adhd college students

How Does ADHD Affect College Students?

As a young student with ADHD, the home setting is a crucial environment for learning and succeeding in school. The structure and support that parents, siblings, and tutors can provide for these learners is crucial in their development and level of achievement in academics. A warm and supportive home fosters the discipline needed for the executive functioning that is necessary to plan, focus attention, and organize multiple tasks—all essential skill sets required in any academic setting.


It is a harmful misconception that ADHD college students, as a result of being accepted into college, no longer need support to succeed in their coursework. Unfortunately, the opposite is often reported. They can feel overwhelmed, that home setting they relied on has become a crutch kicked out from under them. As with most college experiences, the students move away from the home and are expected to independently manage their assignments while simultaneously confronting a variety of distractions that come from the demands of new social situations. College for students with ADHD for this reason can lead to unfavorable outcomes. Distractions multiply and with it the student’s performance and overall executive functioning skills take a hit.


According to the American College Health Association, reported cases for ADHD in college students are on the rise in the last 20 years—from 2 percent of the student body to 11.6 percent in 2020. That comes out to roughly 1 in 9 students who will be at significant risk for mood and anxiety disorders associated with poor academic performance, an imbalanced social life, and the potential of dropping out before receiving a degree.


Although the home setting as a tool to help students with ADHD get back on track is often not an option, this does not mean that help is not available. Effective Students offers workshops and personalized academic coaching programs for college students that target ways to improve executive functioning and time management. With these programs, college students with ADHD have the option to take online courses or work alongside an academic coach to devise the blueprints needed to succeed in college. 


The steps to ridding feelings of overwhelming and overbearing workloads and distractions starts with a simple plan. Our online workshops and academic coaches will channel the student’s energy and focus it on developing the steps needed to organize and manage their college workload. We empower students with accountability and metrics to measure their progress throughout the semester.

The goal of many families is to see their children off to college, a rite of passage that yields the coveted diploma that can open high-level career doors to young adults entering the workforce. Being impacted by the negative symptoms of ADHD in college should not be a deciding factor in a student’s success rate. With the right resources offered by Effective Students in the form of online workshops and academic coaches, someone with ADHD can learn to master the art of organization and time management and become the accomplished individual they were always meant to be.

what is a growth mindset?

What is a Growth Mindset?

Parents and students may have heard the term “growth mindset” from their school counselors or seen it printed in an academic handout. Naturally, some of you may be asking why it matters and what it has to do with learning academics. The concept of a growth mindset was first introduced by renowned Stanford psychologist, Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. and she writes about it in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. The philosophy is a person’s mindset or belief about themselves determines their level of success across all areas of their lives, academics, at work, sports, and the arts.


In defining a growth mindset, Dweck (2015) states, “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”


At Effective Students, our academic coaching is designed to instill grit, address learning differences, teach emotional regulation, and improve executive functioning – these are important areas with respect to developing a growth mindset for kids. Take a look at the following examples of growth mindset below. 

The Relationship Between Growth Mindset & Grit


A growth mindset and grit walk together like identical twins, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. As you may recall, grit is the ability to persevere when things become difficult. A growth mindset is similar but maybe the firstborn twin, as the mindset comes first and the grit is shown and built by adversity. 

How Growth Mindset Impacts Learning Differences


Students with learning differences like ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and others, understand at their core that learning for them is difficult. With researched-based instruction and the right support, students learn to apply specific strategies to find success. The students who succeed in the long term and have the best opportunities for success believe that they can – in other words, they have a growth mindset. When students with learning differences persevere to tackle an academic demand, they develop the grit to succeed and realize they can overcome such challenges. 

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset


Conversely, a fixed mindset is when a person believes that their intelligence or capabilities are fixed and cannot be developed. Parents may have heard this from their students and it can sound like this, “I’m just not good at math”, “Reading is not my thing”, or “I’m just disorganized”. These are examples of a fixed mindset. What do you think are the feelings behind these beliefs and how did they happen? Experience is a great teacher, both positively and negatively. But the good news is that mindsets can be changed. 

