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Helping Your Child Improve Their Executive Functioning Skills

Helping Your Child Improve Their Executive Functioning Skills

As parents, it’s natural to want our children to succeed in all areas of life. However, sometimes we might notice that they’re struggling with certain skills, such as initiating a task or managing time. Executive functions are a set of mental skills that help us learn, plan, organize, and manage our time and attention. In children and teens, these skills are still developing, and some may struggle more than others.

In this post, we’ll break down what executive functions are, how to recognize if your child is struggling with them, and what steps you can take to help improve them.

Understanding Executive Functions

Executive functions are the cognitive processes that help us manage our daily lives. These skills enable us to set goals, plan, organize, prioritize, shift our attention, and remember important information. When our executive functions are working correctly, we can control our emotions, thoughts, and actions. However, when they’re not working properly, it can impact our ability to learn, manage stress, and achieve our goals.

Recognizing Struggles with Executive Functions

If your child is struggling with executive functions, you may notice certain signs. They may appear disorganized, forgetful, or have difficulty completing tasks. They may also have trouble with time management or planning, seem easily distracted or overwhelmed, and struggle to focus on tasks for extended periods. These difficulties can be frustrating and overwhelming for both the child and the parent.

If you notice that your child is struggling in some of these areas, it is important to consult with their teacher, school counselor, or pediatrician to get more information and support.

Strategies to Improve Executive Functions

Once you have identified some of the executive functioning challenges your child is facing, executive functioning challenges your child is facing, you can start implementing strategies to support their growth. Work with your child's doctor, school, or a professional therapist to develop a plan to improve your child's executive functioning skills. Here are some suggestions:

  • Break down tasks into smaller steps and offer visual aids
  • Create routines and schedules for homework, chores, and activities
  • Use calendars, reminders, and timers to help with planning and time management
  • Teach problem-solving and decision-making skills through age-appropriate scenarios and games
  • Encourage physical activity, mindfulness, and relaxation to help regulate emotions and stress
  • Motivate your child with positive reinforcement and celebrations of their progress
  • Work with their school to get accommodations and support if needed like extra time, preferential seating, or assistive technology

Setting Realistic Goals

When working on executive functions, it’s important to remember that progress can be slow and steady. That’s why it’s essential to set realistic goals for your child to work towards. For example, you might start by setting a goal for them to spend 10 minutes each day working on a specific task. With time and patience, you can gradually increase the amount of time or frequency of working on that task until they develop the skills necessary to tackle it independently.

Encouraging Self-Advocacy

It’s important to encourage your child to advocate for themselves. By teaching them how to ask for help when needed and how to use strategies that work best for them, they can develop the skills necessary to manage their executive functions effectively. Encouraging your child to seek out and embrace their strengths can also help build their confidence and lead to a healthier sense of self-awareness.

Supporting Executive Functioning at Home and School

Improving executive functioning skills is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process that requires practice and patience. It is important to involve your child in the process of self-monitoring and self-reflection so that they can be aware of their strengths and challenges, and learn to advocate for themselves. Here are some ways to support EF development at home and school:
Model and reinforce good EF behaviors, such as planning, organizing, self-regulating, and prioritizing

  • Encourage your child to take breaks and use their strengths to help them learn better
  • Communicate with your child's teacher and school staff about any concerns or progress updates
  • Provide opportunities for your child to practice EF skills in real-life contexts, such as grocery shopping, cooking, or playing games with friends
  • Ask for feedback and input from your child on what works and what doesn't, and adjust your strategies accordingly.

Struggling with executive functioning is not uncommon in children and teens, but recognizing the signs and taking practical steps to help them can make all the difference. If you notice your child struggling with any of the signs mentioned above, there are effective ways to help them develop their executive functioning skills. Remember to work with professionals in developing a plan and creating a supportive environment that nurtures their growth. By doing so, you are setting your child up for success in school and future endeavors.

Find a Supportive Environment at Orinda Academy

Orinda Academy is a small, independent school that helps students enjoy the best parts of the high school experience with the personal support and encouragement to help them grow. We’ve helped thousands of students to confidently tackle challenges and master the skills they need to thrive in the world. Contact us if you’re interested in taking the next step.