Executive functions encompass a set of cognitive skills that enable individuals to manage and regulate their thoughts, actions, and emotions effectively.

Individuals grappling with executive function challenges often encounter difficulties with disorganization, procrastination, forgetfulness, and an inability to follow through with plans.

Your brain is an Orchestra

Imagine your brain as an orchestra, and the executive functions as the conductor sitting at the very front of the brain (behind your forehead). Just as a conductor directs and coordinates every musician in an orchestra to play harmoniously together, your executive functions oversee and manage various mental processes in your brain.

The conductor (executive functions) decides which instruments (cognitive skills) need to play at what time, sets the tempo, and ensures that every section of the orchestra follows the musical score (your goals or tasks).

When the conductor is skilled and in sync with the orchestra, the music flows smoothly. Similarly, when your executive functions are working well, you can manage your time effectively, solve problems efficiently, control your actions and emotions, and switch between tasks seamlessly.

However, if the conductor is struggling or absent, the orchestra may become disorganized, playing out of tune, missing cues, and generally sounding awful. Similarly, when your executive functions are impaired or challenged, you might become disorganised, make errors, feel overwhelmed and dysregulated leading to a sense of chaos or inefficiency in your daily life.

Types of Executive Functions

– Planning and Organization:

Planning involves setting goals, outlining the steps needed to achieve them, and prioritizing tasks based on urgency or importance. On the other hand, organization involves approaching tasks and information systematically. We all have different internal organizational systems that dictate our thoughts (e.g., using weekdays to conceptualise time), belongings (e.g., organizing clothes by season or colour) and actions (e.g., internalized habits as to how to greet others depending on how well you know them). When we don’t, things feel chaotic and random.

– Self-Monitoring:

Self-monitoring involves assessing one’s performance and progress toward goals. We need to constantly monitor what has just been accomplished and what comes next. For example, if completing a recipe, you need to know what you have done previously to know what step you need to do next.

– Initiation and Task Completion:

Initiation refers to the ability to muster appropriate abilities to motivate oneself to begin a task. In other words, the opposite of procrastination. Then, as the task nears completion, you nedd to evaluate your final output against the initial goal. This evaluation stage involves assessing your performance and identify areas for improvement.

– Flexibility and Adaptation:

To be successful, we need to adjust or adapt our behaviour and output based on changing circumstances or unforeseen obstacles. Cognitive flexibility is therefore the ability to inhibit a previous set of behaviours and then shift strategies or problem-solve in real-time.

– Emotional Regulation:

Emotional regulation involves managing emotions effectively to navigate challenges and maintain focus. Although frustration, stress, and boredom are normal we need to overcome these rather than be consumed by our feelings. Emotional regulation involves acknowledging our emotions and using coping strategies to enable us to accomplish what we need to do.

What can I do about it?

There are several strategies that you can use to accommodate for and to develop your executive functions. Practical ways to do this includes:

  • Keep Consistent Routines: Consistency reduces mental load. Develop and stick to routines for daily tasks (for example morning routines, nighttime routines) so that you can have more mental energy and bandwidth for more demanding tasks in your day.
  • To-Do Lists and Planners: Create lists of daily or weekly tasks and allocate specific time slots for each task. Use tools like to-do lists, calendars, and planners.
  • Prioritize: Learn to prioritize your tasks based on timing, urgency, importance, and other factors. Adjust your priorities to changing situations.
  • Keep a tidy and organized space: A cluttered environment adds to your mental load. Regularly plan a time to declutter one part of your home. Make sure that the belongings that you frequently use are always kept in places that makes sense of its use.
  • Set Reminders and Alarms: Use technology to set reminders or alarms to prompt task initiation or transitions between activities.
  • Mindfulness: Practice mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness-based exercises to slow down and enhance self-monitoring and regulation.
  • Stop-Think-Go Method: Before taking action, take a moment to pause, assess what needs to be done, consider potential challenges, and then proceed with a clear plan of action.
  • Do One Task at a Time: Multitasking is a myth. Do one task at a time and shut off any distractions.
  • Breaking Down Tasks: Break down complex tasks or information into smaller, more manageable chunks to prevent overwhelm and facilitate better understanding.
  • Visual Aids: Use visual aids, such as color-coding, visual routines, or step-by-step, to enhance organization and memory for next steps.
  • Accountability: Engage with a teacher, family member, trusted friend, or colleague, who can offer support, encouragement, and help maintain accountability for task completion.
  • Rewards and Reinforcements: Setting specific deadlines and goals and rewarding oneself upon task completion can also reinforce positive behavior.
  • Pacing: Taking regular scheduled breaks throughout the day and during tasks can reduce burnout, distractibility and feeling overwhelmed. Many individuals also use the Pomodoro to maximize productivity.
  • Keep a journal: Organize your thoughts and ideas in a journal. Make notes of your feelings, needs and emotions.
  • Work with a therapist or psychologist: Learn to attend to your body cues and emotions. Learn tools to regulate your emotions and make choices/decisions based on your priorities and values.

Remember that just as a conductor guides the orchestra to create beautiful music, strong executive functions orchestrate your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours enabling you to navigate life’s challenges more smoothly.

Get Help: Neuropsychology Intervention

Are you ready to take the next step in supporting your executive functions? Dr. Leon is an experienced neuropsychologist. Explore our online neuropsychological intervention services today and discover the transformative impact they can have on your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are Executive Functions important?

Poor executive functioning can manifest itself in interpersonal relationships, work environments, and academic pursuits, impeding success and causing frustration. Developing solid strategies to enhance these abilities can improve performance and well-being.

Do I have executive functioning difficulties?

If you find yourself having the following problems, you might have poor executive functioning:

  • Having a messy home and often misplacing or losing your belongings?
  • Always arriving late and disorganized to meetings/events/activities?
  • Feeling easily overwhelmed by daily tasks at school or at work?
  • Feeling like you can’t juggle different aspects of your life?
  • Frequently avoiding making plans in advance and just ‘winging it’?
  • Procrastinating or giving up easily on almost everything?
  • Moving from one task/activity/idea/project to another without finishing anything?
  • Easily frustrated, stressed or bored by daily tasks?

Are executive functions related to ADHD?

Although executive dysfunction is not a criteria for diagnosis, it is widely recognized that many individuals with ADHD have trouble with executive functions. Those with mental health and cognitive disorders can also experience significant difficulties with executive functioning skills. But more importantly, anyone can benefit from the suggestions in this article, whether to support difficulties or to increase their performance.

Is it possible to have difficulty in one area of executive functions but not another?

Executive functions is a broad umbrella term that encompasses several related but distinct cognitive processes. You can certainly have an isolated deficit in one or two areas, but not in others. This being said, individuals with significant deficits in excutive functions tend to have deficits in almost all areas.

Executive functions encompass a set of mental skills that facilitate goal-directed behavior, including abilities like planning, organization, problem-solving, and self-control. Executive functions are the brain’s orchestra conductor which can make beautiful music when coordinated but make things sound chaotic when not. When our conductor is struggling, we need to use external strategies to help us manage tasks, adapt to new situations, and achieve long-term goals in both academic and everyday settings.

dr. stephanie leon online child psychologist neuropsychologist in ontario quebec

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology and neuropsychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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Imagine that your brain’s capacity to pay attention is like a camping headlight. When you’re focused, that headlight shines bright on what you’re doing. But for some people, this headlight flickers or doesn’t stay on one thing for long. In other words, inattention is difficulty keeping that mental headlight steady and on the task at hand.

Inattention can also be conceptualized as a filter problem. You brain needs to ignore and suppress thousands of pieces of information (called stimuli) throughout the day, from how clothes feels on your skin to the buzzing of lights, to be able to selectively attend to what is needed in the moment. In those with inattention, the filter is too loose and lets too many irrelevant pieces of information pass through which are then distracting.

