Helping with Executive Functioning While Also Empowering Independence

with Frank Bagdade, M. Ed. LLMSW

Parents and teachers often worry that if they help a kid with lagging executive functioning skills that the kid won’t develop skills for independence — that they won’t be able to function on their own. But, the truth is, you can help a child with functioning skills and teach them independence skills. The first step is to replace doing things for the child with doing things with the child. In this episode, we talk about the difference between helping in a way that is enabling, versus helping in a way that is empowering. You can support and still teach a kid to be independent. In fact, that’s what good support actually does — it helps and empowers. Listen in to learn how to support a kid who struggles with time management, task initiation, planning, and organizing while also teaching skills and self-accommodations.

Resources in this Episode

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My Guest

Franki Bagdade, M. Ed. LLMSW
Franki Bagdade owns and operates FAAB Consulting, which offers school and camp consultation as well as training for professionals in education, camping, and mental health fields. In addition, Franki runs a solo private practice as a clinical social worker specializing in ADD, ADHD, Anxiety, Emotional Regulation, Executive Functioning, and Parenting Support. Franki’s passionate about accessible education, camp and mental health services for everyone regardless of disabilities. She provides training, professional development and keynotes for educators, mental health professionals, camp and recreation staff and parents dozens of times a year throughout the United States and Canada. Her first book, “I Love my Kids But I Don’t Always Like Them!” was published in 2021 and has won several awards.

Thanks for joining me!

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Franki Bagdade 0:03

It's okay to need help forever like to have those accommodations, some of us will need them always. But even our kids taking responsibility for asking for those accommodations and advocating is a big step.

Penny Williams 0:22

Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the beautifully complex podcast, I am really excited to have Franki Bagdade here with us to talk about executive functioning, which is such a hot button issue for all of our parents, our kids tend to struggle with that a great deal more often than not. And it's a real challenge. And I see so often that we tend to help too much, we tend to insert ourselves too much, just because we want to help our kids succeed. But what happens is we often lose building the skills for independence later, because we're helping too much. And so I'm really excited to have this conversation about how we can support executive functioning, lagging skills and needs, but also still support teaching our kids the skills for independence. So will you just start for you by introducing yourself and letting everybody know who you are and what you do?

Speaker 1 1:42

Absolutely. Thanks for having me today. So I'm Franki Bagdade, and I am a career master's level special educator and have a master's in clinical social work, and a life long ADHD diagnosis for myself. I mean, I guess it wasn't from birth, but you know, it felt like it. So lots of lived experience. And I'm a mom of three. So I feel like that has to be part of my resume now because I have a lived experience of parenting kids who have varying degrees of executive functioning challenges as well. Yeah, so I spend my days doing all kinds of exciting things. I do some school consulting, I get to speak to professionals, educators, mental health professionals, camp staff about neurodiversity, and meeting various needs, I get to write about it. And I get to work with clients, as a therapist, and as an ADHD and executive functioning coach. Awesome. So every week looks a little different. A lot of cool things I get to do.

Penny Williams 2:49

Yeah, you sound a lot like me, I'm always so grateful that I get to be a helper, I get to do these things. It's not drudgery and work, like a lot of people unfortunately find themselves in. So it's so fun to just be able to absolutely do that in the world. So where do you want to start this conversation? I always feel like for those who don't know what executive functioning is, we need to start by just defining that, because so many people don't know it. And I watch TV at night to turn my brain off. And I've started noticing that it comes up in actual TV programs now sometimes, which is really amazing. Oh, interesting. You know, so the term is starting to get out more, I think. But there's still a lot of people who don't know exactly what it is. So let's start by just defining it.

Speaker 1 3:40

Yeah. And so if you Google executive functioning, and you look at some really good quality resources, you're gonna see all different kinds of categories. Like some people feel there's 10, some people feel there's a, and so on. But really, in general, executive functioning, are those skills, we need to get ready to do our work to do our tasks. So it's time management, planning, even our emotional regulation, because we have to be in the right place for our focusing to click in and to get something accomplished. Starting behaviors that's really big. I feel like that could be such a struggle, like even if we know what we have to do. And we have an idea of how we have to do it. Doing it actually like initial meeting can be very, very hard. So all of those skills that you need to do your job well whether your job is being a kid, and being a student, or your job as a professional job as an adult, or even your tasks of keeping your home functioning, executive functioning. You'll see it in all of those different ways.

