How Can I Scaffold a Teen With EF Challenges While Encouraging Autonomy? (Listener Question)

gender nonconformity kids

In this episode, Debbie and Seth discuss how parents can balance the concepts from the book ‘The Self-Driven Child’ with the challenges of supporting a child with ADHD and executive functioning issues. They emphasize the importance of scaffolding and giving children control over their lives while still providing support. They also discuss the need for parents to do their own inner work and manage their own anxiety in order to effectively support their children. The episode concludes with a discussion on the importance of planning and setting goals for children’s development.


About Debbie Reber

Debbie Reber, MA is a parenting activist, bestselling author, speaker, and the CEO and founder of TiLT Parenting, a resource, top-performing podcast, consultancy, and community with a focus on shifting the paradigm for parents raising and embracing neurodivergent children. A regular contributor to Psychology Today and ADDitude Magazine, and the author of more than a dozen books for children and teens, Debbie’s most recent book is Differently Wired: A Parent’s Guide to Raising an Atypical Child with Confidence and Hope.

About Seth Perler

Seth Perler is an Executive Function Coach and Consultant with extensive experience addressing extraordinarily diverse learning needs. Seth was a teacher for 12 years, working with a diverse range of Gifted and Twice Exceptional (2E) students in charter schools for 8 years, and teaching students with ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia and other executive function challenges, as well as students with developmental disabilities. He’s been an Executive Function coach for middle, high school and college students since 2010. He coaches parents through his Executive Function Lab.


Resources mentioned


Do you have a question for Debbie to address on an upcoming Parent Lean-In episode?

Submit your question (via voice message or in writing) below!

Want to go deeper?

The Differently Wired Club is not your typical membership community.

There’s something here for everyone, whether you’re a sit back and absorb learner, a hands-on, connect and engage learner, and everything in between. Join the Differently Wired Club and get unstuck, ditch the overwhelm, and find confidence, connection, and JOY in parenting your differently wired child.


Learn more about the Differently Wired Club

Episode Transcript


Hey everyone, today I have my dear friend and wise colleague, Seth Perler, with me for this Parent Lean In episode. Seth has been on the show many, many a time, but in case he’s new to you, he is an executive function coach and consultant with extensive experience addressing extraordinarily diverse learning needs. Seth has a passion for meeting the highly unique needs of individual students and places heavy emphasis on addressing social, emotional lifestyle and executive function issues in order to help students experience success. He also, just gonna say, has a ton of free resources on his website, which is SethPerler .com. And if you wanna work more closely with Seth, I highly encourage you to check out his new Executive Function Lab, which is where he coaches people on how to get big results for their struggling students. He offers a ton of tools and it’s just a fantastic community. So welcome, Seth, to the podcast.


Thanks, Debbie. Thanks for everything you do in the world because you’re awesome. So, and hi everybody.


Thank you, Seth. Well, I love doing this stuff with you, so I’m excited. So let’s dive in. We’re going to tackle a really interesting question. And as with all the questions that we’re doing in this series, I’m trying to choose questions that I know all listeners are going to get something out of the answer. So the question is, how can I take concepts from the work of The Self-Driven Child — which you guys, I talk about all the time. It’s written by Ned Johnson and Bill Stixrud — in allowing my ADD son to control his own future while not being completely hands off, which ends up with my son not completing optional homework, being unprepared for assignments due to his executive functioning challenges. It feels like the two approaches cannot coexist. Any advice? 

So such a good question. And I think that’s like between a rock and a hard place that so many parents find themselves. It’s like, you know, and the idea for those of you who aren’t familiar and I highly recommend you listen to the episode I’ve done with Ned and Bill about this book, check out the book. It was really my main resource for the high school years. But it’s really about giving our kids control over their lives. And we do that by scaffolding. We do that by being, they call it being a consultant to our kids and really, trusting that they can make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes and then we’re there to support them along the way. So a couple of things that came up for me, which I’ll share and then I want to hear from you, Seth, as I read this question is, first of all, you have to kind of get a sense of where your kid is on this. Does your child want to complete this homework? Does your child care about this stuff? And then really thinking about what is getting in the way. And what are the bigger, like higher or longer term goals for him? And that’s where you kind of have to start. And if he doesn’t have goals or he’s having a hard time connecting now with the future, he’s getting overwhelmed or he shuts down, that actually might be too scary. And that’s not going to be a good motivator, but that’s good information to have. So then the question, so then the conversation might become, how can he do things now to give him as many options as possible down the road?

That’s something I used to say to my kid all the time. Like, you don’t have to know what this looks like, you don’t have to know what your goal is, but let’s do what we can so that you are keeping as many options open for yourself as you get older. So if you decide you want to do X, Y, or Z, you’re kind of well positioned or as well positioned as you can be to make those things happen. And then we can get into scaffolding, but I’m going to just take a pause because I have a feeling, Seth, that something has come up for you as I’ve been sharing this. So what’s your initial take on this question and what I just shared?