Causes of inattention

Inattention is a cognitive process that is very vulnerable to internal and external conditions. This means that our ability to focus and filter out irrelevant information will vary depending on our needs, mood, health, and events around us. We are more likely to have trouble focusing if we are:

  • Tired
  • Hungry
  • Too hot or too cold
  • Anxious, worried or stressed
  • Down, sad or depressed
  • In pain
  • Have hormonal fluctuations (for example, during pregnancy, menopause and andropause)

These factors are normal and reversible. However, some individual’s attention is impaired due to neurodevelopmental factors (most common being ADHD) or aquired factors (e.g., brain injury, dementia, and chronic conditions like diabetes). In these cases, inattention is something the person struggles with on a daily basis and significantly impacts their day to day life.

What inattention looks like in everyday life

Common problems that individuals with inattention encounter include:

  • Forgetfulness: Frequently forget meetings, appointments, important tasks, loses belongings, or has trouble remembering what was said or what they just did. Note that forgetfulness related to inattention is different from a true memory problem.
  • Taking a long time to complete tasks: Because they are often distracted those with inattention have trouble completing tasks and may need more time to finish what is asked of them.
  • Avoiding tasks requiring sustained attention: They might avoid activities that need longer focus, like studying for exams or reading lengthy texts. On the contrary, they might move from one activity (project, task, idea) to another very quickly.
  • Daydreaming: They might tend to get lost in their thoughts, thinking about something else than what is being discussed in conversation.
  • Making careless mistakes: Rush through work or overlook details due to a lack of attention to instructions, rather than because they are truly not able to complete the task.
  • Difficulty doing what is asked: Struggling to follow multi-step instructions which leads to asking the same questions repeatedly, feeling overwhelmed and looking disorganized.

Because of their difficulties completing tasks, individuals with inattention are often labelled as ”lazy” or ”oppositional”. On the contrary, many individuals with inattention have to work twice as hard as others to complete tasks and should take pride in their achievements even if it took them longer or if they had to take a longer path to get to their end goal.

In therapy, addressing inattention often involves cognitive and behavioral strategies to improve focus, attention, and organizational skills. Therapists may employ techniques such as mindfulness training, behavior modification, and coaching on time management to help individuals manage and reduce inattentive symptoms. Additionally, therapy can provide a supportive environment to explore underlying issues contributing to inattention and develop personalized strategies to enhance concentration and overall functioning.

At the Leon Psychology Clinic our skilled therapists and psychologists are ready to help you are your child improve focus and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

I am a teacher or daycare provider, what can I do to help children with inattention in class?

  1. Preferential Seating: The child’s seat should be located in such a way to minimize distractions. Usually near the teacher and away from doors and windows is preferred.
  2. Shared Attention: Ensure that you have the child’s attention before providing instructions by making eye contact and/or positioning yourself at eye level.
  3. Clear and Visual Instructions: When providing instructions, make sure they are short, simple, and clear. Supplement instructions with pictures, graphs, and key words.
  4. Repetition and Reminders: Instructions will need to be repeated and the child with benefit from reminders to reinforce learning. Provide these in a neutral tone.
  5. Access to a Quiet Room: Allow the child to complete lengthy assignments and exams in a room free of distractions, such as a quiet room or resource room.
  6. Movement: Some children and teens may use movement or other self-stimulation to improve their focus. This might include doodling, using fidgets, humming, etc. If it is unintrusive to other students, allow the student to use this strategy.
  7. Noise-Cancelling Headphones: Permit the use of noise-cancelling headphones to reduce noise distractibility during individual work.
  8. Access to Recorded Materials: Provide access to recorded lectures, outlines, notes from peers/ teachers, or tools like a smartpen (e.g., LiveScribe) to review missed information.
  9. Use Engaging or Multimodal Learning Approaches: Provide highly engaging and varied learning approaches such as auditory, visual, and hands-on activities to maintain focus.
  10. Positive Reinforcement: Providing incentives, such as additional time on a preferred activity or special permission, can help increase motivation on non-preferred tasks.

I am a parent of an inattentive child, what strategies can I use at home?

  1. Shared Attention: Avoid giving instructions from across the room or while they are actively engrossed on a task. Make sure you are near them and making eye contact.
  2. Clear and Visual Instructions: Provide one instruction at a time. Make sure each instruction is short, simple and in words the child can understand. Refer to pictures or graphs to aid in task completion for routine tasks.
  3. Repetition and Reminders: Instructions and expectations will need to be repeated often. Reminders will be necessary to reinforce learning. Provide these in a neutral, non-judgemental tone.
  4. Frequent Check-ins: You will need to include more check-ins to make sure your child is on the right path when completing a task.
  5. Positive Reinforcement: Offer praise, encouragement, and rewards for efforts (not just accomplishments) to help boost the child’s motivation and self-esteem. Incentives, such as additional time on a preferred activity or special permission, can help increase motivation on tasks that are long and arduous.
  6. Dedicated and Quiet Workspace: Set up a quiet workspace for your child at home away from the busy areas of your home (for example facing a blank wall, not near the TV). Noise-cancelling headphones can help with auditory distractions.
  7. Limit Screen Time: Although excessive screen time does not cause inattention, it can contribute to distractibility and being unmotivated to work on difficult tasks. Set reasonable limits on screen time and encourage breaks from electronic devices.
  8. Encourage Physical Activity: Incorporate regular physical activities or exercise into the child’s routine. Exercise can help reduce restlessness and improve focus.
  9. Practice sleep hygiene: Make sure your child or teen goes to bed within the same 30-minute window of time every night. Shut off electronics 1 hour before bed.
  10. Healthy Eating: Make sure your child has a balanced diet. Breakfast appears to be the most important meal in terms of cognitive abilities and some research suggests that a high protein breakfast (e.g., eggs or meat) is best for attention and learning in children.

Does everyone who have inattention have ADHD?

No. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – including inattentive type, hyperactive type and combined type – is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Meaning that it arises due to brain differences that occur in the perinatal or early childhood period. Most often, the brain develops differently because of the person’s genes and gene interaction with the environment. For this reason, you might hear of terms such as neurodiversity or neuroatypicality when discussing ADHD. If inattention is present after this early period in the brain development, it is typically acquired (for example due to a medical condition, or head injury) or can arise as a response to stress, trauma, and mental health disorders. Although experts are divided on this issue, this is not true ADHD. Aquired or later life inattention symptoms can nevertheless significantly impact functioning and deserve to be treated with the same tools as those available for ADHD.

Inattention refers to the difficulty in maintaining focus, staying on task, or being easily distracted, often leading to trouble completing assignments or following instructions. It can manifest as a core symptom in conditions like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but may also occur independently due to various factors such as stress, fatigue, or health conditions.

dr. stephanie leon online child psychologist neuropsychologist in ontario quebec

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon provides online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.


All you need to know about after-school restraint collapse!


It’s 3:30 p.m. Your child(ren) or teen(s) are coming off the bus or being picked up at school. Although your child or teen is usually all smiles and laughs, they look sullen or downcast. They ignore you.

Within minutes of getting home, the peace is shattered by crying, screaming, and fighting.

What is after-school restraint collapse?

After a long day of learning, it’s only natural for kids and teens to want to let off some steam. But for some, this escalates to full meltdowns. This has been coined ‘‘after-school restraint collapse’’.

These meltdowns can be caused by many things, including fatigue, hunger, and overstimulation. But they can also be a sign that your child or teen is struggling to cope with the multiple demands of school life.

What are common signs?

  • Angry, irritable, grumpy
  • Sullen, downcast
  • Silent, doesn’t respond or engage
  • Disrespectful, snarky, looking for an argument
  • Getting upset, crying, meltdown about little things

Dealing with your angry, disrespectful, or silent kid

For many parents, the after-school hours can be the most challenging part of the day. What can you do to survive the after-school hours? Here are a few tips:

1) Approach with Empathy

Just like adult, kids and teens can go through a lot of difficult situations during the course of their day. This can include negative feedback from teachers, conflict with peers, and being asked to focus continuously.

So when you see your child or teen irritable or downcast, assume that something happened, even if they cannot express that to you. Know that their apparent disrespect is not directed to you. It is an expression of their internal discomfort or distress.

2) Give them Space

Check in with your child. Some kids and teens love telling you about their day. Others, not so much. Short answers, ignoring you, and not responding may indicate that they need space.

Offer help and understanding, but if they do not respond don’t press further. Give them some time then re-engage periodically.

3) Have a consistent routine

Routines are important because they help children and teens know what to expect next, reducing possible anxiety or stress. Consistent routines can also help cue the body and mind to wind down.

