Waiting To Hear What September Brings: Helping Our Pre-Teens and Teens Improve Executive Function During A Pandemic

Waiting To Hear What September Brings: Helping Our Pre-Teens and Teens Improve Executive Function During A Pandemic

One of my favourite things to do during my time as a teacher was to set up schedules for my classroom, plan out lessons and units, and help students stay on track with their learning and with their assignments. As a young mom back then, I thought it would be a good idea to use the same kind of set up at home with my own kids around scheduled feeding, sleep time, and play time. As my own kids grew and my role as a teacher of teens continued, I realized more and more that kids of all kinds thrive from structure, routine and predictability. All of these things help our kids with their executive function.

In school, teachers provide schedules, structures and routines to kids that, over time, become a way of life. The benefits of this kind of structured functioning became clear to me as my students and my own children entered the teenage years. In my roles as a mom and a teacher I was able to witness the advantages of good planning skills in teens firsthand, and the troubles that can arise for kids when organizational skills fall apart.

These kinds of planning skills are known as executive function skills (meaning the skills you need to execute tasks). What most parents and teachers don’t realize is that the full scope of executive function doesn’t just include planning and organizing, but also includes:

  • Getting started
  • Following through on tasks
  • Goal-directed persistence
  • Performance monitoring
  • Emotional regulation

With the latest research in neuropsychology, we’re discovering that it can take up to 25 years for executive skills to fully develop! In other words, executive skills are dependent on brain development over time. This development happens in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain just behind the forehead.

Once I started to learn more about executive skill development in kids and teens, I became particularly concerned about kids who had challenges with executive skills. These are the kids who underachieve because of weak skills in organization and time management, which in turn prevents them from working to their potential or achieving their goals. In many cases these kids have had chronic problems throughout school and may have developed a negative history there. Sometimes these kids have been labelled as lazy, irresponsible and not caring about their own success and achievement. These children are largely misunderstood. For kids with attentional disorders and learning challenges, these skills develop even more slowly and are more sensitive to disruption.
 

Stress and Executive Function Skills: Getting Through School Closure And Online Learning In The Time of A Pandemic

 
At the time of our school closures when typical schedules and routines disappeared, and teacher support for project completion, time management and organizational skills was unavailable, many students with weak or immature executive skills floundered. In fact, many students of all abilities, including high achieving students, struggled without the day-in, day-out support that teachers typically provide through face to face connections and organizational supports in classrooms.

Even more importantly, in times of stress (such as during the current pandemic), everyone’s executive skills are taxed. From a survival point of view, right now is the time when our brains are hard-wired to focus on the immediate needs in our environment and whatever is causing our stress. This in turn decreases the resources that usually get directed to executive skills, leading to reductions in working memory, emotional regulation, sustained attention and goal-related persistence – just to name a few!
 

When Kids Are Stretched And Stressed

 
During the pandemic, many parents are struggling to contain their own worries about jobs, lost income and health conditions related to the COVID-19 virus. When kids begin to understand what their parents are worrying about, they start to worry too. To add to the strain, the familiarity and routine of school as well as the many supports at school that provide security to students have disappeared. This support often includes nutrition breaks, feelings of love and belonging, and connections with teachers and peers who care for them.

Finally, increased expectations that kids manage their school work on their own when daily routines disappeared tended to overload many students and contributed to a significant amount stress and difficulty completing work. This stress can result in reduced mental resources that are normally devoted to executive function, causing significant difficulties for kids in coping emotionally and keeping up with learning at home.
 

How Can I Help As An Executive Skills Coach?

 
Moving forward, as we all wait to hear from our Education Minister regarding school opening plans, we can be thinking about how to best support kids in this upcoming school year, no matter what it brings. The best approach (at any time, but especially at a time like this) is to view executive functioning difficulties as obstacles, rather than character flaws or poor choices. If we approach kids using problem-solving strategies that include a sympathetic ear, trauma-informed practice (relationships matter!) and some open-ended questions and discussions, kids are more likely to work with us, do better and feel better.

Many parents regularly use coaching as an option when teens push back against attempts to teach new skills to help them manage the details of life. Coaching is a process that keeps the pressure and the meltdowns away from parents, preserves family relationships at a time when they matter most, and helps kids develop the skills they need to adapt to new realities with resilience.

Through coaching, kids can become the independent, self-sufficient individuals they want to be (and that their parents want to see), even during a pandemic.

