Lazy, Uncooperative, or Executive Function Challenged?

Just because your middle or high school student

  • Misses or has trouble following directions/forgets what to do.
  • Tantrums about things that appear fairly minor and manageable to you.
  • Melts down instead of expressing feelings and frustrations.
  • Moves from task to task, or looks for distractions but doesn’t complete the original task.
  • Mixes up assignments/forgets to bring home books or handouts needed to complete work.
  • Struggles to initiate multi-part or less structured assignments such as studying or writing.
  • Blames the teacher for being “unfair” when grades don’t reflect how hard they think they worked.
  • Struggles to seek and use feedback like grades and comments as a tool for improvement…


…this doesn’t mean they are lazy or uncooperative. Instead, consider that they aren’t out to make your life miserable. I understand that at first this may be a preferable thought for you to imagining that your child has a learning disability. Bad behavior is something that your kid will hopefully grow out of. A learning disability is something that you will have to do something about, and feeling scared about your kid is worse than feeling angry. It can be downright terrifying. I’m here to help you on the journey of finding out what’s really going on as well as how to address more personalized ways of learning that can lead to a happier and more independent student–yours!

Executive Functions are the skills of what is sometimes called the “hidden curriculum”. With more and more school work actually hidden in online documents, and with directions and rubrics written as curriculum standards in teacher-language, many more kids struggle to accomplish independent work. It’s also increasingly challenging for many parents to know how to help at home. Here is a list of eight kinds of executive functions organized as a sequence of steps required to complete a task (such as a homework assignment) successfully. Bold words are the main ideas. Remember that not everyone struggles with all of the steps. In parentheses is what it looks like when someone is at that step.

  1. Control impulses to stop a behavior (Do. What. Now.).
  2. Move/shift/switch from one activity or situation to another (Take steps…maybe literal ones.).
  3. Begin an activity or assignment independently (Just get started.).
  4. Regulate emotional responses appropriately to be able to get to work (Just say yes.).
  5. Generate ideas and problem-solving strategies then organize and establish a plan/purpose with goals and steps (Do. What. How.).
  6. Hold information in mind while simultaneously completing a task, learning and storing new information, managing distractions, refining steps of the plan (Just don’t lose the information.).
  7. Organize and manage physical (and virtual) materials and space, including notebooks, computer files, desk, locker, backpack, bedroom) (Just don’t lose the work.).
  8. Monitor/assess the effectiveness and impact of your own work and social behaviors (Seek feedback and make adjustments.).


Do challenges with this sound familiar? Let’s talk.

For more information on seeking feedback and making adjustments, check out the podcast here.

About the author

Sherri Fisher, MEd, MAPP, executive coach and learning specialist, uncovers client motivation and focus for perseverance. She has decades of successful experience working with students, parents, and professionals who face learning, attention, and executive function challenges at school, home, and work.

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