4) Avoid overscheduling

Many parents understandably want their child or teen to participate in many activities and have varied experiences. However, many families (especially those with more than 1 child) often face overscheduling.

Oversheduling leads to stress (making sure everyone is one time, has the right equipment, etc) which take away from the enjoyment of the activity. How do you resist overscheduling? Make sure to schedule time to do absolutely nothing.

5) Offer healthy snacks / hydration

Another way to deal with after-school grumpiness is to have healthy snacks and water ready for your child or teen as soon as they get home. You can even send them with a snack to eat on the way home if they take the bus. This will help to tide them over until dinner and can cure ‘hangry’ dispositions.

6) Incorporate physical activity

Physical activity (particularly outside) can help kids and teens who feel like they have been cooped up all day at school. It is also a great stress reliever for everyone. After school is therefore the perfect time for kids to run around and burn off some energy, whether it’s an organized activity, going to the park, or having a family dance party.

Dr. Leon is a skilled child psychologist who can help parents and children with emotional regulation, difficult behaviours and anxiety or low mood. Take the first step and schedule a consultation today to learn the right tools to support and manage your child’s difficulties.

Frequently Asked Questions

My child has a meltdown as soon as I start talking about homework, what should I do?

As parents we know that it’s important for our kids and teens to stay on top of their homework and not fall behind. But kids and teens also need to have down time. Create a routine that incorporates both and works for your family. Review as often as necessary.

Keep in mind that chronic avoidance or averseness to homework can be a sign of a learning disorder/ADHD. Talk to your child or teen’s teacher about their progress and ask for a psychoeducational assessment if necessary.

Should I let my child have screentime after school?

This is a personal decision as a family. Screentime is not inherently bad or good for kids (there is research supporting both). The most important thing to consider when making this family decision is whether screentime is taking time away from the essential things in the child or teen’s life. For example, if your child or teen has tons of screentime but they spend very little time with you, playing outside or doing their homework, then yes, it is time to change the family rules.

My child is very energetic, should I enrol them in a competitive sport?

Enrol them in a sport, yes. Competitive sport? That depends. Most (but perhaps not all) competitive sports, by definition, put performance above enjoyment. Although some children feel that competitive sports are rewarding and can derive a strong sense of pride from it, other children can become more anxious and develop perfectionistic tendencies as a result.

After-school restraint collapse refers to the phenomenon where children display behavioral issues or meltdowns after suppressing their emotions and behavior at school. To address after-school restraint collapse, allow children time to decompress after school by engaging in relaxation, physical activities or providing a comfortable environment where they feel safe expressing their emotions without judgment.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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Expecting a second (or third, or fourth!) baby? Congrats! Here are a few tips on how to prepare and manage your eldest’s jealousy.


You are excited about the new life growing inside your belly, but also a bit apprehensive. How will my eldest react? Will they play together? Will my oldest feel neglected during the first few months? Will they get jealous?

Sibling jealousy is a common concern. Let’s discuss what steps you can take for the transition to be smoother for your oldest child(ren).

Before the birth

Communicate the news

Tell your child about the baby in your tummy. There is no specific time when to do this but take into consideration the child’s age and ability to understand. Typically, a few months in advance when you start showing is a good time. Remind them often that there is a baby coming and share your excitement!


Read to your child a few books about the arrival of a new sibling so they know what to expect. For example, that mommy will spend a few days at the hospital while grandparents stay over. Since births can be unpredictable you can start reading these books around the time you tell them about the baby in your tummy.


You may want to engage your child in play (with a doll or teddy) so they can practice having a baby. But be clear that a baby will be able to move, cry, and will need to be handled gently.

Involve your oldest

A few weeks before the birth, bring your oldest along at the store to pick out an outfit or a toy for their new sibling. It can help them feel more excited and feel included in the process.

After the birth

Purchase a toy

Your oldest might be very excited to meet their new sibling. However, they might see the baby getting showered with new gifts. Consider purchasing a small gift to give your oldest in the first few days after the birth.

Quality time

Once the baby is born, make time every day for one-on-one quality with your oldest, this will reduce the likelihood of jealousy. Also make sure to include lots of hugs and physical contact as this is comforting and reassuring to children.

Involve your oldest

If your oldest appears interested, involve them in taking care of the baby. This can include fetching items like diapers and toys or helping at bath time.

Do not reprimand harshly

Allow them to touch the baby. Do not scold or reprimand if they are rough, instead show then how you would like them to be gentle. Your oldest might also want to play with the baby’s toys. Allow them to do this, they will eventually get bored and move back to their own.

Creative play

Your oldest might be impatient to play with the baby. Think of some games that require no participation from the baby, like playing peek-a-boo and singing to the baby.

Providing opportunities to be a ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’

Sometimes the baby can appear to have a lot of new and fun things (new toys, special chair, etc.) which can make your oldest jealous. Providing opportunities for activities or things that ‘are not for the baby and only for big boys/girls’ can create a sense of balance. Your oldest will feel like they have something special too.

Behavioural regression

It is expected that the older child(ren) will experience some level of adjustment to their new sibling. After all, their routine has changed, relatives and parents might be spending less time with them, there might be physical changes in the home and the baby’s cries and needs might be annoying to them.

Signs of behavioural regression can include:

  • Asking to wear a diaper again despite being potty trained.
  • Soiling their clothes or wetting the bed in a child that was previously potty trained.
  • Asking to be helped with eating and getting dressed when they did this independently.
  • Asking for a pacifier
  • Wanting to be held constantly or ride the stroller (if they stopped doing this)
  • Not being able to play alone.

In other words, anything that makes them more baby-like.

What should you do about behavioural regressions?

The number one thing is to arm yourself with patience. This can be hard if you are also contending with lack of sleep and a needy baby.

Do not get angry or react intensely to these behaviours. Acknowledge that they might want to do like the baby but that they are no longer a baby. If you want to indulge them a little bit at first, that’s ok (e.g., letting them taste the baby food). But then gently encourage them to go back to what they were doing previously.

Children innately want to grow up and be more independent and they will eventually give up their baby-like behaviours once they see no value in them. Providing opportunities to be a ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’ can help some kids move along, for others it can simply be a question of time.

Dr. Leon is a skilled pediatric psychologist who works with children and parents on a range of behaviours, including sibling jealousy. If you are concerned about the transition for your eldest child, a parent consultation might be the best place to start.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I see signs of jealousy or regression as soon as I bring my new baby home?

Probably not. For most kids, there will be an initial period of excitement. Then, once the novelty wears off (this can take days to weeks or even months) you might see these signs.

Do all older siblings get jealous?

No, not necessarily. Whether your oldest gets jealous usually depends a bit on their personality and on how much they feel the baby is taking away from your attention and time. It can also depend on the oldest child’ age. By using the tips above, you can reduce the chances of your oldest getting overly jealous.

What do I do if my oldest starts asking to wear a diaper or use a pacifier again?

It is normal for older siblings (particularly in the toddler years) to experience behavioural regression when a new baby arrives. Do not scold or reprimand them, instead highlight the disadvantages of being a baby (e.g., going to bed earlier, not being able to eat snacks) and advantages of being independent.  

Preparing your toddler for a new sibling involves discussing the upcoming changes positively and emphasizing their role as a big brother or sister, encouraging their involvement in baby-related tasks to foster a sense of inclusion and importance. Reading books about new siblings, spending quality time together, and addressing their concerns or questions can help ease the transition, ensuring they feel loved and secure during this significant family change.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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Potty training can be very easy but only if your child is ready!


Children differ in how fast they walk and talk and same goes for potty training. Some children are ready to potty train earlier than others; some can be potty trained before 2 years of age some after 4.

When children are ready and parents are consistent, most children can be daytime potty trained within a week or two. For other children, it can take longer.

In this article we will cover common issues that arise during potty training and discuss how to address them:


Toddlers can have unusual fears that don’t make sense to adults. When it comes to toilet training, a common one is a fear of falling in the toilet. This fear can be easily addressed by offering a child seat or potty before graduating to a regular toilet.

Other fears don’t have such a practical solution, such as being afraid that something will come out of the toilet, being worried about their poop leaving (separation fear), and fear of pain.

