February 2017 Newsletter
Self-Monitoring: Checking in with Yourself
By Joyce Blankenship
Eight-year-old Ben turns in his math assignment for you to look over. When you ask him why he left three problems blank, he looks at you and says, “I don’t know, Mom, I just forgot to do them.”
You are driving your junior high–age son Josh, and two of his friends, home from the weekly science co-op. You listen quietly from the front seat as Josh hogs the conversation, talking too loudly about his latest basketball game victory and unaware that his friends are becoming annoyed.
Ten-year-old Sadie joins the family after her nightly bath. You walk into the bathroom and let out an exasperated sigh as you see damp towels on the floor and dirty clothes lying in a heap next to the hamper.
Focus on Self-Evaluation
Can you relate to any of these common scenarios? If so, you may have a child who struggles with self-monitoring—the ability to keep track of and evaluate our performance on regular tasks.
Self-monitoring falls under the umbrella of executive functions (the cognitive skills that control and regulate most of what we do in day-to-day life). This includes the ability to initiate, prioritize, plan and organize, set goals, think flexibly and solve problems, regulate emotions, and monitor behavior.
In their book Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning, Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel refer to self-monitoring as “the brain’s quality control system.” They believe that the ability to step back and observe our own behavior is vital to both academic success and learning to get along with other people.
We use self-monitoring all the time in our daily tasks to keep track of what we are doing. We make assessments and ask ourselves questions along the way, such as “How is this activity going? Do I need to make some changes? What is working and what is not?”
For example, in my home we bake a lot of chocolate chip cookies (I have five daughters!). The baker has to keep track of many things, such as turning the oven on to the correct temperature, using the right ingredients in the right amounts, following the directions in order, and baking the cookies for just the right amount of time.
The baker must constantly be asking herself questions like “Did I add the right amount of flour? Was the butter soft enough? Is the oven too hot? Did I set the timer?” To bake a batch of cookies that passes muster, she has to be strong in her self-monitoring skills—or she will hear about it from her sisters!
This executive function skill applies to learning and social skills too. A child’s weakness in self-monitoring can show up in many different ways. The child may:
Many kids who have a difficult time monitoring their behavior also have problems with staying focused and controlling impulses. The entire array of executive skills are related, working together to help the brain organize and act on information. You will find that as you work with your child on improving one particular set of executive skills, you will very likely see progress in other abilities.
For example, as you work on your child’s self-monitoring abilities, your child may become more attentive and less impulsive. So, the good news is that although you are focusing on improving your child’s ability to step back and observe his own behavior, this will spill over and positively affect other executive functions.
Homeschooling provides a wonderful avenue for you to help your child employ strategies to improve self-monitoring abilities. As a parent, you know your child best, and educating your child at home allows you to spend time observing your child while giving feedback, encouragement, and support. Here are some ways that you can help your child to help learn how to self-monitor:
1. Provide external structure and feedback. Providing cues, prompts and feedback helps kids learn what to watch out for and how often to check how they are doing.
2. Teach your child or teen how to review and analyze their past behavior. Many children with these weaknesses have poor hindsight, which means they have trouble learning from previous mistakes:
3. Teach your child or teen the tools and techniques to improve self-monitoring
4. Use technology to help your child or teen monitor his performance.
5. Incorporate brain-building therapies that strengthen executive functions
Self-monitoring is closely tied to self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses. So take the time to sit down and talk to your child about the areas of strength that you see in them. Ask your child what he or she sees as areas of strength. Provide an opportunity where your child can talk about and express their feelings about their experiences with their weaknesses. Many children see their problems and differences as more severe than they actually are. As homeschooling parents, we can actively engage our children in the process of building skills to improve executive functions, while offering support when needed and a listening ear.
Late, Lost and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Dr. Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Dr. Laurie Dietzel
Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD & Executive Function Deficits by Chris A Zeigler Dendy
“Four Ways Kids Use Self- Monitoring to Learn” by Amanda Morin, Understood.org
Sue Patrick’s Workbox System: A User’s Guide by Sue Patrick
HSLDA’s struggling learners page Resources page Neurodevelopmental Therapy