Vol III, No 5 May 21, 2021
by Ginny Kochis
A child’s impulsive behavior and disorganization are neither behavioral problems nor character flaws. It’s not a matter of training so much as it is wiring. Here’s how to help your child develop executive function skills. 

You refer to it as frustrating, only that’s not really the right word.

It’s certainly the polite, maternally-appropriate way of expressing your current emotions:

The occasional dip into the Valley of Despair.

The thing is, you know your kids. You know what they’re capable of attaining as far as intellect is concerned. But either their heads are in the clouds or you’ve not taught them well enough or they lack virtue or…


Every day is a battle to keep your trim little boat from sinking. Chaos, clutter, and what looks like an astounding lack of personal responsibility enjoy taking potshots across your bow.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

You don’t have to worry that your kids are broken or that you’ve somehow failed them as a mom.

Believe me when I tell you it’s not so much a matter of “training” as it is wiring.

Your kids will grow up to be responsible, hard-working, virtuous individuals. They just need a little help with executive functioning skills.


To help explain what I mean, let me tell you a story about A and her 9-year-old son. A’s son is brilliant – a genius, actually. He can teach you about molecular biology and illustrate – at the cellular level – the difference between a number of animal species. For the past two years, A’s 7 year old has been making coffee for his mother every single morning.

On the day this story took place, the 7-year-old was out fishing with dad. 31 weeks pregnant with her fifth child (and exhausted), A asked her 9-year-old to help her instead:

*Find my green coffee mug, rinse it out, then fill it up. -ok. What next?
*open the lid of the single-cup side. -?
*its the one on the left side. Which side is left?
*you write with your left hand. The side closer to the sink. -got it
*pour the water in and close the lid. -k
*take out the coffee grounds drawer and dump it in the grounds container. -?
*under the water reservoir. -k
*rinse the little basket and put it back together, then put a rounded scoop of coffee grounds in it. -k
*put the grounds basket and drawer back in the machine, put the mug under the basket and press the start button. -okay!

Her instructions seem pretty straightforward – at least to us, anyway. But what happened?

He didn’t take the lid off the coffee mug. He didn’t put the basket back in the machine or turn it on. There were wet and dry coffee grounds EVERYWHERE- the counter, the wall, the floor, the 2-year-old.

This kid who does iPad apps for 7th graders and knows the names and personal information of every U.S. president and dozens of historical figures.

This kid who can explain the carbon dating process and how it is flawed, and who can draw the elemental table with almost 100% accuracy by memory.

This kid who remembers every word of everything he ever reads and watches, down to the voice inflection of the narrator and the music in the background.

He couldn’t do this simple task and doesn’t even realize he missed the target in the first place.
And I won’t tell him. I just vacuumed the floor; washed the baby, walls, and counter; and started my coffeefinally.

Sound familiar? A’s son is capable of taking in massive amounts of information and processing it at a high rate of speed. And yet, his mother’s step-by-step instructions weren’t enough to help him complete the multiple steps required to make a cup of coffee. Why?

Because his brain isn’t wired that way.


A’s son struggles with executive function – the set of neurological processes responsible for helping us order our daily lives. Executive functioning skills make it possible for us to plan, begin, and follow through on a task or an activity: everything from cleaning a room and completing schoolwork to brushing teeth and making friends.

For most children, a deficit in executive function presents as a behavioral issue or character flaw. They exhibit:

Lack of awareness: about where they are in space or about the needs and emotions of people in the room

Lack of restraint: either physical or emotional

Lack of memory: usually about details, instructions, or mundane activities and tasks

Lack of emotional expression: the inability to appropriately express big emotions and thoughts

Lack of self-motivation: the inability to get started and exhibit follow-through

Lack of planning and problem solving: the tendency to fly by the seat of one’s pants and give up when life gets hard

These behaviors are actually what researchers call the Zones of Regulation. Each one is required for appropriate executive functioning. Individuals with gaps in the development of their zones of regulation will not spontaneously recover executive function skills.

In a child with Executive Function Disorder, the zones of regulation are a rickety ladder. The child requires an external scaffold or support system to hold that ladder still.

Executive function is powerful. In some respects, it holds the key to peaceful family life. Prayer time, chore time, leisure time, meal times – all of these require a certain amount of order to be fruitful.

There’s no order without executive functioning skills.

Think of it this way. If your child has difficulty attending to the most basic of tasks on the zones of regulation (like awareness and restraint), imagine how difficult it must be for him to clean a room, complete his school work, or follow through with chores.

Of course, she can never find her shoes or the very important paper in the bottom of her book-bag.

