The Essential skills of Executive Functioning


Executive functioning skills include planning, organizing, prioritizing, self-checking, shifting are critical to children’s school performance.

The era of online learning or a mix of online and offline learning requires a student to know how they learn, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. There are critical skills that fit under the umbrella of “executive functioning” skills.

Executive functioning broadly refers to the skills which help you learn. To have strong executive functioning means that you can better learn to learn new information – you can organize your materials, your time, you use strategies to help you remember content and help you focus when you need to.

Children with executive functioning weaknesses are inefficient in their work, have difficulty showing what they can do, perform less well than expected in exams, forget key equipment at school, and/or have difficulty remembering key vs. erroneous information. Their problems tend to get worse as children progress beyond primary school, into middle and high school. Without remedial support, their issues can continue into adulthood. In fact, all teens can benefit from executive functioning assessment and training.

We can train children, especially they are entering adolescence, how to enhance their executive functioning skills. In fact almost all teens, and many adults, would benefit from learning about, and training in, executive functioning skills.

It pays to, firstly, access individuals executive functioning skills. Usually, a Likert scale or simple yes/no questions can help assess which areas are most in need of advice or improvement. I usually recommend that children under 12 complete the assessment in collaboration with their parents as one of their key areas of difficult is really understanding their strengths and weaknesses. Teens are usually mature and more self-aware so may be able to complete the assessment on their own. At RED DOOR, we use a special Likert type scale to assess executive functioning skills. Improving these skills should help our students become better learners.

Skill areas included in the area of Executive Functioning.

Understanding yourself. Some individuals overrate their ability to perform certain tasks, and do not see themselves in the same way that others see them. For example, they may overrate their ability to cooperate or listen. If you ask their parents about their performance of such skills, they may have very different views. It is important that we know what our strengths and weaknesses are, and that we maintain hopeful and realistic approaches to dealing with the challenges that we may have. You may not be good at something yet, but if you avoid the remedial education offered in order to overcome your challenges, your weaknesses will not fade away on their own. Sometimes kids define themselves only by their weaknesses and we need to defeat that kind of thinking as well. Understanding yourself also means being aware of the level of effort you put into projects – do you want to do your best, or just get by? It is important that we are aware of these decisions, strengths and challenges. Perhaps you can’t tell them for yourself. Normally we will help teens or children start to ask for objective and constructive feedback in order to help them understand themselves better.

Organisational skills. This is partly about having a place for everything, and putting everything in its place, but also having a system of some sort that helps your teen or child stay on top of the things that they need to have with them on a daily basis, or for specific classes. Sometimes kids have too many things with them, and need to learn to cull these items so that they ensure that they carry only what they need. Does your child turn up at class regularly with the wrong equipment – then they may need support to improve their organisational skills. We often help them develop customised checklists and planning schedules to help them know what to do, as well as train them to look at the schedule and edit their schoolbags accordingly.

Flexibility. This is an essential skill during both the COVID pandemic and the teen years. Changes happen to schedules, task parameters, and even your ability to go to school or participate in after school activities. Suddenly those subjects where you could easily achieve a top grade, or a pass, no longer is so easy. I find some neurodiverse children can read easily as young children because they have extensive memory skills. Suddenly at 8 or 9 years of age we realise that they can’t read, and have to go back to reading phonetic readers again. This is short lived, but can frustrate individuals who were use to finding reading easy, then suddenly don’t because the material is much more complicated. Learning to cope with your shortcomings or mistakes you make is even challenging for adults.

Emotional regulation. Being able to understand your emotions is an important skill for children and teens. These skills need to be learnt by all kids over time.  Sometimes children have difficulty dealing with anxiety, frustration, boredom or anger and these overwhelming feelings can derail their academic performance. We notice this, in particular, with children who’s anxiety effects their performances on tests. Sometimes we can construct accommodations for this in the school setting, but over the long term, we need to enable our children to better cope.

Behaviour management. Learning to behave in a constructive manner in a particular situation is a requirement of successful study, school attendance, and future work success. Knowing how to behave in an expected fashion helps kids understand that they may have some. Behaviour management is aligned to emotional regulation. Kids can get angry, but if they start hitting or destroying property as a result of their anger issues, we need to find a way to help.

Proactive initiative. The ability to start a project without prompting is an important skill to achieving academic success. This is aligned to remembering that one has a project to start as well as looking at the big picture and breaking it down into its smaller steps. Some kids find starting a project, or figuring out how to start a project overwhelming. Therefore, they procrastinate and, seemingly, avoid the activity. We try to help kids overcome fears, thoughts and avoidance tactics that stop them starting.