How Growth Mindset Affects Emotional Regulation


Emotional regulation or control is one of many executive functions and we define it as the emotional response to a situation. Emotional control is responding to information in proportion. For example, a big problem necessitates a big response – whereas a little problem necessitates a little response. Even better – a big problem necessitates a controlled response


Adolescence is full of examples of teens being emotionally irregular. Scroll through social media and you’ll find parents lamenting about it. Young adults experience the full spectrum of emotions as they start to discover who they are – one day they’re happy one day, and the next day they’re grumpy. Promoting a growth mindset for students during this time is a powerful way for teens to shape their experiences to learn from them. They are bound to make mistakes and if framed in a healthy way, failure can be useful. 


If you’re a fan of Sarah Blakely, you may recall a story of her father asking her nightly where she had failed that day and what she learned from it. What a powerful example of a growth mindset! If you don’t know Sarah Blakely, look her up! She’s one of my idols!


If a young person has a fixed mindset, they may interpret their choices as defining them and their future. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad my teen years are over! 

The Relationship Between Growth Mindset and Executive Functions


The relationship here can best be described as synergistic. Just as executive functioning skills can be built, so can a growth mindset and they are almost interdependent. They involve the frontal lobe, the brain which controls emotions, problem-solving, planning, and prioritizing. Here is an image that may help you visualize this process in detail: 

frontal lobe visualization

The Absence of a Growth Mindset for Students 


So, what happens when students do not have a growth mindset? Or if they have a strong reaction to failure? Are they afraid of how their parents react? Embarrassed to let their peers know? Instead of these responses, it’s more constructive to consider what would happen if they became curious about what went wrong – that’s the foundation for developing a growth mindset for kids.   


Students can learn to make changes to their preparation or engagement when they have a safe place to reflect on what happened and think through alternative responses. This exercise creates: 


  • Self-awareness
  • Self-governance
  • Metacognition
  • Grit building


As we say, awareness is the beginning of learning

How to Develop a Growth Mindset with Academic Coaching


If your student is struggling to develop a growth mindset, grit, or resilience or even struggles with a learning difference like ADHD or dyslexia, Effective Students offers tailored academic coaching to help. Just as athletic coaches help players improve their skills in a specific sport, academic coaches do the same, just in the education space. 


Encouragement? Yes.

Tips and tricks? Yes.

Training on skills? Yes.


In light of the learning loss and emotional responses to the pandemic, getting help is important. If we as parents didn’t already know this, “A new study from Stanford Medical School found that around the age of 13, children no longer find their mothers’ voices “uniquely rewarding. but that is a topic for another day. Just as your kids are learning to persevere when things are tough and become confident they can get better, we can do the same as adults. And you’ve done just that – by learning about a growth mindset. Well done!



Boston Public Schools


Mindset Health


Connections In Mind


Social Emotional Learning or Academic Management? 

Executive Functioning Skills

Social Emotional Learning or Academic Management?

Executive functions are a broad set of skills that occur in the frontal lobe of the brain and take nearly all of adolescence to develop. Children, teens and young adults develop at different rates so you may observe a child appear mature in one area, only to struggle in another.  The list of executive functioning skills is diverse but can be categorized into two primary groups, Social & Emotional Learning (SEL skills) and Academic Management Skills.  When you consider what your student needs, you may want to ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my child struggle with response inhibition, emotional control, perspective taking and flexibility.  If so, you might be interested in the social emotional components of executive functioning.
  • Does my child struggle with sustained attention, task initiation, planning & prioritizing, organization, time management, goal directed persistence, metacognition or working memory? If so, you may be interested in the academic management skills of executive functioning.

Summer is a great time to work on these skills. To help your student build their executive functioning muscles this summer, see the list of offerings below.  Parenting is not for the feint of heart but rest assured, with the right support, we can help you through it!

Time is a Finite Resource

Time Management

Why measuring matters!

Frequently, students have been told that they need to boost their time management skills, a common phrase they have heard, but one that can be hard to understand how to improve. Defining time in a way they can comprehend empowers students to manage their tasks for improved completion. A clear and workable time management definition is a great starting point for students who struggle with increasingly demanding schedules. When students are aware of their time and tasks, their decision-making improves, as does their capacity to prioritize. 