If your child appears resistant about sitting on a toilet, ask them whether they are afraid. Allow your child to express that fear and ask questions in a non-judgemental way to better understand it.

You can provide feedback and information at whether their fear is valid, but make sure not to trivialize or laugh away their fear. If this is impeding their potty training, it is clearly something that they think is important.

If the fear is related to pain, then your child might be experiencing some level of constipation or diarrhea. In some instances, children might remember and be afraid to experience it again. In this case, you can validate the experience and reassure them that the pain will not happen every time.

Children with a more anxious temperament might not be as easily reassured or comforted when fears are addressed. Be patient.

Withholding and Constipation

Withholding is the conscious effort to prevent a bowel movement. Some children withhold due to fear, not being ready or needing a sense of control.

It comes to no surprise that frequent withholding leads to constipation due to the child learning to ignore their body’s signals and because stagnant stool leads to blockages.

Frequent constipation often causes pain when the child finally does have a bowel movement, in turn increasing their avoidance of bowel movements. Signs your child is constipated include decreased appetite, small hard stools, and expressions of pain during a bowel movement.

This vicious cycle can be broken by increasing the body’s signals and reducing the likelihood of constipation through dietary changes. Here are a few basic suggestions:

  • Water: Increase your child’s water intake. Avoid high sugary drinks like fruit juices and sodas. Milk can be hydrating but should not replace water. Too much dairy can increase risk of constipation in some toddlers.
  • High Fiber foods: Prioritize high-fiber foods, such as most fruits, vegetables and oatmeal. You can increase vegetable intake indirectly by adding it to smoothies, tomato sauces and soups. Reduce refined sugars (cookies, cake, candy, prepackaged snacks).

Do you have a picky eater or have more questions on how to make these dietary changes? Connecting with your primary care provider or a registered child dietician can help.

Using the Wrong Reinforcer

All children are motivated by parental praise. High-fives, hugs, smiles, and verbal expressions of pride can go a long way in increasing any behaviour including potty training and should always be used first.

However, praise is not sufficient for some toddlers. Generally, children will be motivated by different things, depending on their temperament and preferences. Some children are motivated by tangible reinforcers like treats, stickers, or permissions. Others are motivated by social modeling or a desire to be more independent.

Figuring out what motivates your child can help move potty training along. Keep in mind the following when using reinforcers:

  • If you are using tangible reinforcers, make sure they are of token value (e.g., one gummy bear instead of a bag of candy, one sticker instead of a new toy and 10 more minutes of TV instead of a movie before bedtime).
  • Children who are motivated by a desire for independence or by social modeling, might benefit from watching other children or parents go to the washroom or helping younger children get potty trained. For these children, you can encourage them by asking if they want to be like their sibling, friend or cousin.

Life Transitions

You should avoid potty training just before or after a big change in your child’s life. For example, its not a good idea to start potty training when the child is starting a new daycare, moving homes, adjusting to a new sibling, or experiencing parental separation.

Children need to focus on adapting to these transitions and your attempts at potty training are more likely to be met with failure and frustration creating a negative experience for them.

So when is the right time? There is no perfect timing but aim for a few quiet weeks where you can concentrate on potty training.


Similarly, potty-trained toddlers can experience a regression in their potty training when confronted with big life changes. Even older children can experience a few day-time accidents or bed wetting.

Such a regression is completely normal. What you need to do is to arm yourself with a lot of patience.

If your child has been fully poly potty trained before, then they have the emotional and physical capacity to go to the washroom on their own. They will go back to being fully potty train once they have adapted to the new situation. It is really a question of time and how much support and understanding we provide during the transition.

I Have Tried These Strategies, and Nothing Seems to Work!

Although several strategies you can use as a parent to help your child become potty trained (including the strategies described above) many things are outside your control. A child might not be physiologically, physically, emotionally, or cognitively ready to potty train.

Forcing a child to potty train too early and it may result in increased meltdowns and trantrums, loss of self-esteem and confidence, and fears which can all in themselves delay readiness.

If your child does not start to react favorably within 1-3 weeks, stop and try again in 2-3 months.

Dr. Leon is an experienced and dedicated psychologist who works with children and their parents on a variety of behaviours, including potty training. If you are struggling with potty training even after having put in place the strategies described above, a parent consultation can help you and your child.

For further reading:

  • General potty training book: Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right – by Jamie Glowacki
  • Children’s book for children who withhold: It Hurts When I Poop! : A Story For Children Who Are Scared To Use the Potty – by Dr. Howard J. Bennett

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I be supportive of my child if they have accidents or experience a regression?

The most important thing is to not punish or shame them when they have accidents. Normalise that this can happen and that you will help them get to the washroom the next time. Support your child by expressing your firm belief that in time they will stop having accidents.

Can I give my child a laxative if he is withholding and constipated?

There are over-the-counter medications that can help with occasional constipation in children. These medications are not to be used continuously but can help break the cycle of withholding and constipation. Note that you should always ask your primary care provider first before using any new medications or if your child is experiencing chronic constipation. Your primary care provider will also be able to rule out uncommon but serious medical conditions that can cause constipation.

How do I know if my child is ready to be potty trained?

Factors associated with readiness include being capable of taking off diaper/underwear on their own, being able to access a bathroom on their own, showing interest in being potty trained, showing signs that they know a bowel movement is coming, feeling upset or ashamed when they soil their diaper, asking for their diapers to be changed, going longer periods of time without their diapers getting wet. A combination of 3 or more of these is probably a sign that you can start talking to your child about potty training.

Troubleshooting potty training issues involves maintaining patience and consistency while identifying potential triggers, such as stress or changes in routine, that might affect the child’s progress. Adapting the potty training approach, offering positive reinforcement, and avoiding punishment can help address challenges, creating a supportive environment for the child to learn and succeed in their potty training journey.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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Simple yet effective ways for parents to care for themselves in order to prevent parental burnout.


Raising kids can be one of the most life-changing and rewarding periods of your life, but it can also be exhausting and overwhelming.

Parents typically make their kids their top priority, sometimes even putting them above their own needs. But parents need to make time for themselves so they can continue to be at their best.

If they don’t, they run the risk of having a parental burnout.

What is parental burnout?

You probably have heard of burnout in the context of work. But a burnout can happen in any situation where there is chronic stress stemming from the feeling that the demands put on you are greater than your capacity to address them.

For parental burnout, this includes feelings of being overwehlmed by the parenting role and being ineffective as a parent.

Signs of parental burnout

Common signs include:

  • Irritable, easily angered, short-fused
  • Feeling overwelmed and like you can’t keep up
  • Worries about your ability as a parent
  • Worries about your child(ren)’s wellbeing
  • Emotionally distancing yourself from your kids and others
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Increased frequency and time spent ill
  • Fatigue and changes in sleep patterns
  • Lack of enthusiasm towards things you use to enjoy
  • Resentment towards children or other parents that appear to ”have it together”

Parental burnout is most common in parents of children who have health issues, developmental concerns or have more difficult temperaments, but really it can happen to anyone.

Impact of parental burnout on the family

Research shows that parental burnout is associated with marital conflict and a higher likelihood of neglect and violence towards children. In other words, parental burnout makes you a worse partner and a worse parent.

The Oxygen Mask

When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs parents to put their own oxygen mask first before assisting their child. Why? Because if the parent tries to take care of the child first they run the risk of passing out before they can finish, endangering their child’s and their own life.

In other words, parents need to take care of themselves first so that they can be at their best to take care of their children.

Preventing and managing parental burnout through self-care

Often when we hear about self-care, it is associated with baths and candles. Although these can certainly be part of it, self-care is about turning inwards and getting in touch with our basic needs, noticing whether these are met on a daily or perhaps weekly basis. Don’t forget that certain activities can fufill more than one need!

Physical needs

This usually includes sleep, eating and exercise. Ask yourself these questions:

Are you sleeping well? Are you eating too little or too much? Are you eating foods that give you energy rather than depending on caffeine? Are you drinking enough water? Are you avoiding relying on alcohol or drugs to relax? Are you getting regular exercise?

If you answer ‘no’ to one or more, this might be an area to work on.

