Updated: Apr 26
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Are you grateful for your child?
Of course the answer is “YES”, but does your kid know it?
With Thanksgiving next week, I wanted to reflect on the executive function skills my Mom fostered in me while also providing you with some ideas for how to foster them in your child in the coming years.
Next week is the PERFECT time for YOU to enjoy having a family.
Look at what you have created, nurtured and brought to life.
Is it not truly something to be thankful for?
This week I challenge you to drop the focus on school.
Drop the future planning.
And be grateful your child has given you the most epic purpose any of us can strive for.
Unconditional love = better executive functioning
The unconditional love of a parent truly pays off.
How do I know?
Because I received it from my Mom and was able to pass on much of her wisdom to my students.
I remember building a toy airplane from a pack of crayons with a ruler taped to it, only to have it ripped from my hands and thrown in the trash.
“Sean, go write your name in the book!” said my 2nd grade teacher at the local Catholic school I attended.
The book was where the “bad” kids would incriminate themselves throughout the day, adding a checkmark behind their name each time they were “off-task” during class.
Growing up with undiagnosed ADHD, there were many times I got sent to the principal's office or yelled at by a teacher or coach, because of my tendency to act and move, rather than sit still.
By no means am I suggesting that I wasn’t to blame in some of these scenarios – I definitely was the one sleeping in class at times!
What is true, is that students with ADHD have a much harder time following the norms and procedures of their neurotypical peers, and thus need a champion (or two) throughout their education to tap into the limitless potential that is the ADHD brain.
In this article, I am going to share some of the things my Mom did throughout my journey to foster the executive function skills that have allowed me to support families worldwide in parenting their children with ADHD.
Strategy #1: Pack them special lunches
One of my favorite things as a child was having the most decked out lunch box among my peers.
My Mom made lunch a work of art, neatly packing sandwiches, fruits, crackers and a caring note that made my playground peers jealous.
How does this relate to executive function skills?
Our executive functioning is primarily powered by three things:
The amount and quality of sleep we’ve had
The nutrition we’ve consumed
When I would pull out my gourmet deli sandwiches with a side of cold macaroni salad from Woodlands while my buddies were peeling back their Lunchables, you can bet I felt loved, valued and well-fed.
If you are still in the period of packing lunches for your kids, try making their lunch sparkle a bit to give them that extra boost of confidence when school days run long. Here are some things you can do:
Cut out shapes for food
Put little themed spikes in items like grapes or veggies
Tuck a little note in their lunchbox to give them a pep talk
These days, I proudly carry on these traditions, often drawing inspiration from the Tik Tok account of Cat Ben.
If your kid is in high school, ask them where their favorite place to eat out is and take them out for lunch on a short day or if their lunch time permits it.
Time flies and this will probably work best before they have their license -- once they have that lunch time is all about hanging with their peeps.
What is a special surprise you can include in your child's lunch?
What is your kid's favorite place to eat out?
Strategy #2: Show them you think of them when you are not around
When my Mom took a trip to Spain with her sisters when I was a tween, she brought me home a beautiful wooden chess board with intricately carved pieces.
I've brought that chessboard with me everywhere I've lived and it has become one of my favorite hobbies, in part because of the gift.
And of course, playing chess has so many benefits including:
Impulse control development
Stronger planning abilities
In fact there was even a study of 6th students with ADHD who played chess which found:
“... it trains them to stay longer on task, control their actions, and maintain focus. Results also revealed an improvement in the concentration tasks and the listening language scores at the end of the intervention.”
Not only did this gift inspire me to travel to Spain later in life, but it has also been a continuous reminder that I am important to my Mom and she thinks of me when I am not around.
When I was 18, I moved from Marin County to Brooklyn, New York to serve in an Americorps program called City Year: New York.
I was given a uniform, a Metrocard, a cell phone and a monthly stipend of $1,000 dollars to spend 40 hours a week volunteering in Bedford-Stuyvesant (the home of the late, great Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z).
Taking two subways and a bus everyday to P.S. 309 to teach literacy skills and create after school programming cemented my commitment to public education, lead me to joining Teach For America: Buffalo, and is one of the core reasons why I wanted to establish a Non-Public Agency branch of EF Specialists that will serve students who could not afford our services.
But while these experiences vaulted me into committing my life to being an educator, it was also a lonely, challenging and isolating to move across the country into a city where I had few connections and resources.
When I could not make it home for the holidays my mom would ship a large box to me.
When I opened it I was overwhelmed by the scent of a pine wreath and bright orange California oranges that covered a box full of thoughtful gifts.