Penny Williams 4:50

Yeah, it's part of our everyday life. Many, many times a day, like just functioning, you know, is using executive functioning Exactly. And it can be for our kids who struggle with that, or adults who struggle with that. It can be really debilitating, honestly, you know, it keeps you from getting things done. It keeps you from meeting expectations, right?

Speaker 1 5:14

Yes. And I think it also really plays into this self esteem challenge that we see that's so common amongst those who have ADHD, autism and different neurodivergent brains. Because so often you know what to do, right? And you want to do it, and then you feel like you can't, and that's such a helpless feeling. So it's not, you know, oh, I don't really feel like doing this. I mean, sure, that comes up too. But that's a different conversation, like knowing you want your house clean, but like, I just can't make it happen, or knowing I need to get this project done for work. And I don't even like my job, and I'm passionate, but I just can't figure out how to get myself started. It can be really difficult, complex emotion.

Penny Williams 6:02

Yeah. I mean, parents get calls from school all the time, you know, your child isn't doing their work, or, you know, I've given an instruction, and they're staring off in space. And it's that task initiation, that can be so, so difficult, especially if they're really overwhelmed, right? If kids or adults are really overwhelmed by what they need to do, it's really hard to kind of even want to do it, like I get analysis paralysis all the time, or where I'm just overwhelmed. And I'm like, I don't want to do anything now, because it's all too much, right. And we think about our kids who often get more easily overwhelmed, I would say, for the most part. So of course, it's going to be hard to get started, get things done. And, you know, a big part of this conversation that we're having needs to be, how much do we help? And how much do we still sort of rely on the kids to be able to function on their own right, and I feel it's a balance in between, but I want to hear your expertise on that as well. Because we tend as parents to get sort of desperate speaking from my own experience, for sure. But also many parents I've worked with, we get super desperate about our kids being able to succeed, right? Or just getting by Eva. And you know, for my kid, he needed so much help just to pass his classes, even though his high IQ, because it wasn't about how smart he was. It was about all that functioning. Right. And so how much do we do? And then I think, you know, scaffolding as well as part of this conversation, right?

Speaker 1 7:37

Yes. And, you know, it's a question without an easy answer, because it's so individual. And it's so day by day. So I wish I could create a chart, you know, this is what to do with your five year old. And then this is what to do when they turn 10. But it's just not that simple. So I posted on social media the other day, and I recall, I really liked that explained executive functioning really well for parents. And I hit a comment on it. And it said, but can executive functioning actually be taught? Or is that like, asking a blind man to see? And I really like sat with that question for a long time. I wanted to respond immediately, because ADHD brain, but I really wanted to think about it because it was such a good question. And I assumed and I could be wrong, but I assume that that parent was trying to make sure that her expectations made sense for her own child. And that to me is so important. And I talked about that day in and day out with professionals and parents. And in the end, my answer was one of those Yes. And answers. Yes, you can teach executive functioning.

Speaker 1 8:46

And we are never going to take our children with ADHD and teach them executive functioning skills that look neurotypical. And that's not even the goal. Right, right. So when I was a teacher, I worked with these wonderful educators who were so well meaning who were like really gung ho, I'm going to teach the kids in my class how to organize themselves. And we're going to do that by having a science binder and everyone's going to have a one inch binder, everyone's going to use these tabs, everyone's going to use these colors. And I get where they're hurt and head work, because that worked so well for them. But it was never going to work for certain kids in there. Right. So what I'm getting at in terms of answering your question is I think one of the things we do as parents is exposing our children to all different things that may work and helping them with the grand experiment, because that's what it's like. And even myself as an adult right now, when I'm starting to find something I'm doing is not working. That's what I do. I experiment. I want to try this system and see if it gets me closer to my goal. So to me, I feel like the parents are really cool. coaches and mentors and working through it with them. Now, while they're younger or even older, but need higher level of support, we may do things for them. But I think we can do it for them while explaining our thoughts and why we're doing still need to be part of it. Yeah, yeah. And so that's still mentoring and teaching, even if the responsibility is on us right now. And I think that helps to serve as a bridge when we're ready to scaffold and start giving them some of that responsibility.