Social needs

This includes a need for connection with family and friends, community involvement, and intimacy with a partner. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you connect with friends and family regularly? Do you feel you can confide in people? Do you feel you can rely on them when you need help? Are you involved in your community or part of a religious group? Do you and your partner take time to kiss, hug, cuddle and be physically intimate?

If you answer ‘no’ to one or more, this might be an area to work on.

Intellectual needs

This includes the need to learn, be challenged, and be entertained. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you have a hobby or a special interest? How do you engage in this? Is there something you would like to learn?

If you answer ‘no’ to one or more, this might be an area to work on.

How can I practice self-care?

So take some time today for a self-check. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How am I feeling?
  • Have I been neglected some aspect of my wellbeing?
  • Do I have needs that are not being fufilled?

Then, make a concrete plan for a small step to remedy this. This can be the hardest part; finding extra time in your busy family schedule, but it is possible and necessary.

Here are a few examples to help get you started:

  • Need to boost your social connection? Call a friend while driving or busing to work.
  • Need to exercise more? Go jogging on a bike path while the kids are biking
  • Want to learn something new? Listen to a podcast while doing a household chore
  • Need more alone time? Get a babysitter once every few weeks.

Experiencing a burnout right now? Get help: Parent Consultations and adult psychotherapy

Dr. Leon is a child and adolescent psychologist who is knowledgeable in parental burnout. If part of your burnout is related to feelings of ineffectiveness in your parenting, parent consultations can help you with concrete tools to address this issue.

You might also want to consider getting psychotherapy to address underlying issues such as anxiety, depression, coping mechanisms, and long standing relational patterns.

Frequently Asked Questions

Am I a bad parent because I feel overwhelmed?

No. Our society glorifies perfect parents who appear to have it all; the successful and polite kids, the high paying job, the clean house, the dutiful marriage, the great friendships and a toned body. But unless you have the financial means to hire tons of help, this is almost unattainable. No wonder many parents feel overwelmed. Stop the comparison, look at your family situation and set expectations for yourself that are realistic and healthy.

How can parental self-care benefit my child?

Self-care is a gift to our children. Showing kids that paying attention to how we feel (mental health) and take action is the best modeling we can do to ensure our children’s happiness and resilience. Self-care can also help prevent parental burnout which is associated with negative outcomes for families and children.

How can I find the time to practice self-care?

Think of times in your schedule where you can let go, delegate or eliminate. To start, it can be as simple as turning off your phone earlier to get better quality sleep instead of scrolling endlessly. Then, it can be hiring a sitter 2 hours per week so you can get a workout done or take that art class guilt-free.

How can I practice self-care when I am financially restricted?

Money troubles and tight finances are a big source of stress for many families. There are great ressources online to help struggling families to set budgets, spend less and save more. Self-care is not about spending more on yourself, it is about finding out what you need to cope with life’s challenges and finding creative ways to address that need.

Preventing parental burnout involves prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, and seeking support from family, friends, or professionals when needed. Addressing parental burnout requires acknowledging its signs, such as chronic fatigue or irritability, and taking proactive steps like delegating tasks, scheduling regular breaks, and seeking professional help if symptoms persist. Cultivating a supportive network, practicing stress-management techniques, and fostering open communication within the family can aid in preventing and addressing parental burnout effectively.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.


Learn effective emotional regulation strategies for children and teens. Help them navigate their emotions and develop valuable coping skills for life.


Emotional regulation is an important part of a child’s development. As parents, it’s our responsibility to help our kids learn how to manage their difficult emotions and feelings. Ultimately, we want them to develop self-regulation skills for dealing with difficult emotions on their own. 

In this article, we’ll explore five effective strategies that parents and caregivers can use for teaching emotional regulation skills to children in a healthy and constructive way.

What Is Emotional Regulation?

Emotion regulation is the essential ability to recognize, understand, and effectively manage emotional control in a healthy and balanced way, even in the face of challenging situations.

It involves being aware of your emotions, identifying them accurately, and implementing strategies to regulate their intensity and emotional expression. Just like any other skill, emotional self-regulation in children is something that is learned and developed over time.

Why Is Healthy Emotional Regulation In Children Important? 

Children with positive emotion regulation skills are better prepared to cope with life’s inevitable tragedies. When faced with difficult circumstances, they can process their emotions, seek support, and engage in self-care. This resilience helps them bounce back from adversity. 

These children are not immune to experiencing difficult emotions. In fact, the goal is not to eliminate difficult emotions, but to have the tools to manage them constructively.

5 Emotional Regulation Strategies For Children & Teens 

Here are some strategies to aid in the development of emotion regulation in kids and teens. 

  1. Teach kids to identify their feelings (emotional awareness).

The first step in regulation of emotion for children is to help them learn to identify and name their feelings, which is called emotional awareness. Encourage your child to express and name their feelings, creating a safe space for open communication.

This can be done by labeling emotions when they arise, such as saying “you seem frustrated right now” or “you seem excited right now.” This helps them to become more aware of their emotions and understand how they are feeling. Utilize visual aids, storytelling, and books to help children recognize different emotions and validate their experiences.

  1. Try some emotional regulation activities for kids. 

Another important strategy is to help kids learn to manage their emotions in a healthy way. This can be done by encouraging them to talk about how they are feeling and helping them find constructive ways to express their emotions.

For example, if they are feeling angry, they can take deep breaths, go for a walk, or draw a picture of their feelings.

  1. Teach mindfulness strategies. 

Teach your child simple mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing, finger breathing, or body scans that help them understand the connection between emotions and physical sensations. Explain that they can better manage their emotions by learning to be present in the moment.

Practice deep breathing exercises together when they are calm. Then try using it during stressful situations. For school aged children, you can introduce relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery.

  1. Demonstrate coping strategies for managing strong emotions.

It’s also important to help children learn to manage strong emotions when they experience them. Coping strategies are activities that can help calm them down.

Activities that engage their senses can be particularly calming, such as taking a shower or bath (touch), listening to music (hearing), and swinging or dancing (proprioception).

  1. Model how to regulate emotions as a parent. 

Parent modeling is another crucial part of emotion regulation. Children learn by observing. Display healthy emotional regulation in your own behavior, showing them how to handle stress, frustration, or disappointment calmly.

You can also promote empathy by modeling empathic behaviors and encouraging your child to consider others’ perspectives and emotions. Engage in activities such as role-playing or storytelling to foster understanding. Help them grasp the impact of their actions on others’ well-being.

When parents model healthy ways of expressing emotions, such as talking through their feelings, children are more likely to learn how to do the same.

Tips for Helping Children With Poor Emotional Regulation

Create a calming environment

Designate a quiet, peaceful space where your child can retreat when overwhelmed. Fill it with comforting items like soft blankets, sensory toys, or calming music. This safe space allows them to self-regulate and find solace during intense emotions.

Practice emotional coaching

When your child experiences strong emotions, validate their feelings and help them understand the underlying reasons. Use phrases like “I see you’re feeling upset. Can you tell me what happened?” This approach helps them develop emotional intelligence and promotes self-reflection.

Establish clear expectations

Set clear boundaries and expectations regarding appropriate behavior. Clearly communicate the consequences of their actions while emphasizing the importance of emotional self-control. Consistency and follow-through are key to helping children understand the importance of emotional regulation.

Encourage physical activity

Engage your child in physical activities to help release pent-up emotions. Exercise, sports, or even a simple walk can provide a healthy outlet for their energy and emotions. Physical activity also stimulates the release of endorphins, which can improve their mood.

Use visual aids

Visual aids such as emotion charts, feeling faces, or emotion thermometers can assist your child in identifying and expressing their emotions. These tools help them develop a vocabulary for their feelings and enhance their emotional awareness.

​​Recognizing When to Seek Help: Child Psychotherapy Services

If your child continues to struggle with emotional regulation, consider seeking professional support from a therapist or psychologist experienced in working with children. Dr. Leon is an experienced clinician who is passionate about helping children and adolescents navigate emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties as well as supporting parents in providing optimal parenting when faced with these challenges.

Explore Dr. Leon’s Child Psychotherapy services today to help your child gain the skills they need to regulate their emotions.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are some effective strategies for teaching emotional regulation to children and teens?