What are the benefits of time management?  Students who feel more in control which in turn, reduces anxiety.  The less anxiety a student feels, the more capable they are to follow through.


How to Improve Time Management? Why do students need a picture to plan?

  1. Students first need to see how they’re currently spending their time and evaluate if it’s adequate.
  2. Brainstorming activities and placing them in a specific time on the calendar allows them to ‘see’ commitments in one place. This process can identify potential conflicts which will expose choices when students can begin prioritizing and problem-solving.
  3. Students cannot prioritize or solve what they cannot see.
  4. Students who learn to build their week ahead of time using effective and proven time management tips have an easier time in college (and eventually the workforce) making decisions about how they spend their time.


What is necessary to learn Time Management Techniques?

  1. Awareness of where one’s time is being spent currently.
  2. Visual Support (calendar) that combines time and tasks in one place so students can identify if there is a conflict – a picture is worth a thousand words.
  3. Designated time to look ahead to plan accordingly.
  4. Practice looking ahead and planning.


Why is Time Management Important?

Just because students think ahead doesn’t always mean they can ‘see’ problems and make decisions to successfully solve them. Sometimes they need a picture to talk it through so the problem becomes obvious. Students cannot prioritize what they cannot see. Having a strong foundation of time management strategies provides them with a lense that will reduce anxiety, eliminate feelings of helplessness from expanding workloads, and ultimately set them up for a bright future. Awareness is the beginning of learning. Awareness is the beginning of learning.

Interested in learning more?

Time Management Lessons you can complete                                                                    Summer training for educators.

Self Care for Kids

Filling the Tank

When asked how to improve academic performance, students often repeat what they have been told: “study more” or “study harder.” What is equally important is to take the time to decompress, reset and recenter themselves. Self-care is often discussed in reference to adults, but what does self-care look like for kids?  The recent rise in mental health issues in children and teens over the last two years is startling. Just as important as a rigorous work ethic, self-care is critical to stave off anxiety, exhaustion, and depression. 

What exactly is self-care?

The capacity to get work done well is like a fuel tank. It is filled and emptied. When empty, the quality and quantity of work decrease. When we’re running out of steam, we mean we have depleted our emotional or time-based reserves. It’s imperative to manage the fuel in our tank and to remember to take the time to refill it. Teaching students to become more self aware and regulate their fuel tank becomes more important when they are in high-stress, demanding situations where their tank may deplete faster. Learning about margin (emotional and time), evaluating their own margin, and learning the value of how to build it for themselves is crucial. How much fuel reserves should be stored for emergencies? How much time and emotional energy is currently saved up if it’s needed last-minute?


How do we strive for balance, since we’re multifaceted human beings? We’re more than parents, teachers, and students. We have different needs and things that fuel our tank. Each of our unique parts deserves attentive care to help make us better at being “us.” We must get in touch with what helps us refuel and be courageous enough to set aside time and indulge in these activities. When our tanks are full, we are balanced. And when we’re balanced, we accomplish more.

While adults may be more apt to recognize their individual need to go on vacation and take a break from work, children may not be as in touch with this or be able to communicate it as easily. Typically, the child who asks for support in the least pleasant way is the one who needs the most help. 

As parents and teachers, how do we convey the importance of self-care?  

  1. Model it – we can model self-care for our children and students. “I’m taking a mental health day” or a “mental health moment” (60 seconds of quiet breathing). 
  2. Talk about it directly to improve their understanding of self-care and what it may look like for them.
  3. Reflect on it periodically throughout the semester with reflective exercises.

For many people (adults and children) with ADHD, some of the best ways to fill their tank include getting outside, hiking, or doing engaging projects or sports. For others, it may be arts and crafts or building a puzzle or LEGO set. These kinds of activities help kids disconnect from the stress of life (and technology) and reconnect with themselves. A filled tank leads to better health and better outcomes. What fills your kid’s tank?

