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Dr. Russell Barkley

Reduce Your Frustrations: How Being Flexible and Adaptable Helps You and Your Loved One with Executive Function Challenges

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By Jasmine Badamo, MA
Educational Counselor; Executive Function Tutor

The Dreaded Nighttime Routine
Hey parents, tell me if this rings a bell. Instead of bedtime being relaxing, it fills you with anticipatory dread. Bedtime is in 15 minutes, and you are scrambling to get your child ready. After prompting your child for the 27th time to pick a pair of pajamas and put them on – something they have to do literally every night and should come as no surprise to them – you walk into your child’s room to see the contents of their toy bin strewn all over the floor as they look for their favorite plushie to pack for school tomorrow. Pajamas are not on, teeth are not brushed, and now there is a room to clean. You feel your frustration boil over as you realize that it will be yet another night of everyone going to bed late and stressed out. You think to yourself, “This shouldn’t be this difficult! My kid should be able to do a simple nighttime routine and get to bed on time!”

In my experience, so many of us have found ourselves in a similar situation with a child, a partner, or even ourselves. While you might like for me to launch into tips and tricks for achieving a seamless nighttime routine for your family (does that exist?!), instead I’d like to explore the idea of challenging our “shoulds,” and discuss how being more flexible with ourselves and others can help reduce our frustrations.

Yep, I’m Talking about Letting Go!…Again!
If you or a loved one struggle with executive function demands, it’s important to get more comfortable letting go of how things “should” be, and start being flexible around how things could be. I really love Dr. Russell Barkley’s shepherd analogy for parenting a child with ADHD, as it can be applied to a wide range of relationships and situations involving individuals with executive functioning challenges. He tells us that parents are not engineers, and they do not get to design their children to be the way they’d like them to be. Instead, he pushes parents to accept that they are “a shepherd to a unique individual,” and while “no shepherd is gonna turn a sheep into a dog,” parents do have the power to “pick the pastures in which the sheep will graze and develop and grow.”

Whether you are shepherding a child, a loved one, or yourself, this approach helps us let go of who a person should be, how the routines of daily life should go, or what tasks should be easy. Trying to turn a sheep into a dog (aka trying to shove a round peg into a square hole) only leads to frustration, and worse yet, often sets neurodivergent people – and those who love them – up to fail. Instead, start focusing on how daily life could be, and channel your efforts into shaping your environment and tasks accordingly.

Flexibility and Adaptability are the Tools for Letting Go
The best way to start shaping the environment to better suit the needs of an individual with executive function struggles is to be flexible and adaptive. Below is a list of strategies for being more flexible and adaptive:

Adaptivity Killers Adaptivity Enhancers
-All-or-nothing thinking

-100% optimization and productivity

-Shaming in order to motivate action

-Rejection or deprivation of needs

-Growth mindset (progress over perfection)

-Selective effort and investment

-Positive self-talk and celebrating small successes

-Self-reflection and compassion

Notice how the Adaptivity Enhancers above align with practices that will dissipate frustrations or at least help you weather them with more ease. Take a look at how each would play out in real life:

  • “I may not be the most athletic human in the world, but I’m really interested in doing more physical movement. I bet if I practiced, I could increase my athletic ability and start to enjoy physical activity more.” (growth mindset).
  • “I know I can’t go from 0 to 100, and that I only have so much expendable energy in the day. I’m going to focus my efforts on lifting weights: starting with small weights and lifting just twice a week.” (selective effort & investment).
  • “Today I lifted for less than my target time, but I’m really proud of myself for coming all the way to the gym after I had such a crummy day at work. I’m also proud that I lifted weights for as long as I did.” (positive self-talk; celebrating small successes).
  • “I notice that I’m usually cranky on Wednesdays after work, and it’s a drag to get myself to the gym – which is totally understandable. Maybe I can better support myself by going on Tuesdays when I tend to have more energy.” (self-reflection and compassion).

Stay tuned for next week’s blog for more real-life examples of how being flexible and adaptable can help you navigate everyday executive function demands.


About the Author

Jasmine Badamo, MA, is an educational counselor and executive function coach who works full-time at NESCA supporting students ranging from elementary school through young adulthood. In addition to direct client work, Ms. Badamo provides consultation and support to parents and families in order to help change dynamics within the household and/or support the special education processes for students struggling with executive dysfunction. She also provides expert consultation to educators, special educators and related professionals.

Ms. Badamo is a New York State Certified ENL and Special Education teacher. She has more than 10 years of teaching experience across three countries and has worked with students and clients ranging in age from 7 to adulthood. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Cornell University and her master’s degree in TESOL from CUNY Hunter College. She has also participated in graduate coursework focusing on academic strategies and executive function supports for students with LD, ADHD, and autism as part of the Learning Differences and Neurodiversity (LDN) certification at Landmark College’s Institute for Research and Training. In addition to being a native English speaker, Ms. Badamo is also conversationally fluent in verbal and written Spanish.

Having worked in three different New York City public schools, Ms. Badamo has seen firsthand the importance of executive function skills in facilitating student confidence and success. Her coaching and consultation work focuses on creating individualized supports based on the specific needs and strengths of each client and supporting the development of metacognition (thinking about one’s own thought processes and patterns), executive function skills, and independence. She will guide clients to generate their own goals, identify the barriers to their goals, brainstorm potential strategies, advocate for support when needed, and reflect on the effectiveness of their applied strategies.

Ms. Badamo is a highly relational coach. Building an authentic connection with each client is a top priority and allows her to provide the best support possible. Additionally, as a teacher and coach, Ms. Badamo believes in fostering strong collaborations with anyone who supports her clients including service providers, classroom teachers, parents, administrators, and community providers.

To book executive function coaching with Jasmine Badamo or another EF or Real-life Skills Coach at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email or call 617-658-9800.