As a coach, I work with kids to support their emotional health and well-being, help them identify their goals, and make daily plans to achieve them. This might include keeping up with assignments, advocating for accommodations at school, improving grades or even getting a job. I work hard to help kids feel autonomous and make important decisions about the goals that they want to work towards. At a time like this, our kids need a helping hand to navigate their way through very unsettling times, all the while keeping their eye on the prize – there is a way through this!

As a consultant, I offer advice and strategies to kids, leaving the final decisions in their hands! In this way, a pre-teen or teen’s success building small goals will build a base for achieving bigger goals over time. I firmly believe that with help, kids can overcome the hardships that have suddenly landed on them and feel proud of themselves for prevailing.

My role in the life of your child and your family in my practice at Alongside You is to offer support to help kids build executive function skills and feel successful, help your kids survive the pandemic and the continued upcoming changes in school life, and to help all of you stay connected and learn to rise above the current schooling challenges due to the pandemic.

If you would like to meet with me for a consultation regarding your child’s progress, please contact us and we will be in touch with you soon. Secure video appointments are a safe, kid-friendly space to meet virtually and shake-off the anxiety, despair and overwhelm and gain some ground as we approach our new normal at school.

Reach out for help, relieve worry and remember that a helping hand is what is most needed for kids at this time in order to feeling better, learn better and do better. I look forward to working with you and your kids!

How Can Neurofeedback Training Help With ADHD?

How Can Neurofeedback Training Help With ADHD?

ADHD is one of the most prevalent psychiatric issues in our society. According to current Canadian statistics, a conservative estimate is that 4% of adults and 5% of children experience ADHD worldwide. It is also one of the most treatable conditions, and often medications can be very helpful. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that primarily affects the frontal lobe of the brain and impacts executive functioning. What this means is that people suffering from ADHD often experience problems with attention, hyperactivity, decision making, mood regulation, and more.

 

We see it in children very frequently here at Alongside You. The challenge is that it’s often misdiagnosed, or mis-attributed. Kids with ADHD are often labeled the “bad kids,” or it is assumed that they’re just behaving badly, for no apparent reason. While I can understand this, we have to ask ourselves, “if we suffered from some, or all of the symptoms above, how would manage this in our lives?” The answer, I’m confident, would be a resounding, “not well.”


As I’ve already mentioned, ADHD is quite treatable most of the time, and most often it involves medications. What if the medications don’t work, or don’t work as well as it was hoped? What if the side-effects outweigh the benefits? What if you just don’t want to use medication? This is where neurofeedback training can help.

 

While medications can be a very helpful treatment, there can be problems, or there can be no effect. Neurofeedback training can be of help with ADHD in a few specific ways. Here are a few ways it can be beneficial.

 

Improving Executive Function

 

Executive function is a primary mechanism of our brains. It helps us with many things, including decision making, organizing, impulse control, and many others. ADHD can make these functions very difficult. Neurofeedback can help this is two primary ways. First, the training can help the brain optimize its inherent abilities. The training can help regain function in the frontal lobes, and also, can help optimize the function that is already there through strengthening existing neural connections, and creating new ones.


Second, neurofeedback training can help the limbic system calm down. Here’s why that’s important. The limbic system controls our fight or flight response. There is mounting evidence that limbic activity, particularly an overactive limbic system, is involved in particular forms of ADHD, and also in aspects of any form of ADHD. When our limbic system activates, its’ job is to keep us safe. Here’s the problem – it can’t tell the difference between anxiety, fear, or stress. Think of the kids you know with ADHD and how often you see these three things in their presence. When the limbic system activates and becomes highly engaged, it shuts off the frontal lobe. Lights out. What this means, is no more executive functioning.

 

Therefore, it stands to reason that if we can reduce the activity of the limbic system, it will help preserve executive functioning. Neurofeedback training can help the limbic system relax through training that area of the brain, and also through interacting with the central nervous system (CNS) and reducing activation.

 

Mood Regulation

 

Mood regulation, or the lack thereof, is often a part of the presentation of ADHD. Our brains are our bodies are integral in our emotion regulation and management. Through training the brain and the CNS, neurofeedback can help to optimize the emotion centres of the brain and relax the CNS. If our emotion centres are running optimally and our CNS is less stressed, our emotions stay more consistent and manageable.

 

Sleep

 

Many individuals with ADHD have difficulty sleeping. One of the advantages of ADHD is that many folks with ADHD are very creative. The downside of this is that thoughts are many, and can run rampant. Bedtime is one of the quietest parts of our day and nothing is there to stop our thoughts from running free!