Contact Us



executive function coaching cycle

How to Build Executive Function Skills: The Coaching Cycle Explained

Developing executive functioning skills is a process. When it comes to helping students build these essential skills, an academic coach makes all the difference. Each student is unique so personalizing the approach and relationship are foundational to success. An effective coach knows how and when to shift between teaching and coaching as they partner with the student fostering a growth mindset leading to academic independence. In the skill development process, students can demonstrate strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others on the journey to mastery. With a reliable partnership and pathway, students are enlisted to participate on their journey to success. 

executive function coaching cycle

What Makes an Academic Coach Effective?

Effective coaching relationships require three components: 

  • Reliability – Coaches demonstrate reliability when they consistently share the knowledge and practices to move the student to the next level. 
  • Relatability – Coaches exhibit relatability when they connect with students under an umbrella of trust. When a coach has experienced a similar situation to a student and is honest/real with their feedback, the student trusts them and their guidance. 
  • Resources – Coaches operate as resources when they can capably adapt to changing academic environments and select the appropriate resource at the right time to help the student. Effective coaches can quickly access their personal rolodex and furnish a lesson or solution at the opportune time. The resource can be within our outside of the immediate environment.

Goals of Academic Coaching

The ultimate goal in coaching is to help students achieve Academic Independence and reach their personal goals – this process is referred to as goal setting. Coaches help students become more self-aware and self-directed learners. Here are a few more images we are working on: 

pathway to academic independence

Lessons in Academic Coaching: Relationships Matter

Students, like adults, don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Students read people and make decisions about credibility quickly – especially middle and high schoolers. An effective coach must communicate, connect and consider the goals of the student so they feel ‘understood’. The earlier this occurs, the more apt the student is to follow the lead under the umbrella of the coaching relationship. 

Just the other day, a new student and parent arrived in my office. The student was clearly under duress and tensions were high. We had to connect and find value for the student in about 180 seconds, or he was going to be checked out for our full hour together. 

Ultimately, this situation provided the perfect opportunity to build the coaching relationship. To prevent the student from checking out and help them reframe their feelings, we began by earning their trust with three key steps: 

  1. Understanding – the tension between the student and the parent are not uncommon.
  2. Acknowledging the student’s perspective. In this situation, the student felt ‘stuck’, did not know how to resolve the problem so he was considering not participating.
  3. Relating – Offering information about personal experiences or those of other students in his situation then setting clear expectations on how coaching could move him to a place of Academic Independence. 

By addressing the conditions above, I had an early opportunity to begin demonstrating reliability, relatability, and share resources that could positively affect his coaching experience. We still have a road ahead to build his skills but we have passed the first hurdle of trust. Now we can move on to build his skills and help his parents let him practice developing independence. 

Every student (and adult) has a personal win. The sooner we find those wins, the faster a student will engage in solving the problems ahead with us. 

What does your student want out of education? 

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emotions learning differences and academic grit

Emotions, Learning Differences & Academic Grit

We all have emotions! Emotions are what make life rich and unique.  Some emotions are positive, some negative, some stronger than others. As parents, we see our children develop emotions as they respond to the world around them.  We can feel the front lines of the raw emotions with our kids.   In fact, tons of literature has been written about the terrible twos, the teen years, launching students to college or independence.  So how do emotions play into development when a child has a learning difference?

Learner Differences: Processing Information

The very position of being a student means that new information is presented daily for a person to learn.  Information a person doesn’t already know.  Take the example of upper elementary or middle school student.  There are typically 4-5 academic classes (math, english, science, social studies and reading/lit).  One student is required to ‘learn’ at least one thing but probably several in each one of those classes.  Adding to that social emotional learning, navigating peer relationships, teacher/student relationships, getting to/from school with all materials.  It’s no surprise kids are tired when they return home and even a little cranky.   If we as adults encountered new circumstances every day, I can’t imagine how tiring this could truly be.  Much of the time, students handle the novelty of all of the learning that happens in a day because over time, routine becomes reliable and they can focus on academic material.  

What is Academic Grit?