Sustained focus. Having a sustained focus is important across a task. Some kids are great at starting a project but their efforts trail off as they get into the thick of the work. Maintaining focus and effort when tasks become lengthy or not interesting is challenging. For some children, with attention problems, the middle of a project may require extra support to keep them going.

Persistence. This is an attitude towards “sticking at something” without losing motivation, becoming overwhelmed, or quitting when you find it hard. Children and teens can give up a bit easily so we work with them on strategies to help them keep going when the going gets tough.

Memory skills. Working memory in particular helps children achieve well as school. Working memory is the interactive system between understanding the needs of a task being presented, and the pertinent information stored in long term memory that would help you solve that task. You may not remember facts, processes, formulas, and may need training to help you better retrieve information. Sometimes more complicated memory issues exist that create filing errors when we are trying to build ways to store information. Many memory problems can be overcome with training.

Goal setting. Understanding the goal of a task, and your goals at school and in life help students focus their attention to those tasks that will be of most benefit to them. Learning isn’t just about normalising, and bringing everyone up to the pass bar. Sometimes its about understanding those areas in which you excel and how those strengths need to be stretched beyond imagination. Goal setting helps teens in particular to review their work, audit their time, select appropriate mentors, and learn about what their lives could be like. These need to be set around the strengths and interests of the teen, not their parents, not their friends. You may even like to consider your own personal board of directors to help you start to achieve your dreams.

How would you rate your executive functioning skills? What areas could you improve in? If you have any questions, or would like an assessment or discussion of your skills please email us at RED DOOR.

Intervention 101 – knowing who will be a good fit as an intervention partner.

intervention areasWhen you are deciding on how to approach early, or continuing, intervention strategies to help your child with special educational needs, it maybe overwhelming.

Here are some thoughts that might help parents views the situation in a systematic and manageable way. I am writing this not only from the perspective of a psychologist who leads a team of intervention focused practitioners, but also as the parent of a child with autism. Even as a psychologist I found navigating this territory difficult, understanding who really could help and was intentioned appropriately.

Intervention provides might include speech language therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioural skill therapy.

Finding a good partner to help you with intervention practices.

The right kind of partner. It is important to work with key providers who really HELP.

They should have a (H) helpful and holistic perspective of your child. Being the parent of a child who required special educational adjustments is worrying. Your provider can help you see the strengths is your child as well as their challenges. They need to look at the activities needed today and in the future.

They should have a clear (E) evaluation roadmap for your child. They should able to tell you what key skills need to be developed, and why, show you a roadmap and help update you where your child is in their development. Your intervention provider should contribute to, even lead the IEP (Individual Education Plan) or IDP (Individual Development Plan). That whole plan should be updated 3-4 times a year, if your chid is under 8. For children 9-12 year old, the plans should be updated 2-3 times a year. From the age of 12, their plans need to be completely reworked in line with the second wave of development. See this article for more information

Listening (L) and cooperating with you is really important. You are the current expert on your child and your team should feel like real team members with a shared goal. It’s important that your fears, your worries, aspirations are heard.

Planning (P) is also important. Any intervention strategy should be clear to you and you should be able to turn up, or down,  the volume as needed. You should be able to place scenario within an overall agenda.

Respectful. You may have heard that there is a lot of negative feedback from neurodiverse adults who were subjected to ABA therapy. Their main complaint is that the actions that they use to regulate their emotions, often seen as “stimming”, has been treated in a negative way. Our knowledge of “how to best help” kids who have delays expand with information every year. We now understand that making kids “look normal” shouldn’t take precedence over their need to feel reassured and safe. Ask your provider how they approach and treat “stimming” behaviours such as hand flapping, jumping, hair twisting. It is important that you are truly comfortable with their approach and that their approach is respectful to the needs of your child.

Goal-oriented. The purpose of an overall plan, and each element and activity within the plan should be completely clear to you. When kids are under the age of ten, our intervention efforts are often focused in a more concentrated manner towards helping the child start to achieve age expected behavioural, academic or communicative goals. This model is often referred to as a deficit model. I prefer to think of it of these behaviours as creating equalizing opportunities for these children. As your child becomes older, you will want the focus to alter – so that expansion of their key skills becomes a greater focus. This strengths focus helps prepare your child for potential vocation opportunities.

Fair -It is important that you believe that intervention therapies are fairly priced. It takes a lot of energy and education to provide appropriate intervention strategies and activities. As a provider I can tell you that it isn’t cheap to provide these services well. However, as a parent I have seen many programmes that are ‘eye=-wateringly” expensive. I encourage you to select a partner where you feel that you are getting a fair service for a fair price.

