Being a Good Judge of His Own Performance

Develop Self-monitoring Skills

Use a Three-column “Reality Check” Exercise

You may notice that when you ask your child, “How did it go?” or “How do you think you did?” his version of events doesn’t match with what you believe took place. You might have asked him to do several chores, and notice that they seem half done. When asked about whether the chores went well, he looks surprised and says, “It was fine.” Or, you see him getting on a teammate’s nerves during a soccer game and ask him about it later. He says, “Everything is great.” You’re struck that he genuinely feels that way. At times, your child seems to have little sense of what actually happened because his version of events is so different from others’. As a result, your child doesn’t improve his social skills or correct his behavior based on feedback from others.

Most high-school children can have an off-base perception of an experience once in a while. They can miss social signals or fail to size up their own performance accurately. But when your child chronically misjudges the whole situation or layers of an interaction with another person — or frequently says something was easy when it was hard, or says it was hard when it was easy — this could indicate he is struggling to develop self-monitoring skills.

Self-monitoring is one of our executive functions: the set of skills that let us effectively execute daily tasks.

Solution: Three-column “Reality Check” Exercise Engaging Two Perspectives

You and your child should have separate pads of paper so that you can record impressions of an event independent of each other. On a page in each of your pads, draw three columns with the headings:

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What will you try next time?

Each record your impressions after an event and then compare notes. Discuss discrepancies. You and your child can come up with ideas for what could be done differently next time. Do this every time it seems that you and your child have had different experiences of the same situation. With repetition, you and your child will start to notice patterns. Talk about expectations based on the past experience.

Also, an optional question in a column might be: “Was it worth it?” (Or, “Did you get what you wanted to get out of it?”) This is helpful when you’re trying to prod your child to reflect on and change difficult or resistant behavior (like fighting over chores).

Don’t do this: When your child says, “Yep chores are all done, that was easy.” Say, “What are you talking about? No chore got finished and we fought the whole time!”

Try this instead: When you realize your child has a completely different version of events than you, pull out your pads of paper with your three columns of questions, and answer them separately.

Your version

  • What worked?
    • Your room is a little cleaner than before and you watered some of the plants.
  • What didn’t work?
    • None of the chores were completely done, so I still had a lot of work to do around the house.
  • What will you try next time?
    • Maybe we can just do one chore at a time.

Child’s version

  • What worked?
    • It was easy to get all the chores done.
  • What didn’t work?
    • Nothing, it all went fine.
  • What will you try next time?
    • I’ll try to get things done even faster.

Comparing the differences in your answers and discussing what happened will help your child understand your perspective. The next time you ask him to do chores, say, “Remember last time when we decided we really liked doing X, and we found that we didn’t like Y? So let’s try X this time.”

Remember: When your child gives an off-base version of events, he’s usually not hiding something or shrugging off his role in the event. Instead, he has a problem monitoring his behavior.

It is perfectly normal for children to experience some degree of difficulty and frustration as they learn to execute new tasks. Toddlers can tantrum, school-aged children can yell and argue, and teenagers can ignore instructions. When deciding if executive function weaknesses require intervention, ask yourself: “How frequently is this occurring? How intense is the experience/significant the impact?” If your answer to these questions is “too much,” “too often,” “I don’t know what to do to change this,” or “it’s only getting worse,” you may benefit from a face-to-face conversation to help problem-solve your concern. Effective problem solving will help you clearly identify the problem, goal, steps it will take to achieve your goal, possible barriers, and available supports.

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What to Expect

You and your child or adolescent will meet with a pediatric neuropsychologist for approximately one hour. 

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Executive Function Interventions

These interventions aim to create new habits that can sidestep or override a child’s cognitive challenges.