step accordingly. And since your child is gradually building a new, more capable identity, it’ll take time for any changes to sink in. How fast things unfold will depend on their goals, motivation level, and how long they had particular challenges. So, it’s a slow, iterative process, and rushing things would undermine everything.
The coach-student relationship matters more than anything else, though. So, try to find the right match for your teen.
What the coach does isn’t as important as how they do it. That’s because your teen has to trust and buy into the experiment. For instance, imagine a 13-year-old who loves reading but struggles with maths – specifically, handing maths homework in on time. The coach might spot that their problem-solving and time-management skills need to be developed, but that’s not where they would start. They would start with the teen talking about their life and what’s bothering them. For instance, maybe the maths issue doesn’t bother them as much as their friendship concerns. So, yes, working on maths skills will be important. But dealing with the problem’s social component is even more vital. And this sort of discovery happens only when your teen trusts the coach.
If you’d like to learn more about executive functions coaching, we’re happy to help guide you.
The Ed Psych Practice offers face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, pediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:
- Phone: +44 (0) 78 3344 7356
- Email: Office@TheEdPsych.com
Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.
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