Lastly, please watch if your caregivers and intervention providers really care about the kids that they are helping. Warm relationships work wonders. Be sure that your child is being stretched by a person who really cares about them, and is interested in their development.


These are both my personal and professional opinions. When you start this journey, it is hard to know those who really care from those who are trying to just go through the motions, or overcharge and under deliver. Life is hard enough. Use the above guidelines and I hope you, and your child, can get the support you definitely deserve.


If you would like to know more about the UPSTART set of interventions provided by RED DOOR in Hong Kong please send a message, telling me about your child, to

Be the best parent you can be after divorce

collaboriave coparenting image...The question is never if divorce will have an impact on your children, but rather if this impact will be minimal or significant Children can adjust to divorce with help.  An important element that determines if there will be long term negative consequences on your child will be your ability to collaboratively co-parent with your ex-partner.

Collaborative co-parenting is a practice where parents agree to parent in a discussed, organised and agreed manner, even if they have to parent differing views on how to raise a child. For families of divorce, children often become innocent victims of the tension and resentment between the parents. Collaborative co-parenting can change that situation by providing parents with constructive tools to use in building positive child custody and visitation plans.

The collaborative co-parenting approach means finding a way to work with your co-parent with dignity and respect. What was once a personal relationship changes and becomes more like a business relationship wherein both parties set aside personal feelings for the benefit of the children. Collaborative co-parents learn to develop strategies for conflict management and to establish a stable routine for the children via a collaborative child custody and visitation parenting plan.

The backbone of collaborative co-parenting arrangements can be discussed with specialist counsellor and divorce mediators. When I work with divorced couples, I remind them that the Collaborative Co-parenting process focuses and assesses each parent around the best parent that they can be, rather than on hurting or scoring points against your ex-partner.

A collaborative co-parenting agreement is not legally enforceable it should be signed with honest intent. Copies of the agreement can be held by each parent, and shared with relevant family members, including older children if this is done in a supportive manner.

collaborative coparenting agreeentA Collaborative Co-parenting process has three areas of discussion. The first, and most importantly, is to agree on certain principles that parents are willing to adhere to. These principles provide a framework of you promising to be the parent your child needs you to be. The second discussion is logistics – such as how living arrangements are split, holidays agreed, ECAs discussed and decided. The third section is often the most contentious, is about how finances will be allocated in order to support the child. The arrangements are summarised into a collaborative co-parenting agreement to be signed by both parents.

The logistics and the finances need to be discussed within a framework that protects each parents, whilst stretching them to turn up as the best parents they can be. If you are struggling getting to an agreement, get help.

What I can easily share are some of the principles that I ask parents to consider when setting the framework of decisions. Ask yourself where you stand on the following topics – would you agree? If not, why not?

I agree to:

  • Hold my children’s needs above my own territorial needs or desire for independence.
  • I will take the adjustment required by divorce to rise to the occasion and be the best parent I can be to my children.
  • My child’s emotional well-being and self-esteem are paramount and I will act in a manner that best supports my children.
  • I will not over promise support to my child, and under deliver
  • I will not use my child as confident, messenger, bill collector or a spy with my co-parent
  • I will abide by the rules of fair and practical time sharing and will make a serious effort to honour this agreement.
  • I will communicate necessary changes in the schedule of child care with my co parent in advance. Any changes in the schedule will always be discussed with the other parent prior to informing the children
  • We agree to respect the other’s parenting style and discuss any concerns at agreed upon communication meetings
  • I promise not to only do fun things with our child, leaving hygiene, homework and day to day care explicitly to the other parent
  • We agree to make arrangements which can be understood by our child and are sustainable.
  • We agree to clearly communicate to our children our respect for their other parent
  • We will keep our child safe
  • We agree to reinforce to our children that time with their other parent is important
  • I will be mindful of my child’s need for a stable diet and sleep and not return them to their other parent over tired and poorly nourished
  • We agree to work on our problems as individuals privately and not in front of the children. We agree to allocate an agreed designated communication time
  • We will agree to communicate to our children that no new romantic partners will be introduced to them in meetings that have not been agreed by the other co parent
  • We agree to speak or write derogatory remarks about the other parent to the child
  • When we are with our child, we will be focused on spending quality time with that child, and not primarily engaged in another activity (drinking with friends, attending meetings) as agreed
  • We agree that the child can display photos of both parents in their bedroom.
  • We agree to collaboratively set behavioural guidelines of expectations of our children in front of step parents, relatives, etc.
  • We agree that we will not consume alcohol at all/ become intoxicated in front of the children. Drug consumption at any time, prior to or during child care time is not tolerated within this agreement.
  • We agree to only leave our children with agreed third party caregivers and with the other parent’s agreement
  • We agree to both collaborate in school meetings
  • I agree to honour our arrangements about financial support of children and will not withhold this support from the co-parent

These principles are designed around best parenting practices. Are you ready to be the best parent you can be, as you divorce?