Her brain is busy trying to process what’s going on around her and, essentially, keep her alive.

Fortunately, though, the human brain is plastic. Wiring – especially working memory – can be adjusted with patience, support, and time. Concrete strategies and intentional memory practice help shore up any loose scaffolding.

External cues like visual aids and motivational systems are the surest path to success.


Play games that enhance working memory.

Board games, card games – anything that requires your child to match images, keep track of cards, or focus on more than one concept at a time – are winners (favorites here include variations of Memory and Crazy 8’s).

Work alongside your child and practice.

Remember that what comes naturally to you probably doesn’t come naturally to your child. If you want to teach your child to make coffee, for instance, put step-by-step visual pictures by the coffee maker. Walk through the process with your kiddo a number of times.

Use external cues and motivators.

Visual lists, checklists, and reminders are great for this. Post your after-school routine in the kitchen and have your child mark off each step as she completes it. For chores, try using a token economy.


Believe me. I’ve lived it, too. But the last thing you need to worry about on this journey is the way they will remember you.

As nagging.

As complaining.

As yelling, because no one can ever clean. Or find their shoes. Or keep their hands to themselves at a social gathering.

This isn’t what God meant for you when he gave you these exceptional children. And you don’t need to live with the stress of wondering what you’ve done wrong.

You haven’t done anything wrong. You’ve got the tools you need right in front of you.

Set up your scaffold and external support system and restore your family’s sense of peace.
Ginny Kochis is a former high school English teacher who knew everything about gifted children--until she had her own. Now an author, blogger, and gifted/2E advocate, Ginny spends most of her day keeping up with three curious, creative, intense children while equipping other moms to do the same. Ginny lives in Northern Virginia with her awesomely geeky husband and quirky kiddos. She writes from a Christian perspective on her website, Not So Formulaic.
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There’s a certain irony that the Journey issue dedicated to executive function was published later than planned because of … say it with me … executive function challenges. Mine. Most of the time, I can plan, organize, and execute my responsibilities with little problem, but when overwhelm hits all bets are off. The last stretch of this pandemic school year is a doozy and let’s just say I really grok what our gifted and twice-exceptional kids go through. This month’s featured writer, Ginny Kochis, takes a fresh look at those skills in our kids and offers suggestions for helping them. 

June 4-6th, GHF is hosting its first Gifted Home Education online conference and we hope that you will join us. It’s the very affordable price of free for three days of sessions designed for all gifted families. You can find more information on the GHF website

Have a wonderful (rest of) May!

Jen Merrill is a writer, music educator, and gifted-family advocate. The mom of two boys, she homeschooled one twice-exceptional son through high school while happily sending the other out the door every morning. Her book, If This is a Gift, Can I Send It Back?, struck a nerve with families; her second book, on the needs of gifted parents and self-care, is in progress. In addition to writing on her longtime blog, Laughing at Chaos, Jen has presented at SENG, NAGC, and WCGTC.

Jen brings both her acquired wisdom and her experience as a teacher and mentor to her work in the service of parents, teaching them techniques and mentoring them into their own versions of success. Her goal is to support parents of gifted and twice-exceptional kids, because they are the ones doing the heavy lifting and are too often ignored, patronized, and discredited. It is her hope that her sons never have to deal with these issues when they raise their own likely gifted children.
Most of us have watched DIY shows on TV. Handy people invite us to watch their creative approach to their current project. Have you noticed that the bigger the project, the more help they need? These folks consult experts, refer to source materials, explore options, and enlist help.

Your project is your child's education, with the goal of helping them learn what they need to become independent adults. Our kids may engage in higher education, trade school, careers, volunteer work, or go down a host of other paths, but our job is to help them be as prepared as possible to reach for their goals.

Homeschoolers do not DIY with only their own wits and limited materials. Homeschool parents are some of the most resourceful people in the world. They consult experts, refer to source materials, explore options, and enlist help. Sound familiar?
We Hope You Enjoy This GHF Press Latest Release!
Need a boost supporting your gifted and 2e students?
GHF Press has just what you’re looking for!

Even the most experienced teachers often know little about the challenges their gifted and twice-exceptional students face. Misinformation abounds, and well-intentioned in-class solutions can backfire. How can teachers support the educational and social needs of these unique learners while still addressing the needs of all their other students?

In Boost: 12 Effective Ways to Lift Up Our Twice-Exceptional Children, author Kelly Hirt outlines 12 strategies that teachers and parents can use to design a supportive, safe, and encouraging learning environment for twice-exceptional students. Using these strategies, educators can work with parents and students to create an educational experience in which all of their students can thrive and excel.
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