Executive Function – A Story

On Friday morning, Mr Hare (aged nine) had the option of being organised and riding to the bus-stop with Craig in the work car or being less organised and me walking with him. The work car has Navman. The bus-stop is around the corner. They use the Navman to find their way. Mr Hare loves it.

Mr Hare had around 30 minutes to do everything he needed to do and was not in a very organised space. He came to me in the bedroom and said, “I’m going to do all my other chores and then have some more breakfast because I’m still hungry and finish by doing my teeth and face.”

I said, “OK, call me when you’re ready to do your piano practise.”

He left the room and then called out, “I’m going to eat first, I’m starving!”

I said, “OK.” All the while thinking, how much can one child eat in one morning?

He went and ate. He came to me and said,” Right, now I’m going to do my curtains, bed and face and teeth. Then can you come to the piano?”

I said, “Sure.”

He did his other chores and got dressed to shoes (thanks flylady.com). He completed his piano practise. He got to ride in the work car and be navigated around the corner to the bus-stop by Navman. All done. No frustration. No raised voices. No aggression. No tantrums. No stress.

Key One: He organised the order of his tasks and manipulated the order to suit himself.

Key Two: He was highly self-motivated.

Key Three: He has been doing the same chores every morning since the start of the year, and many of them for four or five years.

Key Four: They are all simple tasks, which he can manage easily without help. (Apart from the piano practise, for which he organised when he needed me to be there.)

Key Five: I didn’t prompt him or ask him to plan his morning, he just did it and spoke to me to clarify his own thoughts. He wasn’t asking me for a better or quicker way to do things, he had that under control – me saying anything substantial at this stage would have interfered with his own processing. And could have made him feel that his own ideas/planning was not to be trusted – resulting in a lesser sense of self-assurance.

Key Six: He knows that I won’t rescue him and do the jobs for him. He knows that he still has to sort these things out regardless of what else is going on. Craig would have left without him if he hadn’t been organised.

Key Seven:  We have been actively passing responsibility for planning these tasks over to him during the last few months. (By not giving directions but saying: What do you need to do to get out the door on time?)

Executive Function is our ability to plan and organise ourselves. To set goals, break the steps to those goals into manageable chunks and then to complete them. Jane Katch is quite right when she said in her comment that organising our own play, as in planning, playing and re-assessing, with blocks is EF 101 – but from the age of nine or so, I believe, EF also needs to used in real-life personal organisation. There are plenty of clever kids who never succeed as adults. There are plenty of hard-working kids who never succeed as adults.

It’s the combination of:

enough smarts +enough hard work +

high levels of executive function =


For more on executive function you can go here: Preparing for Real Life – Mindful Disconnection Pt Seven(!).

(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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10 Responses to Executive Function – A Story

  1. Laura Weldon says:

    Mr. Hare is more organized than I. Hmmm.

    • I am pretty impressed with him myself – in fairness this happens about once every 10 days or so and he does need a little prodding on the other nine! I will be very interested to see if he can maintain this level of self-organisation when he brain re-wires through those teenage years…;)

  2. http://farawayfromthetigers.wordpress.com/ says:

    I think parents often think that the choice is binary–either don’t make kids do chores or micromanage them. This scene you’ve described shows so clearly that we can provide the structure that will help kids learn to do what they need to do to get what they want when we’re not there to oversee it!
    Jane Katch

    • Thanks, Jane. I agree that many parents do approach chores in that binary manner you mention. In the end our children will leave home and I want them to be able to manage their lives! 🙂

  3. tanoshinde says:

    As always, an exceptional illustration of a key developmental point.

    Executive function is one of the areas I struggle with as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. I am not good at planning. Your description of how you and Craig are helping Mr. Hare (and Mr. Owl and Mr. Butterfly, I bet, at their own levels) actually gave me some insights I think might be useful for me now, and will definitely be useful down the road when DD and I become parents.

    • There is a huge number of adults who don’t have properly developed EF – many of whom appear to be doing just fine. I ended up teaching because it was the ‘safe’ option in part because of my lack of EF. I am constantly working on this and being aware of it for the boys has certainly helped me too. Pleased that it’s helped you as well. (PS BTW I didn’t realise you had Asperger’s.)

  4. faemom says:

    This is amazing. And I’m realizing I’m getting tired because I know this is awesome but can’t figure out how to apply it. I’ll be back tomorrow.

    • Thanks Fae. You’re kids are probably a bit young yet. so I wouldn’t stress. Our six year-old still relies on instructions to get through his morning routine, and that’s developmentally exactly where he should be. When your boys get to nine or so, you can start by asking them what they have to do to get organised. For now, just getting them into some sort of routine where they are learning what needs to be done each morning is about right. 🙂

  5. Emily says:

    Just stumbled on this as I was on a quest for ways to help my kids be more independent. My kids are a little young for this (5 and 3). But it’s got me thinking! I really want to encourage my kids to do more things independently (and age appropriately) because it seems like my constant instructions wear everyone down. Maybe that’s just where we’re at though. Our most difficult time is bedtime routine, especially getting teeth brushed properly. This Mom’s Guide has been helpful, as far as tips go. I just want to make sure I have realistic expectations for the stages they are at. Thanks for your post. It’s so encouraging to see how Mr. Hare is able to take care of his needs. It makes me very hopeful seeing other people raising kids who are going to be responsible, independent adults! 🙂

    • Hi Emily,
      So pleased you stumbled upon my blog! Personally, I consider the early push into independence one of the precursors to long-term problems in older children and teens – although I totally understand your frustration of in giving continuous instructions. Teeth-brushing – yes it’s a pain in our house too. The ability to think for ourselves begins when toddlers and babies start to play independently with blocks etc, otherwise it really doesn’t kick in until around nine, nine and a half, at the earliest. Our six year old has spurts of self-management, but it certainly isn’t well established yet. Thanks for your comment. Do come back soon.

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