The Adult Skill Set

This summer Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child summarized an aspect of their work with young adult parents as follows;

  1. “There’s a fairly straightforward Adult Skill Set involved in being a successful adult parent, employee and community member.
  2. The core methods of the Adult Skill Set are learned in day to day interactions with the primary caregivers in functional families.
  3. Adults who grew up in dysfunctional families are usually missing some or most of the Adult Skill Set.”


And “Mounting research from neuroscience and psychology tells us there is a set of underlying core capabilities that adults use to manage life, work, and parenting. These include, but are not limited to:

  • “Planning,
  •  Focus,
  •  Self-control,
  •  Awareness, and
  •  Flexibility.”


“To scientists, these capabilities fall under the umbrella of self-regulation and executive function.”

“Self-regulation helps us to draw upon the right skills at the right time, manage our responses to the world, and resist inappropriate responses. In the brain, self-regulation includes both intentional and automatic processes. The proper balance ensures appropriately responsive and productive actions.

Automatic self-regulation is our rapid, impulse-directed response (also called the “fight or flight” [or freeze] response) that is needed for urgent or threatening situations.

Intentional self-regulation is our conscious, planful, and proactive response needed for achieving goals. Attention serves as the critical gate-keeper for engaging our intentional self-regulation by directing our focus toward specific things within and around us.

“Executive function, including inhibitory control, working memory, and mental flexibility, makes intentional self-regulation possible. Executive function skills help us to remember our goals and the steps needed to reach them, resist distractions along the way, and find a Plan B when Plan A doesn’t work out.  For more information about how the this all works together, click here (and/or a thumbnail of 2-YT Exec Function).

At TransformingDysfunction, we are in awe of the simplicity and positive orientation of the Harvard concepts.

In comparison to Harvard’s Adult Skill Set, think of;

  • book stores full of self help books,
  • years of psychoanalysis,
  • seemingly endless self help programs, or even
  • our repetitious efforts to ignore or counteract criticisms we project into each day of our lives as adults from dysfunctional families.


TransformingDysfunction is hopeful this distillation of The Adult Skill Set as published by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard just might be the most useful information for adults from dystunctional families yet put forward, and certainly it is brilliant in its brevity.

And we say this even knowing that nearly all of the focus of this Center at Harvard is ultimately on national and international Policy Directors who write and implement programs for education, medicine, social work, counseling and juvenile justice institutions which are structured to help children living in Traumatically Stressed families. 

Looking at the big picture represented above, we’ll end this posting with a bit of the transcript from a video narrated by Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, the Director of the Center.

“Then the light bulb went on: The reason we’re not getting a bigger impact is not because we don’t know how to influence development, but because we’re giving information and advice to people who we need to do active skill building with (emphasis added).

Skill building by coaching, by training, by practice.

But we’re not doing that. So we now have developed this Theory of Change that says we need to focus….on Active Skill Building….It’s all about being able to plan for the future, to Have a future. And that’s why this is so important!.”  (emphasis added)

Citation: Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2016). Building Core Capabilities for Life: The Science Behind the Skills Adults Need to Succeed in Parenting and in the Workplace.

From      <<< A very rich source of further information and videos!

Click here for

Executive Function & Self-Regulation