One effective strategy is teaching deep breathing exercises or mindfulness techniques to help children and teens calm their minds and bodies during moments of heightened emotion. Another strategy is encouraging them to engage in activities that promote self-reflection, such as journaling or engaging in creative outlets like art or music. 

What are the potential benefits of practicing emotional regulation strategies in childhood and adolescence?

Practicing emotional regulation strategies in childhood and adolescence can have numerous benefits. It helps children and teens develop resilience. Emotional regulation skills can also lead to better decision-making, reduced impulsivity, and improved academic performance. These skills provide a foundation for healthier emotional well-being and mental health throughout their lives.

How can emotional regulation skills learned in childhood impact well-being in adulthood?

Emotional regulation skills learned in childhood and adolescence play a crucial role in shaping an individual’s overall well-being and success in adulthood. They contribute to better mental health outcomes and can reduce the risk of developing anxiety, depression, and other emotional disorders.

While some kids like and use breating and mindful strategies, others don’t. Try these alternative calming activities for kids:

  • Doodling /coloring on skin with erasable markers
  • Ripping paper, cutting cardboard boxes
  • Doing headstands, jumping jacks, push-ups
  • Using a swing, turning in circles
  • Making a blanket tent, weighted blanket, or special place in a closet

Teaching emotional regulation strategies to kids is vital as it equips them with tools to manage and express their feelings constructively, fostering healthier relationships and improved self-control. It enables children to navigate challenging situations with resilience, reducing the likelihood of impulsive behavior and promoting better decision-making skills. By learning how to regulate emotions, kids can develop greater empathy, communication skills, and a stronger sense of overall well-being as they grow into adulthood.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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Unlock your child’s true potential with expert guidance on navigating ADHD in children. Discover effective strategies for helping your child thrive.


Raising kids and teens can be quite an adventure, filled with ups, downs, and everything in between. But when your child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the journey can come with unique challenges. That’s why I created this guide for parents on navigating ADHD in children and helping them reach their full potential.

ADHD is more than just a phase or a temporary difficulty—it’s a condition that affects millions of children and teens worldwide. But by providing the right tools, strategies, and support, you can make a tremendous difference in your child’s development and help them thrive.

What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (sometimes called attention-deficit disorder or ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulty with inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsive behaviour. It’s estimated that 5-9% of children and 3-5% of adults have ADHD. One of the primary difficulties associated with ADHD is cognitive functioning, which affects a person’s thinking and reasoning.

The cognitive difficulties associated with ADHD can be divided into two main areas: executive functioning and attention/working memory.

Executive functioning

Executive functioning involves the ability to plan and organize, set goals, and regulate emotions. People with ADHD often have difficulty in these areas, making it hard for them to manage their daily activities and get tasks completed.

Attention and working memory

Attention and working memory (the ability to hold information in your mind for a brief period) are also affected in those with ADHD. This can lead to symptoms like:

  • being easily distracted
  • difficulty following directives
  • trouble completing tasks

Other cognitive issues associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children 

Other cognitive issues that those with ADHD may experience include difficulty recognizing patterns, problem-solving, and understanding abstract concepts. These difficulties can make it difficult for those with ADHD to do well in school and maintain social relationships.

ADHD Symptoms In Children

Signs of inattention:

  • Does not follow rules or instructions
  • Loses materials/belongings
  • Difficulty starting and completing tasks
  • Avoid tasks that require sustained effort
  • Gets easily distracted by self or others
  • Appears to have trouble with memory (forgetful)
  • Seems not to listen when spoken to
  • Makes careless mistakes

Talk to your child’s teacher if you notice six or more of these common symptoms. If they have detected them, too, it is recommended to get your child assessed for ADHD. Remember that some children with ADHD, particularly girls, present without impulsive symptoms or hyperactivity.

Signs & Symptoms Of Hyperactivity In Children

Signs of hyperactivity are more noticeable than signs of inattention. Teachers and school counselors are the ones who typically see it firsthand due to the demands of classroom environments. However, kids vary in their level of activity and level of maturity.

  • Very active, high energy, ‘driven by a motor’
  • Interrupting others, having trouble with social skills, and talking too much
  • Can’t wait in line or their turn when playing
  • Prone to being clumsy and having accidents
  • Squirm, fidget, pace
  • Difficulty staying silent or calm
  • Wanders and gets up constantly

When assessing hyperactivity, I always urge parents and teachers to determine if the activity/impulsivity is indeed above and beyond what a typical child would display at that age.

If you and your child’s teacher notice these signs, it is recommended to get your child assessed for ADHD.

10 Tips For Parents Managing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder In Children

As a parent, controlling essential environmental factors at home is key. If you can help your children with ADHD live a healthy lifestyle under your roof, then you can set them up to become happy, functioning adults later in life. 

Establish a strong home routine. 

Consistency is key for children with ADHD. Create a structured daily routine with set times for waking up, meals, homework, chores, and bedtime. Having a predictable schedule can provide a sense of stability and help children stay focused.

Create an organized environment. 

Reduce distractions by organizing the child’s living space. Use storage bins, labels, and color-coding systems to keep things tidy and easily accessible. Minimize clutter and create a designated study area with minimal distractions.

Break tasks into smaller steps. 

Large tasks can be overwhelming for children with ADHD. Break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. Provide clear instructions and use visual aids or checklists to help them stay on track.

Use visual reminders. 

Visual cues can be helpful for children with ADHD to remember tasks and responsibilities. Utilize visual schedules, calendars, or timers to help them stay organized and manage time effectively.

Provide frequent breaks. 

Children with ADHD often have difficulty sustaining focus and sit still for extended periods. Allow them to take short breaks during tasks or homework sessions. Encourage physical activity during these breaks to help release excess energy.

Encourage regular exercise. 

Physical activity has been shown to benefit individuals with ADHD. Encourage your child to exercise regularly or participate in sports, dancing, or martial arts, as it can help reduce hyperactivity and improve focus.

Implement behaviour management techniques. 

Positive reinforcement and reward systems can be effective in shaping desired behaviours. Offer praise, encouragement, and rewards for completing tasks, following instructions, or exhibiting self-control.

Limit screen time. 

Although television and video games do not cause ADHD, excessive screen time can take away from other important activities. It is important to establish reasonable limits on screen time and encourage other activities, such as reading, outdoor play, or hobbies that promote engagement and focus.

Foster open communication. 

Maintain open lines of communication with your child. Listen to their concerns, frustrations, and triumphs. Work together to problem-solve and find strategies that work best for them.

Seek professional support. 

Consider involving professionals, such as therapists, psychologists, or support groups, who specialize in working with children with ADHD. They can provide guidance, coping strategies, and additional resources to support your child’s development. 

What About Medication For ADHD?

Research suggests that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is the best approach to ADHD. It appears that starting psychotherapy first can be most beneficial.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that, by definition, presents with cognitive and behavioral symptoms from early childhood. Although symptoms often decrease in severity in adulthood, they tend to remain throughout life.

Nevertheless, with proper diagnosis, treatment, and support, children (and eventually adults) with ADHD can learn to recognize their strengths and gain self-understanding to help them lead productive and meaningful lives.

Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help With ADHD?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy that focuses on how thoughts and beliefs influence behaviour, can help children and adolescents with ADHD. The goal of CBT and behavioral treatments may include strategies to organize their materials, plan their work, and set reminders. Setting up the home environment to support children and teens with ADHD also helps with behavioral interventions.

Parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are usually recommended to develop and maintain consistent routines at home. They are also encouraged to model explicit organizational skills and strategies, such as a family planner or calendar.

Can ADHD Cause Emotional Issues?

ADHD can also cause a range of emotional issues, such as difficulty controlling anger and frustration, anxiety disorders, conduct disorders, and low mood. Therefore, it is important for individuals with ADHD to be aware of their emotional responses and to develop strategies to manage them.

Therapy is recommended for children with ADHD who suffer from emotional and mood disorders. During therapy, the psychotherapist or psychologist works with the patient to identify and challenge negative or automatic thoughts that may be contributing to their symptoms.

Through this process, the therapist helps the patient learn to reframe their thoughts in a more positive and helpful manner, identify triggers for their symptoms, as well as techniques for managing their emotions. Self-regulation skills can include deep breathing, mindfulness, physical activity, pleasurable activities, or sensory activities.