Seth Perler:

Yeah. Awesome. Thanks, Debbie. Yeah. I have thoughts about what you were saying about giving the options down the road. I might, I might dive into that a little bit, but essentially, um, the, the question really is it feels like the two approaches cannot coexist. And I, I’m assuming just from having spoken to so many parents over the years, that the reason that it feels like they can’t coexist is because when. Okay. So first of all, let’s, let’s break this down. So what are the two approaches? So in this case, it would be the self -driven child and the other driven child, meaning the other directed child. Right. Uh, so in, in one case, um, the child has the locus of control. They have the agency, they have choices, they, they, they have some freedom. They have, they’re gaining independence and, there’s a term for people who like to research gradual release of responsibility or as Debbie mentioned, scaffolding, locus of control, internal and external turning over the reins. So, so what does it feel for you and I, Debbie, or for the, anybody listening to have other driven, uh, and other driven life, you know? So if we are other driven, if people are always telling us what to do, it’s really frustrating, you know, and there are contexts like I can think right now about my bank. I don’t like how they do everything or my health insurance, for example. Oh my gosh, that’s a great one. I’m not in control of it. And it feels very stressful, very out of control, very much like I can’t get my needs met. I don’t feel seen and heard and understood. And then in other contexts where it feels more, um, more self -directed, uh, they’re like my conversation with you today, like how you and I communicate together and prep for this and stuff.

Like that’s, that’s very, it feels very safe. Um, fun even, and, and, um, fulfilling and so there, there’s just a very different feel. So I think one, one thing is to the question again, it feels like they cannot coexist. Well, they can, they do. It’s a spectrum. There’s a lot of gray, you know, you’re, you’re moving from turning the reins over slowly. You’re scaffolding, you’re going bit by bit in this direction. So it feels like that, I think because, um, so first I wanted us to connect with what it feels like. really put ourselves in our kids shoes in a real way. That’s why I mentioned health insurance and stuff like that. We really need to understand what they are going through and what would we want in, in those sorts of situations, we would want to take more and more of the reins on ourselves in a safe way. So they absolutely can coexist, but it’s a matter of how. And then in terms of the how we have, like in my brain, there’s like two things, there’s probably more, but there’s two big things in terms of the how we’re going to do it. One is, is in terms of the parents, as you and I always say, the deep inner work, because it feels like the two approaches cannot coexist because it’s terrifying to know or believe that if you just let them do this, they wouldn’t complete any of the optional homework. They would be unprepared for all their assignments and assessments and whatever. So, and so it feels like that that’s just the way it’s going to go forever. And it’s terrifying. Um, and I’m not saying that you should just let go. And, you know, sometimes parents get to a point where they’re like, fine, uh, I give up. Um, I’m going to totally let go.

And that is the pendulum swinging way in the other direction. That is not scaffolding. That is not helpful. That does ensure failure, which is not what we’re trying to do. But we want to, we want to support them in scaffolding. I’m sure we’ll both talk more about that. So that’s the one way is like the parents doing their deep inner work. And then the other side of it is there that what the kid is there, the child is experiencing in terms of them feeling supported, like they can do these things like they are being compassionately understood for where they’re at and given little tools to have successful experiences to transition that. And I like that you use the word conversation. You said during the conversation to giving them options down the road. So much of this has to do with how we communicate with our kids, not only the conversation, but also the self -regulation of the parent and our own anxiety and how that feels to our kid. And you know, we can say, okay, you’ve got this. But if we, in our voices, all this anxiety and we don’t believe it, they sense that now that can be okay too, but we need to say it. Okay. You’ve got this now. I have all kinds of anxiety right now, but let’s try this. You’re going to be okay. 


So one of the things that you said resonated with me and to something that Ned and Bill say in their book, which is that we can’t work harder for our kids’ future than they’re willing to. Like we can’t be doing more work than they are because then our kids are not gonna be invested in their future. So I just want to go back to something you said earlier about the swinging pendulum and I love that advice about the parents doing their deep inner work, Seth. This is something you and I talk about all the time, but that is a big piece of this is that we as parents want to come to some kind of peace about what we can and what we can’t control about our child’s trajectory. And as you said, that doesn’t mean we just throw our hands up in the air and like, oh, well, I guess this is what’s going to happen. My kid’s going to crash and burn and I’m just going to stand on the sidelines because it’s my kid’s life. That’s not what this is about. This is about how can we continue to scaffold for a child? How can we show up for them? How can we be patient with their timeline and their unique trajectory? How can we support? How can we connect with our kids throughout this process? But do it in a way with our own anxiety kind of managed because we’ve done the work, because we’re showing up with that kind of clearer or calmer energy. That will be so much more effective. And that is gonna allow our kids to be more open and available to accept our support, to have that scaffolding be more effective. So I wanted to mention that.

