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Parenting through Failures, An Executive Function Lens (Part 1)

Your child is at risk of failing their least favorite class. You want to prevent that from happening, but struggle with accountability and consequences. Maybe you consider cutting off their social life or taking away their phone until their grade is up. But you don’t want them to be miserable or feel defeated.

Parenting your child through failures and consequences is emotionally straining – for you and for them. Holding your child accountable is something we can talk through during online parent coaching. Or we can work with your child to develop strong goal-directed persistence in executive function coaching

Each family has their own set of values and their own culture. Your values guide your decisions and your family culture informs how consequences are communicated and enforced. What is important is that you take the time to consider your values and family culture. If you aren’t sure how to do that, seek out guidance to identify and transform those aspects of your family so that you are confident and happy in your parenting. 

No one’s method of parenting is the best way. I am sure that if you were to look through the parenting window of my house, you would see things that you may like and things that you do not like. At the end of the day, every parent is doing what works and trying to find what is effective and compassionate for their particular child.

Executive Function Lens to Consequences

What I would like to offer is an Executive Function lens to parenting your child through failure and consequences. An Executive Function lens is focused on long-term skill development. Consequences are directed at a current problem. How you approach the issue at hand becomes future-oriented when you provide opportunities to model and practice skills (Part 1) and cultivate the child’s sense of personal agency (Part 2).

Model and Practice Skills

Strong executive functioning skills are all about taking control of your actions and mindset so that what you are doing is in line with your goals and intended outcomes. Using the example at the beginning of this blog, no child intends to fail a class. Usually that is the case for whatever “failure” that you or your child is navigating right now. Failing is not the intended outcome. So, what happened along the way that created the current reality?

As adults, when we are in a healthy or skilled state of operation and face failures or obstacles, we take a step back, re-evaluate, and make a plan for solving the problem. Our kids are still developing that set of skills. Being able to answer the question, “what went wrong?” is harder than you might think. 

I have found that using an adapted version of Stephen Covey’s circle of influence helps discern the answer to that question. Answering three simple questions about failure turns the conversation from shame to solutions. 

What is in my control?

Using a planner to track assignments, completing homework, checking learning and grade platforms, putting away distractions during class, asking for help, etc.

What is in my influence?

What grade I got on assignments, working technology, group projects, feeling rested and alert, getting support for a learning diagnosis, etc.

What is beyond my control?

Sick days, family trauma or emergencies, ADHD or other neurodivergence, Covid restrictions, learning in-person, virtually or hybrid, etc.

You can model answering these three questions whenever you have a shortcoming, obstacle or misstep as a parent. Maybe you were late to school pick-up, maybe you responded to someone in a hurtful way, maybe you are overwhelmed with the college application process. Model solutions-focused reflection by verbalizing your own answers to these questions.

So, now you know what happened to get you to where you are. Look where you want to go. How do you get there? By focusing on the things that are in your control.

Show your child how they can effectively plan, prioritize and manage their time to reach their goals. Get specific about actions, map them on a timeline, and schedule progress check-ins. 

Now, what about consequences for not following through? Look for that in Part 2: Parenting through Failures, an Executive Function Lens. 

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