Risks Associated With Untreated ADHD In Children 

Allowing children with ADHD to go untreated can have several potential risks and negative consequences. 

Academic difficulties

ADHD can significantly impact a child’s academic performance. Inattention, impulsivity, and difficulties with organization can make it challenging for them to concentrate, complete assignments, and follow instructions in the classroom. Eventually, symptoms can lead to falling behind in school, lower grades, and decreased academic achievement.

Social and relationship challenges

Children with untreated ADHD may struggle with social interactions and forming positive peer relationships. Their impulsive behaviours, difficulty with turn-taking, and inattentiveness can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and social isolation. Unfortunately, these struggles can negatively affect their self-esteem and overall social development.

Emotional and mental health issues

ADHD is sometimes accompanied by emotional and mental health challenges. Children with untreated ADHD may experience increased frustration, anger, and irritability due to their difficulties with impulse control and managing emotions. They may also be at higher risk for developing anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

Risk-taking behaviour

Sometimes, children and teens with untreated ADHD can engage in impulsive and risky behaviours. Children with ADHD may engage in dangerous activities without considering the consequences, leading to accidents or injuries. Teens in particular may also be more prone to experimenting with substances, as impulsivity and thrill-seeking behaviours increase the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviours.

Long-term impact

If left untreated for too long, childhood ADHD can have long-term effects throughout life. The difficulties experienced in childhood can persist into adolescence and adulthood, impacting academic and career success, relationships, and overall quality of life. Untreated ADHD may also increase the risk of developing comorbid mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders or substance use disorders.

Get Help: Neuropsychology Intervention

Are you ready to take the next step in supporting your child with ADHD? Dr. Leon is an experienced pediatric neuropsychologist. Explore our online neuropsychological intervention services today and discover the transformative impact they can have on your child’s life.

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Frequently Asked Questions 

I have ADHD. Will my child have ADHD? 

ADHD is highly hereditary (meaning it often occurs in families). Parents with ADHD are 40% more lilely to have a child of ADHD.

Can ADHD symptoms change as a child grows older? 

ADHD symptoms can evolve as a child matures. While hyperactivity may decrease with age, inattention and impulsivity can persist into adolescence and adulthood. Be sure to monitor and adapt strategies at home to address changing needs.

Are there any specific parenting techniques or strategies that can help children with ADHD? 

Several parenting techniques can benefit children with ADHD. These include establishing clear rules and expectations, using positive reinforcement, providing structure and routine, breaking tasks into manageable steps, and promoting open communication. Consider exploring parent consultation services to learn more. 

How can I effectively communicate with my child’s teachers about their ADHD and support their educational needs? 

Share information about your child’s ADHD diagnosis, discuss their strengths and challenges, and collaborate on strategies to support their learning in the classroom. Regular check-ins, progress updates, and an individualized education plan (IEP) can facilitate effective communication and support.

Are there any dietary or lifestyle changes that can help ADHD management in children? 

While no specific diet has been proven to cure ADHD, some evidence suggests that a balanced diet rich in omega 3s, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is best for brain health. Additionally, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and low-stress can contribute to overall well-being and can minimize the impact of ADHD symptoms. Consulting with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance.

You can support ADHD kids by establishing clear routines and structures to help them stay organized and focused, breaking tasks into manageable steps with regular breaks to avoid overwhelm. Utilizing positive reinforcement and praising their efforts to boost confidence and motivation, while also employing strategies like visual aids, timers, and frequent check-ins to help them stay on track and manage their time effectively is also crucial. Finally, encourage their interests and strengths, fostering a supportive environment that celebrates their accomplishments and provides outlets for their creativity and energy.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology and neuropsychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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We all know how crucial a good night’s sleep is for children’s growth and well-being. In this blog post, we’ll explore practical strategies to establish a solid sleep routine and create a sleep-friendly environment for your little ones. 

Here’s what parents need to know about promoting positive sleep hygiene for kids. (Bonus: these tips work well for grown-ups, too!) 

What Is Sleep Hygiene? 

Sleep hygiene refers to a set of healthy sleeping habits that enables children and adolescents to fall asleep more quickly and can enhance sleep duration and quality. Without good sleep hygiene, children can experience sleep issues, including difficulty falling asleep, frequent night wakings, and waking up too early.

What Are The Side Effects Of Poor Sleep Hygiene In Children? 

If your child suffers from sleepless nights, you may have noticed some less than ideal side-effects. Research shows that not getting enough sleep can cause:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Behavioral issues (irritability, mood swings, temper tantrums)
  • Reduced cognitive functioning (memory, attention, problem-solving)
  • Physical health problems (weakened immune function, obesity)
  • Emotional disturbances (anxiety, mood disturbances, symptoms of depression)
  • Impaired growth and development
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Difficulty concentrating and learning
  • Academic performance decline
  • Higher susceptibility to illnesses and infections
  • Impaired decision-making abilities

8 Ways To Establish Good Sleep Hygiene In Children

Consistency and routine are key in establishing sleep hygiene. Here are recommendations to help your child get better sleep:

  1. Maintain a consistent bedtime. 

Maintaining a consistent bedtime is a key factor in promoting healthy sleep habits for children. Our bodies have a natural internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. 

When we establish a regular bedtime routine and stick to it, we help synchronize this internal clock, making it easier for our kids to fall asleep and wake up at the desired times.

To optimize the effectiveness of a consistent bedtime, aim for a window of around 30 minutes. 

  1. Get plenty of exercise during the day. 

Between computers, television, and cell phones, many kids and teens don’t get sufficient regular physical activity. 

Make sure your child is physically active (getting out of breath) at least 15 minutes per day. 

Stuck inside because of the weather? Make an effort to turn off the TV and cellphones and get moving. Race inside the halls of your home, practice cartwheels and handstands, go walk in a mall, anything to get your kids moving. 

  1. Spend time outside. 

Incorporating outdoor time into your child’s daily routine can have a positive impact on their sleep hygiene. Aim for at least 30 minutes of outdoor playtime each day, preferably during daylight hours. 

Whether it’s a walk in the park, playing in the backyard, or participating in outdoor sports or activities, encourage your child to spend time outside and soak up the natural light.

Even on cloudy or snowy days, sunlight still filters through the clouds and provides beneficial rays. When we spend time outdoors, our eyes receive natural light, which stimulates the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes wakefulness and positive mood. 

This exposure to sunlight during the day helps reinforce our natural circadian rhythm, making it easier for our bodies to distinguish between day and night.

  1. Bedtime should be boring! 

Creating a relaxing bedtime routine is crucial in preparing your child’s body and mind for sleep. The concept of “bedtime should be boring” emphasizes the need to avoid stimulating or exciting activities close to bedtime, as they can interfere with the natural transition to sleep.

Consider incorporating the following into your child’s bedtime routine: 

  • Soft, relaxing music
  • Reading age-appropriate books 
  • Relaxing sensory activities, such as puzzles, drawing, coloring, or engaging with sensory toys like stress balls or squishy toys 
  1. Never underestimate the sleeping environment. 

Creating a dark and soothing sleep environment is crucial for promoting quality sleep in children. Removing sources of light, such as electronics and alarm clocks, and investing in blackout curtains can help create a conducive atmosphere. 

While a dim night light may provide comfort, minimizing exposure to electronic devices and incorporating calming elements like white noise machines or fans can enhance the sleep environment. 

Prioritizing a dark and peaceful setting helps signal to the child’s body that it’s time for rest, improving their sleep quality.

  1. Night wakings. 

If your child/teen is unable to fall asleep at bedtime or during the night for more than 45 minutes, encourage them to get up, stretch or do something boring until you feel sufficiently sleepy. No electronics! Lights should remain dimmed.

It is recommended that night lights be 2000 kelvins or less (i.e., the light should be of red-yellow hue, warmth is measured in kelvins) and 50 lumens or lower (lumens is a measurement of how much light the bulb gives off).

  1. Relaxation techniques. 

Learn and practice together relaxing strategies to help reduce tension before sleep, such as meditation, mindfulness exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation. My favorite is the happy place visualization technique.