I’ll never fall in love again….

never fall in love again


..or will you?

Can you fall in love again after the pain of divorce? If your partner left you, you may be currently focused if the ache of being discarded will ever go away. A new romance is the not the cure to that ache, but it can make for a useful distraction. Even deciding to date again can be a challenge.


Could you start dating again?

When: There is a time that you might contemplate dating again. I divide the stages of divorce into phases, and certainly the earlier phases are not the time to start dating.

Contemplating: this is when you are wondering about your relationship, if you should split, if you should stay. This phase can last several years. It is not easy to decide if you should end your marriage. The attached article might help.

The next phase – Declared involves the early stages of your divorce process. You might have verbalised the desire to divorce but have not actioned the divorce paperwork yet. In this stage you might even resolve your relationship issues, potentially with counselling. Dating during this stage might actually end your marriage, so perhaps wait until you have started the next step.

divorce stages

Filed. This means that you have started the divorce process and your partner has been formally informed. You may find dating at this time makes the process rather muddy, but at least you have said that, for you, the marriage is going to be over.

Who: Do yourself one favour whilst you are divorcing and conduct a self-audit on your strengths and weaknesses before you jump into dating? Know yourself as well as you can. If you have explored what role you played in the ending of your marriage. This is not about accepting or attributing blame for the end of the marriage, this is a mature reflection on your role in the end of this marriage. If you accepted too much criticism, if you gave and gave of yourself – only to be unappreciated, take a cold hard look in the self-accountability mirror. Have you started to change those elements in yourself that will prevent you falling into the same trap for a second time?  Can you honestly say that you love yourself yet? If not perhaps explore self-love first.

It is natural to look to date someone very different from your previous partner, it’s a natural response. Just take your time to explore if that is a good fit for you.

How: There are a number of apps on offer to meet up. If you use apps, remember to take to the process with an open mind, and a sense of humour. Rather than looking for love specifically explore if a person might be a potential friend or contact. It doesn’t hurt you to meet a bunch of new people. Meet for coffee rather than a drink or dinner. Coffee can be a short introduction and can lead to a potential second meeting.  If your meet up is painful, you can orchestrate an urgent text from the office so has to escape easily and leave. From the women in our divorce groups, they commit to meeting many new people, and sometimes romance blossoms. Many times, they, at least, make great new friends.

Woops: There are some woops behaviours you might like to pay attention to.

  • If you see warning signs – listen to your antennae. Step back, take a breath.
  • Do not introduce the person you are dating to your kids, until you have been dating for a few months at the very least.


If you feel tempted to dive back into the pool of possibility, go ahead. Remain open minded, have a sense of humour, and just have fun.




Minimizing the impact of Divorce/Parental Split on your Children


Every year there are a significant number of divorces between couples. For example, there are over 20,000 petitions for divorce a year in Hong Kong, over 90,000 in the UK, and over 780,000 in the USA. For those cases involving children produced within the marriage or a long term relationship, parents are usually concerned about the impact a divorce or splitting up may have on their child. As a counsellor helping individuals responding to divorce, I would like to highlight the following guidelines regarding how to best inform children and how to minimize the impact of your divorce on the mental well-being of your child.

How to tell your children about your decision to divorce.

  • Tell the child together as a couple rather than separately, if possible. Children often fear that divorce may mean that they will lose a parent. Telling the child together reinforces your intention that both parents remain dedicated to the child.
  • Consider telling your child at home rather than outside of the home. Inside their own home children can respond in an authentic and real manner.
  • If possible, tell the child in a neutral area of your home such as the lounge or kitchen. Do not tell the child in their bedroom. That room needs to remain an impartial safe zone where they are entitled to retreat.
  • Tell your child at a time when the household is quite calm, not just before bed, or after a long day out or when they must yet complete their homework.
  • Try to be as calm as you can – explain that the marriage is over, but the family is not. You both remain parents to your child.
  • Remind you child that you love them.
  • Make sure you reinforce that the divorce is not their fault. Do not assume they will know this automatically.
  • Children will undoubtedly have many questions. Answer these as fully as you can. It may be better for you and your partner to discuss, and agree, interim living arrangements, before telling your children.
  • If you cannot answer every question when it is asked, communicate that you will intend to answer that question as soon as you can. Some ambiguity is to be expected. At the time that you are informing children of a potential split, your obligation is to help them see that the future will still be positive.
  • Do not allow emotionally hurtful descriptions to be presented by one partner. For example “Daddy is leaving us”, can heighten the pain of abandonment. If your partner paints the scenario in this way, simply correct without judgement. For example, “Mummy is a bit confused. We are splitting up and I am going to live somewhere else, but I’m still your Dad and I am not leaving you”
  • Offer access to counsellors or support networks to allow your child to express their feelings to other people. Whilst they may have many questions for you, they may not initially feel comfortable asking YOU those questions at the beginning.

