More than 100 parents and professionals gathered at Eagle Hill Southport School recently to hear Dr. Tim Heitzman of Developing Brains and the Southfield Center for Development address “Developing Executive Functions at Home and at School.”
As a neuropsychologist and father of five, Heitzman brought his experience in both arenas to the presentation.
“Executive function goes way beyond just organization,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘His closet is so organized,’ but executive function is about control.”
Throughout the lecture, Heitzman illustrated how behavioral, cognitive and emotional control govern the ability of a child to organize, execute, inhibit and self-monitor.
While many parents often look for a simple toolbox of answers, Heitzman said that “different techniques work with different kids at different times.” Still, he highlighted the importance of modeling and labeling to reinforce behaviors and skills.
“The challenge for both parents and teachers is to model behavior,” Heitzman said. “That really is where the learning will be taking place — the best learning is going to happen in the home, in real life, in every day experiences.”
Earlier in the school year, Heitzman gave a similar talk to the Eagle Hill’s faculty.
“If teachers know what to look for, they are going to see it, and Eagle Hill is primed to do the kinds of things I’ve just presented,” he said. “Because of its smaller class sizes, the teachers get to know the kids. The kids can’t just blend in with everybody else and get a pass.”
Heitzman underscored that any behavior that is positively reinforced will increase in frequency. He advised parents to explicitly name the “doing” behavior they are reinforcing. Parents need to combine knowledge and creativity — knowledge of your child and executive functions and the creativity to match the right approach.