Penny Williams 10:32

Yeah, I love that you said right now, because I'm constantly telling parents who say my kid can't do X, Y, or Z. They can't do it yet. It's not that they'll never do it. It's that they can't quite do it yet. And that's okay.

Speaker 1 10:48

Yes, yes. I think the two words right now are two of the most important words for any of us, who spend a lot of time working with parents. Because when I add those words, I see the parents take a breath. Yeah. Okay. It's a relief. Yeah, I won't be like always packing my kids lunch, you know, when they're 40. Right now, you know what, I'm gonna take it off their plate?

Penny Williams 11:10

Yeah, I think that's so important, because we come into parenting with certain expectations of what parenting is like, and what childhood is like. And we have all of these benchmarks that are being sort of put on us and our kids with typical development, right, which we know to be neurotypical development. And so we really have a hard time with being able to know what is an appropriate expectation sometimes, right? Yeah. And being able to say, okay, for my kid is okay, if I back off of this, for my 12 year old, it's okay. If I still help them plan out their homework, or I still help them by scribing for them, or whatever it is, just because neurotypical 12 year olds don't need that doesn't mean that it's a bad thing for you to need to do it for your child.

Speaker 1 12:03

Yes, yes. And I think another big thing we're trying to teach our kids is how to create accommodations for themselves. Right. So there are many people who have what we call like time blindness, right? Yeah. Like, they don't have like that feeling of how much time has passed, or able to look at a task and give a good estimate of how much time it would take. And, you know, thinking of that woman who asked me that smart question yesterday on Facebook, that may never change. They may not be able to estimate time, however, there are tools at their disposal. So all right, let's talk timers. What timers work. Do you need a timer and a backup timer? Genie, a timer and a backup timer and a friend to call you and make sure they all work? Like what can you do? But here's where I think it we've scaffold, right? So maybe when they're younger or still struggling more? We might behave as that timer in that queue? Oh, don't forget, you know, we're leaving in five minutes. Have you done a, b and c? Right? Eventually, we'll say Don't forget, set Alexa to go off in five minutes. And then eventually, we don't have to tell them about the timers? Or, you know, Sunday night, we say hey, do you have all your iPhone timer set? So it's okay to need help forever like to have those accommodations, some of us will need them always. But even our kids taking responsibility for asking for those accommodations and advocating is a big step.

Penny Williams 13:39

Yeah. Yeah. And they really need that because at some point, we can't be involved anymore. You know, I remember when my son turned 18. And immediately his therapist sends me a text and says, Okay, I can't talk to you about this anymore. And I'm like, oh, what's happened, you know, and I, I knew it was coming. But still, when it comes, and you've been so involved, it's really difficult to navigate that. So kids have to be taught to self advocate much earlier. It's so super important. And I don't think we talked about it enough, really. They love that you talk about these sort of what I call work arounds as like self accommodations. Like, I'm just finding an accommodation for myself. It's not an accommodation at school that the teacher has to do whatever. I'm just figuring out how to make this work for me. And it's okay if I need tools to do that. I think a lot because we're still struggling with this in our own house about my own son who is 20 and still thinks that using a calendar means there's something wrong with him and he's smart enough. He doesn't need a calendar, right? He doesn't need reminders. And we talk all the time about like, you know, I have extremely good executive functioning. I use a calendar To her, right, I set three or four notifications for things I have to show up right away on time for, I need that to everybody needs, you know, help keeping their life organized. And so how do we handle when kids sort of reject our ideas of self accommodation? You know, how do we get them there? Because this is a question that I get asked a lot, too. It's not just us struggling with it.

