Best for Boys: Speaker Series
On Nov. 4, parents and guardians gathered in Centennial Hall for Nichole Pugliese and Mike McLeod’s Best for Boys Speaker Series presentation “Executive Functioning: Boys’ Development and 21st Century Learning.” Pugliese, Director of the Enrichment and Learning Center at The Haverford School, and McLeod, an executive function expert and founder of GrowNOW Therapy Services, suggested ways parents and guardians could support the development of their students’ executive functioning skills. These are the skills that help students manage tasks like scheduling study time before tests, successfully packing sports gear, regulating challenging emotions, and more.
Executive functions are the brain-based cognitive skills that need to be developed in order to successfully negotiate the demands of childhood and adolescence. They are the skills that become more critical as young adults venture into a world with decreasing parental supervision and guidance. Pugliese offered advice to parents and guardians on ways to build resilience in young minds, emphasizing the importance of practice and independence. Her “golden rule of executive functioning,” as she explained, is “if they aren’t doing it, they aren’t building it.”
McLeod recommended promoting independent thought processes in developing brains through declarative language like “I noticed you aren’t wearing shoes” instead of directive language like “go get your shoes.” These comments model visual imagery and self-talk so that boys can eventually recreate these effective thought processes on their own, building independence and resilience. The presentation guided families in developing boys’ executive functioning skills to reduce dependence on surrounding adults while promoting self-reliance and resiliency.
Learning specialists at Haverford’s Enrichment and Learning Center guide the development of the network between boys’ nonverbal working memory and their verbal working memory to build internal language skills. Pugliese and her colleagues Stephen Cloran and Karen Suter will often ask boys to share their thought processes ahead of their everyday tasks. With Pugliese’s guidance, the boys learn to visualize themselves performing the steps necessary to succeed and then talk themselves through those steps. This process aids their brain development, from initially learning to inhibit themselves, then expanding to visualizing images like memories and task completion, and then resulting in an effective internal language. As Pugliese and McLeod showed, brains that can inhibit, visualize, and self-coach can perform tasks with resilience and independence.The presentation explained adolescent behaviors through the science of brain development. The frontal lobe, the final part of the brain to develop, takes the knowledge contained in the back of the brain and translates it to performance. The brain develops from back to front, or from knowledge to performance, explaining performance challenges like forgotten assignments and messy bedrooms. Pugliese summarized research findings from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, saying, “We are all born with the potential to develop these skills. The brain has the blueprint, but it is through human interaction and experiential learning that we build these skills.” As McLeod explained, interpersonal relationships and varied experiences are the two most important contributors to successfully developing executive functioning skills.
Pugliese and McLeod also discussed delays in executive functioning development, sometimes identified as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). McLeod shared some of the history of ADHD research and explained how the early focus on symptoms led to the disorder’s current misnomer. Expanded understanding of brain development shows that ADHD is a challenge to executive function and performance, not a deficit in attention as its name indicates. This understanding helps parents guide the management of the disorder in their young students to promote independence and resilience.
Pugliese and McLeod offered strategies to empower boys as they build skills for language, social interaction, executive functions, resilience, and mental flexibility. As McLeod summarized, “With all therapy, with all education, with all parenting, the overall goal is to improve a child’s self-worth. We want our kids to go into this life, to go into college, to go into internships, to go into careers, feeling positive about themselves, to have a positive self-worth. Everyone has the same goal: Improve self-worth and improve quality of life.”
Learn more about The Haverford School’s Best for Boys events and in preparing boys for life. Visit today, haverford.org/events.
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