Every time I have a speech coming up she will send me a message wishing me good luck, then checking in after to see how things went.
When your child feels you care in big and small ways, they seek you for advice and guidance throughout their lives, rather than making impulsive choices because they feel “alone”.
This sense of a secure attachment will give them the courage to boldly try new endeavors and take calculated risks that will reward them more often than not.
What are ways you can make sure your kid knows you are thinking of them on special holidays?
How can you show your kid you are thinking of them next time you travel without them?
Strategy #3: Be their biggest fan
I've had many dreams that I've chased and my Mom has always been fully supportive of them, no matter how crazy or unrealistic they are.
Because of this, I've always felt safe sharing my visions with her and through this relationship, her experience and expertise has helped me refine my visions into successful endeavors (like EF Specialists).
In middle school, I became convinced that with enough directed effort and learning, I could be in the NBA and to support me she would drive me to the Mt. Tam Racquet Club at 6 AM so I could practice for 2 hours before school.
While my older, more disillusioned peers teased me for openly stating I was headed to the NBA, my Mom encouraged me to improve my techniques, sending me to basketball camps like Snow Valley and Superskills, while helping me break down my training regimes into organized schedules with ways to track progress.
One of my favorite memories is when I hit a game winning shot while playing for my JV basketball team during my sophomore year of high school.
I remember feeling SO good and my Mom came up to me and said, “Remember this moment. What you are feeling right now is something you could never get from drugs.”
She probably said this because of the culture of affluence and permissiveness in Marin which has been described as “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” by one novelist and it stuck with me.
As I got older, I continued to enjoy basketball (even though I’m still waiting on my call from the Warriors) and when I lived in New York City, she would visit me and watch me play pickup basketball at "The Cage" on West 4th Street.
After graduating from college, I explored working as a baker, clothing designer and musician, none of which brought me a great deal of stability and led some people (including myself at times) to question the wisdom of my decisions.
Through these periods, my Mom encouraged my interests, sending me books on baking and listening to the music I made, while providing thoughtful feedback (if I solicited it).
And when I decided to pivot back into education by becoming a substitute teacher in Buffalo, she sent me a care package that had a fridge magnetic that read, "10 reasons teachers are superheroes."
By celebrating my executive decisions (even if she didn't always agree with them), she strengthened my belief in my capacity to make good decisions.
Whatever your child is interested in, I encourage you to see it as your doorway to spending more time with them (and imparting some of your expertise every now and then).
By being their fan no matter what it is that they are into, they will know you value them for who they are, rather for what they do.
What is your child's dream?
How can you support your child's dream?
In what areas of your child's life can you show up as a fan?
How can you make sure your child knows you are proud of their decisions?
Strategy #4: Give your kid a job
In my Mom's kitchen you will see cookbooks of Julia Child, brightly colored Le Creuset dutch ovens, and large loaves of bread from her favorite bakeries.
These days its a toss up between Stellina Pronto and Della Fattoria.
She will suggest you sit down and will plant a bulb of garlic in front of you with a knife so you can mince it up, while she boils the rigatoni and prepares a chopped salad.
Growing up, dinner time was an event because I was expected to participate; I much preferred to help cook than do dishes.
During the holidays, I was expected to help set up the decor for the house, label holiday cards and answer the phone in a polite and responsive manner.
Most of my best ideas and major decisions occur over a healthy, home cooked meal.
The experience of being in the family kitchen lowers the affective filter and creates an opportunity for things to be discussed in a safe and nurturing environment.
Even if they are not succeeding at school, they can be successful at home.
This reminds them they are more than a student -- they are also a daughter or son, and can be a chef, carpenter, interior designer or anything else you can involve them in.
What is your child's favorite meal?
What is your child's favorite treat?
How can you involve your child in "home" work this week?
Did this spark any new parenting ideas for you?
What are other ways you make your kid feel appreciated?
I want to know — drop them in the comments below.
About the author
Sean G. McCormick is a parent, husband and international executive function coach.
He is the founder of Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business which guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered.
He has also spoken about executive function at prominent venues including the Association of Educational Therapists' National Conference (2021), The Executive Function Online Summit (TEFOS 2022) and at the San Francisco Psychological Association CEU Series.
Sean is regularly featured across media channels for his expertise on executive function, ADHD and special education.
Executive Functions, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Some of the links in this post may be Amazon.com affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, Executive Functions, Inc. will earn a commission. However, we only promote products we actually use or those which have been vetted by the greater community of families and professionals who support individuals with diverse learning needs.