Speaker 1 15:27

It's so funny, bring that up. Because I was literally having this conversation with myself today. I was out of school this morning and driving home, then I was thinking about really many of my clients who are very calendar resistant, whether it's like Google Calendar, or Outlook, or it's a paper calendar, or it's an app, it's like, they don't want to hear any of that exact now, I don't always get the like, I don't need it conversation. I think it's like, I usually get the like, yeah, I tried that. You know, and I just what I'm realizing, and I have this conversation with a coaching client recently, I said, like, Can you picture a time, or a future in which like, we find something that works for you, and this isn't such a struggle? And she said, I don't know. It's just been something they feel like they failed it so many times. I think it feels like, you know, suggesting a calendar is like another thing that's just not gonna work.

Speaker 1 16:28

Right. So, you know, I think it's like kind of unpacking that is really helpful. I use examples from my own life. And I'm careful to say like, this works for me, I'm not saying that it will for sure work for you, it may or may not even like two people with ADHD are gonna look really different. And really normalize that we're doing experiment, like we're scientists here, we're going to try a lot of things. And there's a phenomenon among, you know, neurodivergent kids and adults, that sometimes something works really well for six months, or even two years, and it just stops working. And then we try something else. Yeah. So like, for a calendar example, if you find an app you can tolerate, and it's helpful enough great, fine to others. So maybe you switch it up when you need to, when like, it's not novel enough anymore for your brain to be excited about it.

Penny Williams 17:20

Yeah, yeah, that's such an important point, too, for ADHD, because it really does need to be novel A lot of times in order to be able to engage, and for it to sort of click for you to be able to stick with it. You know, I talked to parents all the time about well, okay, you know, that thing was working great. And now it's not working, that's okay. Let's just find something else. Like sometimes you find the three things that tend to work, and you just keep rotating them. So they're always a little bit novel. Right? And, you know, just being open to that possibility, as a parent, like, things may stop working, and it's okay. There are other things that could work, too.

Speaker 1 18:04

Yeah, absolutely. And normalizing that. So I do my meetings on Zoom. So I will sometimes, you know, pick up my camera and face it the other way, and show them my work setup. Like I have a 12 month at a glance calendar at this wipe off on the wall. I have one month, and I have one week, and I have my Google Calendar. To me, they all serve different purposes. And I'm not saying they're all perfectly updated, like right now my month calendars on February. And that just means I don't need it right now. Like it's okay, I don't feel bad about it. I've moved past that. Like, I don't have one of those months where I need to see the month blown up like that I do sometimes. Right now. I'm doing planning for the next school year. So I really like seeing the 12 month. Yeah. And that taps into that visual need. And again, like I'll share things that have happened to me. So we can just normalize it. I used to like live and die by my Google Calendar. It's saved me. And now when I get a notification that something's coming up in 10 minutes, I dismiss it. So automatically, I stopped reading them. And I've tried to fix it. It just didn't work. So I switched to alarms. And eventually, maybe the alarms will wear off and I can go back to Google Calendar. It's okay, like I was disappointed. And then I moved down. Yeah, but that happens to adults and all kinds of careers. And I always tell the kids I work with Listen, like I work with CEOs and I work with firefighters and people live all kinds of cool jobs who are having similar struggles. It's okay, and we can figure it out together.

Penny Williams 19:36

Yeah. You said Don't feel bad about it. Like I don't feel bad about the fact that my calendar is still in February. That's a big, big piece of this puzzle, I think is teaching our kids and making sure that we're not giving them that message accidentally, that oh, you can't do this. You know what's wrong, what's going on? You should be able to do this right? We're shooting ourselves and our kids. We have I have to teach them that it's okay to function differently. It's totally okay.