Now let’s take the situation for student A – let’s call him Alexander.  Alexander has ADHD which means his brain would prefer to focus on many things at once rather than one thing at a time.  He is more easily distracted by _______ (a peer, a noise, an itchy shirt, his stomach).  Alexander has to do the same ‘learning’ as the other students but it’s harder for him because his brain learns differently. So for every effort of 1 for a typical student, Alexander is putting in a 1.3 of effort. Does Alexander have 1.3 of resources to give what is needed for him to keep pace? 


Emotionally, what is happening with Alexander when he is having to expend 1.3 worth of effort?  Does he feel overwhelmed? Does he persevere? Does he want to give up?  Is he tempted to lie about the upcoming work because he’s out of resources, like ‘get up and go’, ‘ask for help’, ‘focus’?  How do we help Alexander learn about his own brain and develop the grit he needs to be successful in life – the perseverance that will propel him forward? 


Matthew Tull, PhD writes in Very Well Mind, Distress tolerance is a person’s ability to manage actual or perceived emotional distress.  For our student specifically, how is Alexander, tolerating the emotional ‘distress’ that he experiences daily having to work on his weakest areas  – focusing and learning?  Alexander is tasked with ‘learning’ because he is a ‘student’ so each and every day, he goes to school facing a challenge that is more difficult for him than other students.  If this is true, why is it any surprise that he might be experiencing a more intense emotional response.  


Now let’s take Sally.  Sally has anxiety.  She is also a student which by definition means that her job is learning or being presented with new information – every – single – day in every-single-class.  Sally is in 7th grade so she is also experiencing the social pressures of middle school.   When Sally experiences anxiety due to________(upcoming assignments, sitting with someone new at lunch, a cranky teacher), her brain, the learning and decision making part or the frontal lobe, locks up and her amygdala (fight or flight part) takes over.  That is the brain’s natural response to danger.  Sally’s brain isn’t in a position to ‘learn’ because that requires her frontal lobe but due to the anxiety or fear, that part of her brain is not available.  


So how do we build academic grit or distress tolerance in students with learning differences and is it important?  It’s in fact critical for these students to be lifelong learners.  


  1. First, we need to understand what is happening with students so we can make adjustments and meet them where they are.  
  2. Second, we need to teach students about their brains (the learning and the emotional parts) so they understand themselves and can partner in solving the problem.  
  3. Third, we need to draw attention to learning, not just performance.  Performance is reflected on tests/quizzes with grades.  Learning is about the connectedness of information.  Learning requires emotional safety, perseverance, and self reflection. 
  4. Cultivate a Growth Mindset – setbacks are a natural part of the learning process and that even if students struggle, skills can improve over time. 


Here are some coping strategies to build distress tolerance or academic grit


  • Distraction – students with ADHD often go to distraction because it gives them emotional relief and is ‘easier’ versus focusing.  While maybe initially helpful, it can lead to problems like procrastination.  Sometimes coming alongside a student to get them started is just the support they need to realize the assignment is easier than they expected. 
  • Improving the Moment – if we have to do something we don’t like or is hard, let’s make it as pleasant as possible.  A clean and comfortable desk, peaceful and calm environment, relaxing music, a snack or even visualizing a relaxing break when finished with an assignment are all ways to improve the moment.  
  • Pros and Cons – this works well for students who have trouble seeing ahead or have experienced a setback.  Hindsight is 20/20 so let’s not let the learning opportunity pass.   What will happen if you ______ (ignore that assignment vs tackle the first part tonight, making a study tool for the vocabulary vs. just looking it over). How could we address that differently this time? 
  • Radical Acceptance – accepting things as they are. For instance:  Alexander, you are a student which means your job is learning.  You also have a learning difference which means your job is hard.  With practice it will get easier and that test will not go away.  I see you working and I believe in you. Hey Sally, new information and tons of assignments can be scary and uncomfortable, let’s unpack this together and see what’s really going on.   I love a challenge and appreciate your willingness to let me solve this problem with you.  


For students with learning differences, what would happen if we praised perseverance over performance? Behavioral Science reminds us that what we focus on grows.  


