Executive Functioning Skills for Success

By Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT @pdresources.org

marshmallow testIn the late 1960s and early 1970s, psychologist and Stanford professor Walter Mischel conducted a series of studies that would change the way we understand how children perceive the world and the implications it has for long term success. In what is now known as the Stanford Marshmallow Test, a child was offered a choice between one small reward (one marshmallow) provided immediately or two small rewards (two marshmallows) if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned.

The idea was to test if children’s ability to delay gratification would correlate with other important measures of success, such as better life outcomes, SAT scores, educational attainment, and body mass index.

If you are familiar with the marshmallow test, you likely know the results. The ability to delay gratification, or exhibit self-control in the face of temptation, is a pivotal executive functioning skill that correlates with almost every measure of life success. In follow-up studies, Mischel and his team found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores (Mischel et al., 1989) educational attainment (Ayduk et al., 2000), body mass index (BMI) (Schlam et al., 2013) and other life measures (Schoda et al., 2011).

Since then, Mischel’s results have been replicated numerous times and the ability to delay gratification and exhibit self-control has emerged as a key skill that forms the basis of executive functioning. Children who can exhibit self-control have better learning outcomes, less behavioral problems, better social skills, and less adjustment difficulties.

But while it may be clear how we test the ability to delay gratification, how do you teach executive functioning? Research has shown that not only are there clear signs of executive functioning deficits, but twelve identifiable executive functioning skills. Moreover, there are clear, evidence based strategies that therapists can use to help children improve these skills, learn to listen better, and even utilize technology to improve overall executive functioning.

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Related Online Continuing Education (CE) Courses:

Executive Functioning: Teaching Children Organizational Skills is a 4-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that will enumerate and illustrate multiple strategies and tools for helping children overcome executive functioning deficits and improve their self-esteem and organizational abilities. Executive functioning skills represent a key set of mental assets that help connect past experience with present action. They are fundamental to performing activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space. Conversely, executive functioning deficits can significantly disrupt an individual’s ability to perform even simple tasks effectively. Although children with executive functioning difficulties may be at a disadvantage at home and at school, adults can employ many different strategies to help them succeed. Included are techniques for planning and prioritizing, managing emotions, improving communication, developing stress tolerance, building time management skills, increasing sustained attention, and boosting working memory. Course #40-42 | 2017 | 76 pages | 25 posttest questions

Improving Social Skills in Children & Adolescents is a 4-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that discusses the social skills children and adolescents will need to develop to be successful in school and beyond. It will demonstrate the challenges and difficulties that arise from a deficit of these crucial skills, as well as the benefits and advantages that can come about with well-developed social skills. This course will also provide practical tools that teachers and therapists can employ to guide children to overcome their difficulties in the social realm and gain social competence. While there are hundreds of important social skills for students to learn, we can organize them into skill areas to make it easier to identify and determine appropriate interventions. This course is divided into 10 chapters, each detailing various aspects of social skills that children, teens, and adults must master to have normative, healthy relationships with the people they encounter every day. This course provides tools and suggestions that, with practice and support, can assist them in managing their social skills deficits to function in society and nurture relationships with the peers and adults in their lives. Course #40-40 | 2016 | 62 pages | 35 posttest questions

Building Resilience in your Young Client is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that offers a wide variety of resilience interventions that can be used in therapy, school, and home settings. It has long been observed that there are certain children who experience better outcomes than others who are subjected to similar adversities, and a significant amount of literature has been devoted to the question of why this disparity exists. Research has largely focused on what has been termed “resilience.” Health professionals are treating an increasing number of children who have difficulty coping with 21st century everyday life. Issues that are hard to deal with include excessive pressure to succeed in school, bullying, divorce, or even abuse at home. This course provides a working definition of resilience and descriptions of the characteristics that may be associated with better outcomes for children who confront adversity in their lives. It also identifies particular groups of children – most notably those with developmental challenges and learning disabilities – who are most likely to benefit from resilience training. Course #30-98 | 2017 | 53 pages | 20 posttest questions

Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).

Target Audience: Psychologists, Counselors, Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapist (MFTs), Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs), Occupational Therapists (OTs), Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs), School Psychologists, and Teachers

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