Going along with my last blog regarding Executive Function Skills, I’d like to focus here on the very basic Response Inhibition or, as I often refer to it, Self-Control. I recently heard a discussion on the radio about how the world used to have all sorts of “start-and-stop cues” to help us initiate or end activities and tasks because they actually ended. There wasn’t news programming all day long; when the newscast was over, that was it. If you wanted information about something, you had to wait to get a book from the library (and return it, thus finishing your information gathering) because we didn’t have access to any and everything via phone and computer.
Today, we need to provide those start-and-stop cues for our children and adolescents. As their brains are developing and they are learning to use their self-control skills, it is our job as parents to support them through providing start-and-stop cues.
As an LCPC, I am always looking ahead with my clients to work toward the skills that are going to help them become a successful adult, and I’ve never met a parent who wasn’t also working toward this in their role. If you think about it, you are using self-control every day. For example, you are choosing to read this blog rather than do something else and I’m guessing you are choosing this to better yourself as a parent because it’s important to you.
Every day we engage in many internal battles about doing what we want to do versus what we need to do (or should do). We want our kids to learn these skills early so they can transfer them to adulthood. We want:
- Our son to be able to get out of bed to go to work even though he wants more sleep.
- Our daughter to choose to finish a work project instead of going to a party with friends.
- Them to do a workout instead of watch TV.
- Them to learn to stop eating when they are full.
- Them to go to bed when they are tired or have a big day tomorrow.
We can develop a strong foundation for our kids to choose to do the non-preferred task because of [fill in the blank] reason (i.e., it’s the right thing, it gets them closer to a goal, they get paid, etc.).
Response inhibition/self-control feeds into the very important “task initiation” which is starting something that is non-preferred – because we of course assume it is easy to start things that we like!
I say to my clients ad nauseum: “Motivation comes after you’ve started.” Establishing a guideline such as working on a project or studying for 20 minutes helps to get them over the biggest hurdle – getting started. Plus, 20 minutes doesn’t sound too daunting. Once they’ve begun, they often find themselves working or studying for longer, or even completely finishing an assignment. But initiating the initial 20 minutes is where parents may have to step in, even if they think their child or adolescent should be independent with initiating tasks.
I’ll repeat what I said in my last blog and what I continue to remind parents: Just because your child’s age (or other parents, teachers, professionals, books, internet. etc.) says they should be doing something, doesn’t mean they can. They could lack the skills or become overwhelmed or stressed; whatever it is, we can work together to identify the obstacles and overcome them. Click here to check out this article regarding motivation from Psychology Today!
In my practice, I will teach you and your kids about start-and-stop cues both verbally and non-verbally, as well as work to increase task initiation and completion. We will practice these skills in sessions and utilize them at home. Life will feel more organized and comfortable when you and your child have structure, limits, and achievable goals!
Laura M. Koerner, LCPC
The problem is the problem, not the child. And we can help.