Building positive practices whilst the divorce is in progress.

It is not a matter of if your divorce will impact your child, the question is how much it will impact your child. Here are my recommendations as to what you can DO, and DO NOT DO, to best support your child.

  • Do understand divorce from the perspective of your child. From their perspective this is a big change so that there may be feelings of grief and fear, and anger, involved. These feelings come in waves rather than all at once. You may have offered counselling at the time when you announced a split. Offer counselling or support options repeatedly over the next year or two.
  • Don’t fight in front of your kids. The divorce should be the END of their experience of parents fighting in front of them.
  • Collaboratively co-parent – working and agreeing together how to respect, negotiate, organise and stay well boundaried when you split, it a superior model of parenting during a divorce. You may need to utilise a mediator or counsellor to help exercise your arrangements.
  • Build an honesty-based, collaborative relationship that resolves conflict, including managing emotions, showing mutual respect, and entering healthy negotiations
  • Be the best version of a parent that you can be for your child. Your divorce need to both rise to meet the needs of your child. You might consider reading a few books about parenting during divorce or attend a parenting effectiveness course.
  • Remember that a clear structure is important to children. They need to know when they are going to see each parent, and what their weekly schedule might look like. If one of the parents refuses to be transparent about the time that they will turn up for your child, allocate them sometimes and move on. Tell the child of the times that have been offered. If one parent does not turn up, it will hurt. Be mindful of this.
  • Avoid alienating your child from their other parent. There may be deep hurt between the two of you, but your child should not be cut off from their parent because of your reaction to this pain. Limiting their access to a parent that they want to see may backfire on you in the long run as children sometimes grow to resent this parent during teen and later years. Do not set yourself up.
  • Believe in your child. You may fear losing your child’s love. Perhaps your ex-spouse has gone into “super-parenting” practice. You kids might love this. After all who wouldn’t? Let them get all the love they can get. Kids know who looks after them in a crisis.
  • If one parent wants to play Santa-Dad or Santa-Mum let it happen. Most of this behaviour can not be sustained so utilise these moments. If one parent is being very generous, remind your child to ask for that new computer for school, or to ask them to volunteer to run the school bake stall this year. It will not last, so enjoy it.
  • Hold the line on positive healthy practices when the child is with you. Agree on a limit for the ipad, bedtime, and guidelines around junk food. That said,
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. The occasional muffin is not going to kill the child. Have some perspective on when rules could be bent. If rules become habitually bent, then they are no longer rules.
  • Keep your ex in check. If your child is constantly late picking up or returning the child keep a record and take this up with them, either one to one, or with a mediator. This data may help you negotiate subsequent childcare arrangements.
  • Don’t be fooled by labels. Too many times I have encountered parents who are labelled ‘bad parents’ by their ex, when they are clearly not bad parents. Remember judges have seen these cases countless times, they will ask for proof. Your ex’s opinion of you as a parent is not a fact, or proof. Additionally if your ex tells you that experts say “x,y,z” look this up. I have read some painfully misinformed claims – often cited to frighten, or even bully one partner, Get the facts.
  • Do not use your child as a messenger between yourself and your ex. They are not part of your interpersonal conflicts.
  • Do not ask your child to spy on their parent for you. This is extremely destructive.
  • Avoid badmouthing the other parent to your child. Do now harm your child by trying to paint your hurt image of your spouse over their image of their parent. Children often feel that they have to choose sides. Do not encourage this. Over time, applying this pressure, often backfires on the person trying to force the child to choose. .
  • Do not guilt or blame your child for the divorce as a means to manage their behavior. If you could have just gone to bed on time, I would have been less stressed and Dad probably wouldn’t have left us.”

Remember, be kind to yourself, and your kids when you are going through divorce. The process of divorce will undoubtedly reshape you, so make this as positive as possible.