Speaker 1 20:05

Yes. And that's why I really think there's something nice about those with ADHD talking to other people with ADHD, and those with autism talking to other autistic students and learning from each other. And, you know, just as great sort of database we have of knowledge these days, that what might work for neurodivergent brains, because the organizational skills that work for the type a type person, they're never going to translate. And then you just have more of that failure feeling. I can't tell you how many of my clients and I'm talking therapy and coaching, get on and the first thing they say is something like, Oh, I was so lazy this week, or I was so bad this week. And we'll unpack that. And then the end whatever big project they had to do, they finish completely, but in their mind, they were taught at school that you take it and you divide it up and you do a half hour each day. I'm like, but does that work for you? Well, no, I'd rather just sit there for five hours and hyper focus. Okay, like, did it get in the way of you taking care of your child? Have you eating? Did you get it in on time? So yes, the whole should shooting thing is, is really tough. And it's taken me, you know, decades. But I've had to not be upset that my calendars on February right? And to think of myself, is that actually a problem? It's not I'm okay, right now, I don't need that. Yeah,

Penny Williams 21:32

I'm actually full disclosure are working on this with my own therapist right now. Like, I have these goals. And I'll, you know, if the goal was to do it once in the week, I'll be like, Yeah, I did it once. But I should have done it two or three times, I should have, you know, I'm always like, negating my progress, because I'm not where I want to be right in the end. And I'm learning to like, take teeny tiny steps, the things that I have been doing for my kid for 20 years, right? I have to do for myself. Also, I think that's a big part of succeeding with us. And really teaching those independence skills, yes, is saying, like, we're going to take really small steps, we're going to do it totally differently, however you want to do it. And it's totally okay. Because at some point, you're going to get there. And it's okay, if you're 12 years old, and you still don't get yourself ready in the morning all by yourself. And on time, that's okay. Because eventually we're gonna get there because we have to be really delicate and careful with our kids self esteem to write the mean absolute, we're talking about something that they can really internalize and feel, you know, even more bad about themselves. And so we also have to really, I think, be very mindful of that. But also, that peace of giving ourselves Grace has to come in there too, because so often, that's part of what's getting in the way for our kids.

Speaker 1 23:00

Yes, yes. And I think really, what you're talking about is self talk, right? Like walking these things out in our mind, not allowing ourselves to be hard on ourselves. And to me, that's really so much part of executive functioning, if we're not able to do that well. And instead, we're arguing with ourselves and our mind. You're right, we've missed all the directions for the assignment. Yep, there's no starting behavior. There's no planning, we're just arguing in our mind that can get in the way, you know, and another thing I really recommend to all parents, but I find it totally, like essential when you're parenting teens. And younger kids who have sort of oppositional type behavior profile, or like, are super anxious, for whatever reason are really looking for control is ask your child, what kind of support they want from us. Yeah. And to me, that's their first step in learning how to advocate and then not saying they always know, right, so I've done this with my kids.

Speaker 1 24:03

And sometimes they'll be like, oh, I want you to do all of it. And then we have a discussion about like, why I don't think that's needed, you know, or like, okay, I can do that today. But here's what I'd like us to do. How can we get to that next step? You know, why don't you think you're ready? That's made a big difference. Like when you talk about the calendar thing, like I want to use that calendar, right? Like, buying in is so important. Yeah. And we hope that as they get older, they're starting to figure themselves out. So let's give them the benefit of the doubt that they do have some ideas about what what they need and what they don't need. Yeah. And if they can ask us, then hopefully, they'll start to get more comfortable asking their teacher for the right kind of help. You know what it is exactly they need, like, can you clarify what number two means? Or, you know, can you give me a suggestion for how to set up this outline? We want them to be able to advocate specifically for what they need.

Penny Williams 25:00

Yeah. And you mentioned control, which I think is such an important part of this conversation. It's such an important part of parenting neurodivergent kids, or kids with anxiety, because that need for control can be so strong and overwhelming. And it is so inherent in anxiety and inherent, I think when kids don't feel like they measure up, when they see that there's differences, then there's so much that's not in their control in that environment, right, like my own son really struggled to function at school, he also struggled with being okay in that environment, he struggled with social aspects, like there were a lot of things that just made, it feels so not doable to him. And anytime that we could give him some control over something within that realm, even if it was, which subject of homework he started with, yes, it made a difference. It eases the anxiety and eases the overwhelm a little bit. And it's one of those crucial aspects. And I think, too, it's really a piece of the puzzle in developing independence. You know, we want our kids to learn how to make good decisions, right, that's part of being independent.

