Executive Functions

A Daily Plan to Practice Empowering Self-Talk

Self-talk is a powerful strategy that helps children with ADHD develop the metacognition that powers confidence, persistence, and positive self-esteem. Here, learn how to bolster it.

Young schoolgirl holding a speech bubble/icon to illustrate the concept of self-talk

Metacognition is the executive function (EF) that helps us reflect on and manage our thoughts, attention, effort, organizational skills, and emotions. It is the internal dialogue that tells a student, “You’ve done work like this before; you can do it again.”

When a child with ADHD says, “I can’t do math” or “I hate writing,” that is a sign of under-developed metacognition skills that require intervention strategies and supports — namely, structured, open-ended questioning. Guided questioning eventually leads children to develop their own self-talk and do their own thinking, direct their own attention, and recognize and regulate their emotions.

Paired with common daily struggles, the recommended questions below are the same for teachers and parents. That is intentional. Through repetition and experience, children begin to internalize these questions and develop a metacognitive strategy to guide their own self-talk through any struggle — academic, social, or emotional.

Metacognition: Self-Talk Strategies

EF Skill Day-to-Day Challenges Questions
Emotional regulation Feeling frustrated, stressed, overwhelmed, upset, angry
  • How do you feel?
  • What can you control?
  • What can you do to help yourself?
Initiation and activation Avoiding assignments, procrastinating on homework, studying, or chores
  • What is the task or assignment?
  • What is the question asking?
  • What are you supposed to be doing?
Planning and organizing Getting stuck on a word or complex text, feeling unsure of next steps on a multi-step math problem, forgetting homework, missing deadlines
  • What do you think you could do first?
  • What do you think you could do second?
  • What do you think you could do next?
  • What else?
Sustain attention, effort and working memory Feeling distracted or unmotivated, not completing assignments, falling off-task
  • What is important?
  • What is your goal?
  • When you get distracted, what strategies help redirect your focus?
  • Which strategy could help now?
Self-monitoring Failing to calm down and/or complete work, handing in assignments filled with errors, interrupting, carelessness
  • How is it going?
  • Is your strategy working?
  • Do you need to go back and revise your strategy?
  • Is your plan working?
  • Do you need to revise the plan?

Adapted from The Metacognitive Student (Cohen, R., Savage, J., Opatosky, D., Darrah, E., & Stevens S., 2021)

ADHD Metacognition & Self-Talk: Next Steps

Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions

Access more resources from ADDitude’s Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions series exploring common learning challenges and strategies to sharpen core EFs at school.

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