As leaders of little people (or big people), what is your focus?

leadership skills in studentsn

Self Leadership: Helping Kids Forge Ahead

At what point are we willing to transfer leadership to our children?  It’s an important question because if we want them to be functioning adults, our children will need to lead themselves.  When are they prepared to do this and how do we prepare them?  John Rosemond once said, only one person can be concerned about grades.  Parents, if that’s you, it won’t be your student.  Shifting this responsibility of their performance to the student is what gives them the opportunity to practice managing themselves. Small failures build awareness.   Our desire to ’help’ interferes with their learning experience.   How do kids become better problem solvers?  They solve more problems.  

Leaning by Experience

For those of you who don’t know, we have several pets.  Three dogs and 8 chickens at the moment but it’s been as high as 5 dogs, a cat and 10 chickens.  All dogs are rescued but two of them run together, Maverick and Einstein.  Einstein is an 8-year-old Australian Kelpie who runs the property and Maverick arrived from Mississippi State as my son was passing through on his way to Athens, GA.  Maverick is a clingy 18-month-old pit bull who has personal space issues and an abundance of affection.  

Maverick has a tendency to run off into the woods chasing who knows what.  Einstein goes with him on occasion, which makes my trip into the woods required.   Recently, Maverick took off in his impulsive fashion, followed shortly thereafter by Einstein, which required me to track them down.  The afternoon hike was not on my list, rather I was trying to get out the door so this was quite a nuisance.  As I traipsed through the woods imagining myself on an ops mission tipping and falling, calling to no avail, I would stop to listen for them to head in the right direction.  

Eventually Einstein returned first with Mav keeping his distance at a 20’ perimeter still trying to play chase while Einstein cowered as he was scolded and heeled as we turned for home.  At some point, I must have paused to get my bearings and noticed that Einstein had moved from healing to 4 yards ahead of me.  He took a sharp left and kept looking back to check I was with him on a trail that is perfect if you’re 3 feet, not 5 feet tall.  Seeing Einstein ahead of me and leading me in another direction helped me realize I was heading in the wrong direction.  Knowing the woods much better than I and also seeing that I was off track, Einstein gently took charge and led me home.  Maverick was still circling.  

When did I realize I was off track?  Did Einstein recognize this before I did or did he observe me pause? When did I notice he was already out in front and needed to be there?  At what point was I aware that it was wiser to transfer the leadership for the return home to him?  

Students Leading Themselves

Recently a client and her high school freshman were at odds.  Tensions were high, threats flying.  After some discussion, the parents decided to shift the responsibility of grades and alignment of resources to the student.  The parents applied this hands off approach, to both boys who have been in coaching.  The boys began practicing what they learned in sessions, evaluating their resources, how to plan and use their time and how to reflect on their performance.  Outcome? The parent/student engagement has been delightful in recent sessions.  They even shared that their 6th grader played Xbox the night before a test and did very poorly reflecting he would not repeat that because he didn’t like the grade (he’s a conscientious student).  Not every student is ready for this but this 6th grader was.  

Back to the dogs.  So am I comfortable transferring leadership to Einstein? Now – yes, because I recognize he’s ready, in fact has been leading for a while I just didn’t notice. Not only did he know the right thing to do, he knew when to do it.  Is Maverick ready?  Not a chance.  He’s still a distractible puppy.      

As parents, do we recognize when our children are ready to lead and at what point are we willing to transfer self-leadership to them? What will make them want to listen to our feedback or take suggestions?  Will it be when we are dictating how and when they do things or in a calm discussion of thinking through choices and temptations?  

Sometimes consequences or life experiences are the best teacher.  It’s easy to let our emotions get caught up in driving outcomes instead of focusing on the process of our kids learning how to solve problems.  So when do we start turning over leadership to our kids?  As soon as practical.  The more practice they have before they leave the house, the more proficient they will be when they leave for college.  How will our kids learn to become better leaders of others?  By practicing leading themselves. 

what is flexible thinking

What is Flexible Thinking?

Flexible thinking is the ability to think about something in a new or different way.  Inflexible thinking or rigidity is being stuck or being only able to do something only one way.  Students who struggle with executive functioning often also struggle with fundamental skill.  They may be stuck in a routine or mindset that isn’t working for them.  They may be aware that what they are doing isn’t working but not be able to make a change or be willing to even entertain a change. 