And then the other thing I wanted to mention is something that Ned and Bill talk about in their book, which is this idea that we as parents can’t work harder for our kids’ future than they’re willing to, right? And I’m saying it wrong. There’s a way they phrase it in the book that really resonated with me. But you think about, why should I work? I’m putting so much time into my kids’ homework, and they’re not doing anything. That might help in the short term, to get this grade or get through this or that class, but it’s not teaching our kids any skills. It’s not giving them any sense of agency or control over their lives. And they won’t be invested in their future. So zooming out, this might mean that our kids don’t get into this or that college right away. It might mean that their grades might not be super. It might mean that their runway is gonna be a lot longer than we were expecting.

But if they are not at some core level motivated or invested in wanting to create the life that they want, and they feel that they can, they feel that they have the capability to ultimately make that happen, then us forcing them to get these results that are important to us, they’re not gonna be meaningful. And it’s not really gonna stick for our kids. So, I just wanted to put that out there and maybe you can speak to this, Seth, but we know that so many successful adults had very messy and lengthy launches and that is the reality. And so we can’t force will this to unfold in a certain way.

Seth Perler: 

Yeah, yeah. And from there’s so many different perspectives to look at this, but from an executive function perspective, the, the, again, the other driven creates a lot of, I talk about resistance that, that I don’t want to, I don’t feel like if this is stupid, why do I have to do this? There’s no agency. So the resistance is even worse. And then the rescuing, the enabling, the doing too much for our kids, uh, whatever words you use to say that, cause it’s all pretty much the same thing, that, you know, that’s the other driven stuff that teaches, teaches a lot of things, but it feels so disempowering. Um, and I, we were having a conversation in Executive Function Lab yesterday about kids going to college and the fear of them not being able to know how to do their laundry and prep their meals and stuff like that. And that one spouse thinks, oh, they’re on their own timeline, let them figure it out. And there’s validity in that. And the other one feels like we need to intervene. And it’s like, these are skills that they need to learn. And how do we intervene in, what was the word you said that they say that you’re, Stixrud and Johnson say, you’re your kids consultants, so you’re like on the same level with your kid and you’re helping them and scaffolding them to learn these skills. These but in the point it is in the executive function realm. These are skill sets that can be built upon. You know if your kid struggles with executive function, yeah, they’re going to continue to have executive function challenges, but they’re also going to have growth. And the more we intentionally work on what we want to see growth and what skills they need and start building those skills. That’s why I said it’s a spectrum. It’s a continuum. It’s great. 

These are things that we can really intervene and support our kids to build these things. But we have to, I guess, like over our own fear, work with that. That’s a whole thing in and of itself. Um, you know, the parents or the parent to really do their own deep inner work. No, start taking action in terms of letting go. And I think the, the, the, probably the last big thing I wanted to mention today, Debbie was the planning from the parents. So planning has a lot to do with executive function, but from the parents that it’s not just like listening to this podcast and like getting inspired. It’s like, if there’s, if it’s a two person, two parent family, it’s sitting down and, or if it’s a one, it’s sitting down at the table without your child and taking actual time to talk and plan and think through the specific goals that you have for your kid that you have, not that I want my kid to get all A’s. I want my kid to get into this college. I want them to have these scores, but I’m talking about things like that. My, the things that, if those are the things you value, the things that will get them there, that’s, those aren’t the real goals. It’s the things that’ll get them there.

My child can regulate their emotions. They have language around their emotions that they can communicate with us. They use a planner reliably and independently. They, they, um, have great sleep habits and they honor their sleep and their body and they, they believe that it’s valuable. They advocate for themselves. They organize their backpack. Like they check their work. These are skills that that have everything to do with executive function, that have everything to do with self care, that have everything to do with our kids getting where they want to get to, that have everything to do with having the pendulum in the right place to get them from that place where they’re other driven to being more self driven and having more agency and turning the reins over on the gradual release of responsibility and the greater independence and making their own choices. So the word is of the day is plan. Take time to actually sit down for a long time, maybe multiple times, uh, with your spouse, if it’s a two parent family or whatever, but plan, think this stuff through. You don’t just go say, Hey, I’m inspired by this podcast. Let’s talk about this stuff. Or it’s like, you need this stuff takes time and energy and effort.


That’s great. Thank you. Yeah. It does take time. And I just want to throw out a resource too, I’ll put this in the show notes. I did an episode with Jessica Lahey, who wrote The Gift of Failure. And we talked a lot about scaffolding and that too. We talk about scaffolding all the time in this show, honestly. But it is always changing, like the amount of support our kids need might change from day to day, from hour to hour, from week to week. And so part of what we want to do is just be really attuned to what’s happening with our kids. And again, know this we’re playing the long game as always with our kids. So I want to thank you, Seth, for joining me for this conversation for sharing your insights. Thank you to the listener who sent this in. If you have a question for another Parent Lean–In episode, you can submit it via writing or you can leave a voice message for me at So we’d love to hear more from you and thanks again, Seth, for this today.

Seth Perler:

Thanks, Debbie, and thanks everybody for being here. Take care.


Do you have an idea for an upcoming episode? Please share your idea in my Suggestion Box.