 

Neurofeedback can often help regulate our sleep patterns through brain training, CNS activity regulation, and reduction of stress and anxiety. If we do these things, and sleep improves, our overall stress level goes down, the brain runs more optimally, and our emotions stay more in control.

 

Curious?

 

The brain is an amazing organ in our bodies, and central to all of our functioning. ADHD impacts the brain in many strange and wonderful ways. While treatment for ADHD should always be multimodal, neurofeedback training can be a very valuable tool for kids and for adults struggling with this condition.

 

If you’re interested in trying it, please contact us or give us a call. If you have any further questions, we’d be happy to answer them!

How Can Neurofeedback Help Symptoms of ADHD in Children?

How Can Neurofeedback Help Symptoms of ADHD in Children?

One of the most exciting uses for neurofeedback therapy is in children struggling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD can be one of the more difficult issues to treat and it causes a great deal of distress to many children, their parents, and school staff. We use neurofeedback (also called EEG Biofeedback) here at the clinic to help these kids reduce their symptoms and improve their functioning.

You might wonder, why would we use neurofeedback for ADHD? There are a few reasons we like it and they correspond to the results we see with the children we work with. I hope it helps explain the usefulness of neurofeedback for ADHD in children.

 

Improved Sleep

We often don’t notice the effects of poor sleep when we are children, but as a parent, I can definitely notice when my kids don’t sleep well. Further, now as an adult, I’ve become keenly aware of how lack of sleep affects my functioning. Neurofeedback can help the brain recalibrate and improve its function so that sleep improves, which in turn, improves attention, focus, and motivation – some of the core areas affected by ADHD.

 

Improved Attention and Focus

I have a number of clients with ADHD, and they know that my brain sometimes does the same things as theirs, and so if there’s a loss of focus in session, invariably one of us will turn our head and exclaim, “Ooh, squirrel!” This usually leads to a great deal of laughter and a refocusing in our session. Attention and focus are hallmark symptoms of ADHD, and neurofeedback can help with this by training the brain to function more optimally. Contrary to popular belief, children with ADHD aren’t overstimulated, they’re chronically under-stimulated. Because of this, their brain will find ways to stimulate itself, which usually means hyperactivity or fidgeting. Neurofeedback can help recalibrate and rewire the brain on this level and reduce the need for stimulation, improving these symptoms.

 

Neurofeedback Targets Brains At The Biological Level Without Medication

One of the most common interventions for ADHD is medication. Now, just to be clear, I am not anti-medication at all. It is a very useful tool and has its place in treatment. Medications, however, don’t always work, sometimes they have side effects that are worse than the condition being treated, and sometimes clients don’t want to be on medications.

Neurofeedback is another way of getting at the brain biology and rewiring it to improve functioning. It can also potentially augment the effects of medication if the medications are not working as well as they could. Sometimes neurofeedback can potentiate medications and lead to less medication being needed, or the ability to stop the medication altogether. Finally, if a client and or family does not wish to use medications, neurofeedback can do many of the same things medication can in helping the brain function better.

 

Neurofeedback Is Easy

Every parent knows that getting children to participate in treatment can be difficult, especially a child with problems with focus and attention and impulse control. This is one of the benefits of neurofeedback therapy – if a child can sit in a chair and look at a screen and listen to an audio, they can do neurofeedback. We can even show movies through our equipment to keep them engaged when necessary. We can also pair the neurofeedback with creating art, reading a book, or other activities to keep the child engaged.

Neurofeedback is flexible, straightforward, and easy for clients to participate in. We can adapt the environment and treatment to fit client needs and comfort. We can also tailor the treatment frequency to suit client availability and financial resources.

 

Neurofeedback Is Accessible

We know our clients lead busy lives, particularly when it comes to children and their activities. This is why we use equipment that we can send home with clients on a monthly rental basis. This has a number of advantages: accessibility, efficiency, and affordability. By doing home rentals, you can do neurofeedback in the comfort of your own home, on your own schedule. You can do training sessions as often as you like, which can help speed up the process and the results. It also makes things more affordable – for one monthly fee you can do as many sessions as you like, and you can even train the whole family for the same price!

 

Are You Curious About Neurofeedback?

 

I hope so! If you have any further questions, please give us a call and we’ll be happy to answer them. We can provide neurofeedback in our clinic, or we can send a rental unit home with you if it seems to be the best solution for you and your family. We love using neurofeedback to help children with ADHD, because we know it works, and we know kids love it. We love it because we see the results and the changed lives!

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