  1. Address mental health issues. 

Anxiety and depression are known to interfere with sleep, make sure these are being addressed in child psychotherapy or adolescent psychotherapy.

Things To Avoid For Healthy Sleep Hygiene 

  1. Caffeine in the afternoon or later. Be aware that caffeine is present in coffee and tea but also in sodas and chocolate (and most Starbucks drinks!)
  2. Sending your child to bed with a full stomach or full bladder. Digestion and having to use the washroom can disrupt your child’s sleep. Late night snacking might be a cue that the body is tired rather than hungry.
  3. High intensity exercise or hot baths right before bed. Research shows that the body temperature must be cool to feel comfortable falling asleep. However, light exercise and a warm shower or bath right before bedtime can help some individuals relax. Experiment with what works best for your child.
  4. Electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. This includes the computer, tablet, phone, and TV. If listening to music, make sure not to look at the screen. 
  5. Checking the time, as this may create more anxiety. Make sure your child or teen’s alarm clock face is turned away so that they’re not constantly checking the time. 
  6. Sleep trackers should be used with caution. For some teens, it can create more anxiety knowing they didn’t spend sufficient time in deep sleep. Focusing on ”feeling refreshed” might be a better metric.

If Ongoing Sleep Issues Persist

Of note, if your child continues to have difficulty with sleep despite implementing the above suggestions, you should talk to your family doctor to rule-out medical issues, such as obstructive sleep apnea. Your family doctor can also recommend supplements to help with sleep (like melatonin or magnesium) if needed.

Parent Consultations For Bedtime Solution: Parent Consultations

If you’re struggling with specific sleep issues or need personalized guidance in forming effective bedtime routines for your child, Dr. Leon can help. Each session includes expert advice and tailored strategies to address your child’s unique needs. 

Prioritize your child’s sleep health and schedule a parent consultation today to unlock the secrets to better bedtime routines and improved sleep for the whole family. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How much sleep do children need at different ages? 

The recommended sleep durations vary by age. On average, preschoolers (3-5 years) need 10-13 hours, school-age children (6-12 years) require 9-12 hours, and teenagers (13-18 years) should aim for 8-10 hours of sleep per night.

Are there any specific bedtime routines that can help promote better sleep? 

Yes, establishing a consistent bedtime routine can be highly beneficial. A bedtime routine might include activities like a warm bath, reading a book, listening to calming music, or engaging in relaxation exercises. The key is to choose activities that promote relaxation and signal to the child that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.

How can I create a sleep-friendly environment in my child’s bedroom? 

To create a sleep-friendly environment, ensure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Remove or minimize sources of light, use blackout curtains or blinds, and consider using white noise machines to block out disruptive sounds. Keep the bedroom free from electronics and ensure a comfortable mattress and bedding.

What strategies can I use to address bedtime resistance and ensure my child falls asleep easily?

To address bedtime resistance, establish a consistent sleep schedule, set clear expectations and boundaries, and gradually adjust the routine if needed. Create a calming bedtime routine, provide comfort and reassurance, and limit stimulating activities close to bedtime. If the resistance persists, consult with a pediatrician or sleep specialist for further guidance and support.

You can promote good sleep hygiene for kids by establishing a consistent bedtime routine that includes calming activities like reading or gentle music, helping signal their bodies it’s time to wind down. Create a sleep-conducive environment by keeping their bedroom dark, cool, and comfortable, limiting screen time before bed, and ensuring they get enough physical activity during the day to support restful sleep. Encourage regular sleep schedules, aiming for age-appropriate amounts of sleep each night to promote better overall health, mood, and cognitive function.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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Learn to boost your child’s social and emotional development through reading. Equip your child with essential skills for a brighter future. 


You might initially think reading books is good for language development—and you’d be right! Reading books can help a child learn vocabulary they don’t frequently encounter, and it can help them learn syntax and grammar. 

But reading books with your children means so much more than that. 

It’s also important to promote positive behaviours and cognitive and social development—especially when incorporating Social Emotional Learning (SEL) principles into reading activities. 

In this article, I’ll explore how parents can teach social-emotional skills through reading and how you, as a parent, can help support language, cognitive, social, and emotional intelligence using books as early as infancy.

Benefits Of Teaching Social-Emotional Learning Through Reading 

The body of research supporting social-emotional learning continues to grow. Combining the power of storytelling with social-emotional skills concepts helps parents:

Children 0 to 18 Months Old

Picture books are a great way to introduce babies and toddlers to the world. Start by using picture books to point at objects and name them. You can also point out colors and shapes. Eventually, you can move on to pointing out actions (e.g., the boy is running/eating/ crying). 

At this age, your child may be unable to sit through a whole story (that’s okay). So each time you pick up a book, focus on a different aspect of the story. Repetition is good, so a few books are sufficient. 

When reading whole stories, choose books that are short and rhyme. Rhyming is very important for early language development.

Children 18 Months To 3 Years Old

As your child’s language, cognitive, and motor skills develop, start asking your child to point to objects on the page (e.g., Where is the duck? Show me the duck!). 

Start with obvious elements of the book and work towards elements that might be less noticeable or harder to find. This will teach your child to scan a page for information

Also, point out how that same thing might look different on another page because it’s drawn from a different angle (e.g., here is the girl eating, here is the same girl taking a bath).

Children 3 To 6 Years Old

When your child starts speaking in sentences, ask them questions about the story before turning to the next page (e.g., what happens next?). 

You will notice that even with books you may have read together many times, they might not have yet been able to retain the storyline or understand action-reaction. 

Then you can start asking questions that work on perspective taking: how is the boy feeling (point to sad face), why does the boy look sad?

Children In Elementary School

At first, shared reading (where the child reads one page, and the parent reads the other page) can help a new reader to continue enjoying books. Pre-reading activities can also support reading comprehension. 

Reviewing pictures and subheadings along with new vocabulary and concepts before beginning to read can help your child link new information with material that was learned previously. 

Asking questions about the material is also important; factual questions and questions requiring your child to make inferences and predictions are best.

Children In High School

At this point, shared reading is no longer an option, but you can continue supporting reading by having books available in the home. Books are expensive, and not everyone has the space to store large quantities of books. 

I suggest leveraging your public library as a resource. Every few weeks, visit your library and encourage your teen to pick a book. 

Maybe your teen prefers comic books, and those are fine too. The joy of reading is something built over time.

Don’t Forget Parent Modeling!

If you switch on the TV (or get on your phone) as soon as supper is done and don’t turn it off until you go to bed, it’s hard to expect your child not to do the same. 

Model for your child by picking up a book in the evening and reading a few pages. 

Reading before sleep can help you feel sleepy and reduces the negative effects of blue light emitted from electronic devices, which can harm your sleep cycle. If reading regularly is new for you, start small (5 mins) and work your way up.

Get Help: Parent Consultation Services

Whether you require assistance selecting appropriate books, implementing effective strategies, or assessing your child’s progress, Dr. Leon’s parent consultation services can provide valuable insights and resources to enhance your SEL journey. 

With a post-session summary of recommendations and access to additional resources, you’ll have the support you need to navigate the complexities of teaching SEL through reading. 

For further reading: 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Why is social-emotional learning important for children’s development?

Social-emotional learning is crucial for children’s development as it helps them acquire and apply essential skills like self-awareness, empathy, communication, and emotional regulation. These skills contribute to their overall well-being, academic success, and positive relationships with others.

How can reading books help teach social-emotional skills?

Reading books is an effective way to teach social-emotional skills because stories provide a platform for children to explore different emotions, perspectives, and social situations. Through reading, children can empathize with characters and learn valuable lessons about empathy, resilience, and problem-solving.

What are some recommended books that promote social-emotional learning?

There are numerous books that promote social-emotional learning. Some popular examples include:

Teaching social-emotional learning (SEL) through reading involves selecting books that feature diverse characters and themes, enabling children to empathize and understand various emotions, perspectives, and experiences. Engage children in discussions about the characters’ feelings and behaviors, connecting these insights to their own emotions and social interactions, fostering empathy and self-awareness. Use stories as a platform to explore SEL competencies like self-regulation, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, encouraging reflection and guiding children in applying these lessons to their own lives.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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