Becoming a Flexible Thinker

A few years ago, I worked with a fifth grader whose parent and teacher shared that the student struggled with organizational skills and executive functioning.  Upon meeting the student for the first time, I asked to see his binders (there were 7) and asked if he was open to a change in how he was managing them.  He refused to even show me his backpack and held his binders to his chest as if I was going to steal them.  In this scenario, I had to be the flexible thinker (modeling) and move to another lesson until he trusted me enough to come back to demonstrating the Organization skill.  Ultimately, the student earned the most improved 5th grader award and rightfully so! He did a lot of growing that year.  

To the observer, the lack of flexible thinking may sound like, “I don’t need help” or “My way works” or “I’ve already tried that”.  The behaviors have been observed in students and adults alike.

We can’t effectively discuss flexible thinking without broaching the subject of margin and anxiety.  Margin is the bank of reserves we have available of time, money or maybe patience.  It’s what we may have set aside in case of emergencies, the unexpected or surprises.  

When students are in a state of ease (lots of margin), mental flexibility is much easier.  They may be open to considering or even trying new things, open to learning and even solving problems.  The opposite is also true, when students are in a state of stress, they are generally out of margin, are less flexible and more rigid.   

Students are more open to flexible thinking when they have a process they can control to manage their affairs.  Learning that process begins with managing time/tasks effectively so they can build margin into their day and week for self care, self management and planning.  

Time Management →  Margin →  Flexible Thinking

Once students have a process to see and plan their time and tasks, they can build the muscle of flexible thinking by being rewarded for variations and adjustments to their processes, like a science experiment and soliciting their feedback on those adjustments (metacognitive exercise).

For students with executive functioning difficulties, flexibility thinking and structure are important opposites to balance.  A problem can have more than one solution!  Students are more open to flexible thinking when they feel safe, have a process they can follow and are rewarded for trying new solutions.     

Want to learn more about executive functioning and how it may help your student?  Contact us!

Awareness: How This Executive Function Skill Marks the Beginning of Learning

Self Monitoring is the ability to observe and evaluate one’s behavior.  It includes being aware of how one is acting, perceived, sounds like, looks like, impacts other people.  It can include being aware of how we feel at any given moment, how we relate to or engage with our responsibilities, taking care of ourselves or interacting with people and the world around us.  

What is self monitoring?

One characteristic of an individual who struggles with executive functioning is the lack of self monitoring or even being aware of what he/he is doing or in many cases, not doing.  If we ask a student to change before they are even aware that a change is needed, obtaining buy-in becomes difficult.  Often students and even parents, are not aware of what they are doing, how they are being perceived (perspective taking) and whether what they are doing is helping (or harming) them reach their goals.  So how do we build the skill of self-monitoring? 

Before we can ask someone to self monitor – it helps to know if they are self-aware.  At Effective Students, that begins by asking the student what he/she thinks of themselves and their skills.  In a recent workshop of twelve students, when surveyed only 15% had ever been asked their opinions of themselves as students.  When given the opportunity, students can usually identify what is hard for them, what they need to do but don’t want to do and their opinions of what works and doesn’t work for them and why.  If they can’t immediately, by asking the question, they have an opportunity to reflect and begin building self-awareness

With intentional questions and time and space for consideration, students reflect on their feelings and abilities to begin self-awareness and self-management.  With instruction and consistency, self awareness leads to self-monitoring – generalized to new situations over a period of time so students can identify for themselves when they may be off track and make the adjustments necessary for improved effectiveness.  

Self monitoring applies to 

  • Work habits
  • Tone of voice
  • Personal care
  • Emotional awareness & regulation
  • Group engagement
  • Interpersonal skills


It’s easier to see how others are doing at those versus accurately seeing ourselves but with practice, this improves.  

In some organizations, this is called Mindfulness – 




  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
    “their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

It has been said, we can’t take data on ourselves because we can’t accurately see ourselves from another’s perspective.  However, pausing to reflect builds that self awareness and ultimately, the self management muscle.  The good news is that over time and with practice, self-monitoring is a skill that can be developed.  

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