And they are doing that by taking some control, when you make a decision, you're taking some control of the situation. And so I think that's a really important piece of it, too. And I teach this all the time with parents, I think almost every coaching conversation I have, we talk about, what can you give your child control of, because it's that important, it makes such a huge difference. It also helps with your relationship to Right, right. So they're gonna come to you and ask you for help when they need it, and stuff like that, which I think is really, really vital as well. And then, you know, the other thing that kind of comes to mind is we've had this conversation, in regard to independence, is what I would call scaffolding, which is, you know, sitting alongside your child and being there for the support, but having them take the reins. And even if you're walking them through something step by step, if they're doing the actual doing right, then they're learning some skill. And they're also I think, taking ownership. If I'm writing out your schedule for you, Is it really your schedule? You know, does it really feel like it's yours? Maybe not, right? But if I'm helping you plan, and you're writing it out, and you're making the decisions, there's that ownership that you were just talking about within that. They're just little pivot, it's really like what I'm talking about, it's just a little pivot from, you know, taking the pen and paper or the keyboard out of your hands, and putting it in your child's hands while you're doing the same things that you've been helping with. So it's minor things that can help build independence.

Speaker 1 27:56

Yeah, absolutely. And the conversations that you are having, while you're doing that modeling and talking it through are so important, because that's problem solving. Yeah, there we go again, like, major deficit for many neurodivergent kids in humans is like something's not right. But I don't know what to do next. Yeah. Okay. Let's figure it out. What's our goal? what's working, what's not working? You know, the hope is that when they're, you know, in school, and something happens, they can break it down that way, or when they're older or moved away, they can look at things like that. Yeah. So it is so vital. I don't know if you have the opportunity to read Harold koplewicz, his parenting book. I feel like it's called like, it's something scaffolding parenting it that's in the name. But I had the pleasure, the honor really, of interviewing him, he was at a book fair, a local book fair, and I got to moderate. And his book was great. And now whenever I say the word scaffold, I picture scaffolding on a building, because he talked about that metaphor, right?

Speaker 1 29:00

And how you are literally holding that building up. So you can, you know, give it support and help while you're doing the construction. You know, yeah. And then you want to slowly peel it away. You don't want it to go crumbling. And I envision that all the time. Now, I think it's such a good metaphor, that we're not doing the wrong thing by giving additional support and homework, for example, with Kid number one than we would kit number two, if that's what kids number one needs. We're holding them, you know, we're not doing it for them. We're allowing them to like really do it for themselves. And we're gonna really strategically appeal back. And that's hard. Even for me, right? Like all the degrees, it doesn't matter. Parenting is so hard, and it's not very black and white. When I try to figure out what my kids can do on their own. It's like such a difficult question. So I'll go and get help. You know, I'll ask her teacher. I'll ask my children's there. therapist because I certainly don't want to be their therapist, you know, professionals like, I feel like maybe the balance is off and they need to move to the next step and independence. What do you think? I certainly ask them like, that is always part of it. But you know, sometimes I'm still not quite sure where we are in, you know, don't be afraid to go out in the ass somebody. Yeah, you're still the expert on your kid. That's how I feel about parents, but an outside fresh perspective. It's invaluable.

Penny Williams 30:29

Yeah, it really is. And I think that's why you know, we coach because we get that perspective. Yeah, that's so very important to have. So we're out of time, of course. But I just want to make sure that everybody knows how to connect with you, Frankie, and get more knowledge and wisdom from you, and maybe work with you. So for the show notes, where we link up all of that information, and your website, your book, all of that good stuff will be at parentingADHDandautism.com/220 for episode 220. And I really encourage you to do that. I hope that you'll connect, I know that Franki would be super open to that. Right.

Speaker 1 31:14

Yeah, we'd love to hear from all of you.

Penny Williams 31:17

Yeah. So with that, thank you again. I really appreciate you. Yeah, and I'll see everybody next time. Take good care. Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parenting ADHD and autism.com and at the behavior revolution.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai