How to help your child to develop the 7 executive functioning skills

How to help your child to develop the 7 executive functioning skills

“For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned” – Benjamin Franklin, activist, author, humorist, and scientist

Executive functioning skills facilitate the behaviors required to plan and achieve goals. The fundamental skills related to executive function include proficiency in adaptable thinking, planning, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory, time management, and organization. These competencies are essential to a child’s growth and learning ability, and though development begins in early childhood, these skills continue to progress well into adulthood. Struggling with many executive functions may be a symptom of a learning difference, such as ADHD or dyslexia . By early adolescence, your child should begin exhibiting most of these executive functioning skills below.

Adaptable Thinking

Adaptable thinking gives a child the ability to problem solve or adjust to situations when necessary and overcome instantaneous obstacles. This skill also applies to a child’s ability to see things from someone else’s perspective. A child who exhibits this type of cognitive thinking isn’t stumped by everyday hurdles or a difference in opinion. An example of adaptable thinking is a child who encounters a roadblock on their walk to school and devises an alternate route.

Planning

A child’s ability to think about the future, create a plan of action, and prioritize the different working parts is a strong sign of cognitive development. Planning skills allow a child to make a list of operations designed to effectively accomplish a task and to adequately determine which aspects are the most important. Some examples of planning are making a packing list, giving directions, or writing a recipe.

Self-Monitoring

Self-monitoring involves a child’s ability to self-evaluate or comprehend how well he or she is performing a specific task. Self-monitoring helps children track and reflect on their progress regarding a specific assignment and understand that adjustments may need to be made to accomplish the task at hand. An example of positive self-monitoring is when a child identifies that a mathematics formula isn’t producing the desired results, and checks their work to discover the error.

Self-Control

Self-control addresses a child’s ability to restrain from physical or emotional outbursts. Impulse control keeps a child from reacting or acting without thinking, while emotional control helps a child to remain calm and resist the urge to overreact or shutdown due to criticism or obstacles. An example of effective self-control in terms of executive function is when a child receives a disappointing score on a test, but maintains focus and absorbs the constructive criticism while staying level-headed and learning from the mistakes.

Working Memory

Working memory involves a child’s ability to retain and store learned information and then later put it to use. This skill is crucial to a child’s success in the classroom , as it is responsible for short-term memory and execution. A strong working memory is exhibited by a child who successfully remembers and executes the instructions for a step-by-step drill in gym class.

Time Management

Time management concerns a child’s ability to properly organize a schedule, complete tasks on time, and maintain patience throughout assignments. Time management is imperative for a child in an array of scenarios as it facilitates the ability to jump from task to task and enhances productivity, punctuality, and goal setting skills. An example of good time management is the completion of a multi-step project before the deadline without rushing or compromising on quality.

Organization

Organization skills addresses a child’s ability to efficiently arrange materials or thoughts in an orderly fashion. Organization is vital to a child’s growth and development as it allows them to tell a succinct story or keep track of possessions. Efficient organization is displayed when a child designates a distinct folder or notebook to each school subject or consistently maintains any sort of systematic method.

How Hill Learning Center Can Help

We can make a difference. Hill Learning Center is dedicated to transforming students with learning differences and challenges into confident, independent learners. Contact us if you’re interested in taking the next step. Interested in learning more about executive function? Read our Executive Function E-Book.

One hallmark of ADHD is executive function trouble — problems planning, organizing, or self-regulating. And that can get very frustrating very quickly. Parents, follow these 10 tips to boost all 7 executive functions — and help your child gain more independence.

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Understanding Executive Dysfunction

Children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) tend to struggle with these 7 core executive dyfunctions:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Inhibition
  3. Non-verbal working memory
  4. Verbal working memory
  5. Emotional self-regulation
  6. Self-motivation
  7. Planning and problem solving

Here’s how you can help your child build up these muscles, gaining more control over their ADHD symptoms and taking strides toward independence along the way.

1. Enforce Accountability

A lot of parents wonder how much accountability is appropriate. If ADHD is a disability outside of my child’s control, should she be held accountable for her actions?

My answer is an unequivocal yes. The problem with ADHD is not with failure to understand consequences; it’s with timing. With the steps that follow, you can help your child bolster her executive functions — but the first step is to not excuse her from accountability. If anything, make her more accountable — show her you have faith in her abilities by expecting her to do what is needed.

2. Write It Down

Compensate for working memory deficits by making information visible, using notes cards, signs, sticky notes, lists, journals — anything at all! Once your child can see the information right in front of him, it’ll be easier to jog his executive functions and help him build his working memory.

3. Make Time External

Make time a physical, measurable thing by using clocks, timers, counters, or apps — there are tons of options! Helping your child see how much time has passed, how much is left, and how quickly it’s passing is a great way to beat that classic ADHD struggle, “time blindness.”

4. Offer Rewards

Use rewards to make motivation external. Someone who struggles with executive functions will have trouble motivating herself to complete tasks that don’t have immediate rewards. In these cases, it’s best to create artificial forms of motivation, like token systems or daily report cards. Reinforcing long- term goals with short-term rewards strengthens a child’s sense of self-motivation.

5. Make Learning Hands On

Put the problem in their hands! Making problems as physical as possible — like using jelly beans or colored blocks to teach simple adding and subtracting, or utilizing word magnets to work on sentence structure — helps children reconcile their verbal and non-verbal working memories, and build their executive functions in the process.

6. Stop to Refuel

Self-regulation and executive functions come in limited quantities. They can be depleted very quickly when your child works too hard over too short a time (like while taking a test). Give your child a chance to refuel by encouraging frequent breaks during tasks that stress the executive system. Breaks work best if they’re 3 to 10 minutes long, and can help your child get the fuel they need to tackle an assignment without getting distracted and losing track.

7. Practice Pep Talks

You know that locker room pep talk before a big game? Your child needs one every day — sometimes more often. Teach your child to pump herself up by practicing saying “You can do this!” Positive self-statements push kids to try harder and put them one step closer to accomplishing their goals. Visualizing success and talking themselves through the steps needed to achieve it is another great way to replenish the system and boost planning skills.

8. Get Physical

Physical exercise has tons of well-known benefits — including giving a boost to your child’s executive functioning! Routine physical exercise throughout the week can help refuel the tank (even make the tank bigger!) and help him cope better with his ADHD symptoms. Exercise can be found anywhere — try an organized sport, a bi-weekly park playdate, or a spur-of-the-moment run around the backyard!

9. Sip on Sugar (Yes, Really)

Sugar has sometimes been known to exacerbate ADHD symptoms, but when your child is doing a lot of executive functioning (like taking an exam or finishing a big project), it may be a good idea to have her sip on some sugar-containing fluids, like lemonade or a sports drink. The glucose in these drinks fuels the frontal lobe, where the executive functions come from. The operative word here is “sip” — just a little should be able to keep your child’s blood glucose up enough to get the job done.

10. Show Compassion

This is a big one, folks. In most cases, individuals with ADHD are just as smart as their peers, but their executive function problems keep them from showing what they know. The key to treatment ischanging their environment to help them do that. So it’s important that the people in their lives — especially parents — show compassion and willingness to help them learn. When your child messes up, don’t go straight to yelling. Try to understand what went wrong — and how you can help him learn from his mistake.

AT A GLANCE

How to help your child to develop the 7 executive functioning skillsExecutive skills are skills that youngsters need to function independently. They include planning, organization, task initiation, sustained attention, goal-setting, decision-making, and problem solving.

For children with LD or attention disorders, developing these skills often does not come naturally. Instead, they must be expressly taught through direct instruction, and nurtured through close supervision. Following are some key principles to guide you and your child’s teacher as you work to improve these important skills:

1. Consider your child’s developmental level

Understand what’s normal for his age. If his skills are delayed or deficient you will need to intervene with tasks that match his actual developmental level. If you’re not sure what’s normal for his age, talk to his teacher and other parents.

2. Move from the external to the internal

Begin by changing things in her environment before trying to change her. For example, start with changing her physical or social environment, altering the tasks you expect her to perform, or changing the way you interact with her by providing cues, supervision, and encouragement.

3. Use—rather than fightyour child’s innate drive for mastery and control

From an early age children work hard to control their own lives. Support this agenda by creating routines and schedules so he’ll know what to expect. Build in choices to give him some control. Practice difficult tasks in small steps, increasing demands gradually, and using negotiation rather than authority.

4. Modify tasks to match work capacity

The goal is to teach your child to engage in work by getting her to override her desire to quit or to do something preferable. This is done by making the first step of a task easy and immediately following with a reward. Gradually increase the effort she must expend to achieve the reward; either increase the task demands or increase the amount of time you expect her to work before earning the reward.

5. Teach deficient skills

Rather than expecting your child to acquire skills through observation or osmosis, intentionally teach the skills he lacks. Define a skill and select a task with which to teach it. Outline the steps required to complete the task, and provide ongoing modeling, cueing, support, and supervision until he is able to perform the task on his own.

6. Provide the minimum support necessary for success

Adults often provide too much or too little support. In either case, the child does not develop the ability to perform the task independently. Determine how far your child can get in a task without help and then intervene. Do not do the task for her; offer enough support (physical or verbal, depending on the task) to get her over the hump and moving toward success.

7. Use incentives to augment instruction

Incentives can be simple (praise) or elaborate (a point system that lets him earn rewards daily, weekly, or monthly). For some tasks—and some children—mastery of the task is incentive enough. Other tasks, however, do not have built-in incentives. Rewards make the effort of learning a skill and performing a task less burdensome. Furthermore, placing an incentive after the task teaches the child to delay gratification—a valuable skill in its own right.

8. Provide supports and supervision until success is achieved

Parents often set up a procedure, see that it’s working, then drop what they’re doing yet still expect their child to be successful. For example, a parent may walk her child through the process of organizing his desk, then leave him to maintain the organization scheme before he’s had a chance to practice and master it. Mastery does not come all at once; it’s a process that requires your feedback along the way.

9. Gradually cut back support, supervision, and incentives

While some parents fail to keep interventions in place long enough for their child to achieve success, others keep the same level of support and supervision in place long after their child is capable of acting independently. Remove supports gradually as your child achieves mastery of new skills. Remember principle No. 6: Don’t cue or prompt your child when she doesn’t need it. Likewise, don’t go from all to nothing too abruptly. That’s the equivalent of going from training wheels to pushing your child off on a two-wheeler and expecting her to ride without falling.

The long-term goal is to be able to send your child out into the world armed with a set of skills he can use to tackle problems on his own.

  1. Consider your child’s developmental level
  2. Move from the external to the internal
  3. Use your child’s innate drive for mastery and control
  4. Modify tasks to match capacity
  5. Teach deficient skills
  6. Provide the minimum support necessary for success
  7. Use incentives
  8. Provide support until success is achieved
  9. Gradually cut back support and incentives

For more information, see Smart But Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential, by Peg Dawson, Ed.D and Richard Guare, Ph.D, Guilford Press, 2008.

Peg Dawson is a psychologist at the Center for Learning and Attention Disorders in Portsmouth, NH and a member of Smart Kids Professional Advisory Board.

What You’ll Learn

  • Signs of Executive Functioning Issues
  • Finding Out If Your Child Has Executive Functioning Issues
  • How You Can Help Your Child With Executive Functioning Issues

You may not know that much about executive function. But you see it in action every day. It refers to a group of skills that are key to learning and managing daily life. When kids struggle with these skills, it can have a big impact.

Trouble with executive function can make it hard to focus , plan, set goals, manage time, and get organized . Kids with these challenges often struggle in school. But they’re just as smart as their peers.

There’s no formal diagnosis for when kids struggle with executive function. But tests can show which skills your child has trouble with. That can lead to extra help at school. It also lets you know how you can best support your child.

See a day in the life of a child with executive functioning issues.

The more you understand about trouble with executive function, the more you can do to help. This overview can answer your basic questions and lead you to more in-depth information. You’ll also find strategies to help your child manage the challenges.

Kids develop executive function over time. A lot of growth happens in early childhood.

But research shows that the areas of the brain that are responsible for executive function keep developing into the 20s. So, for many kids, the challenges lessen.

Here are some of the skills kids may struggle with:

Holding on to information ( working memory )

Understanding different points of view ( flexible thinking )

Thinking before they act or speak ( self-control )

Organizing, planning , and prioritizing

Starting tasks and staying focused on them until they’re done

Regulating their emotions

Keeping track of what they’re doing (self-monitoring)

Part of executive function is how fast you process information. Some kids have slower processing speed , which means they need more time to take in and respond to information.

Executive Function Tip: How to organize your child’s backpack.

Since executive skills develop over time, kids can struggle in different ways at different ages. Here are some signs you might see at various grade levels.

Preschool–Grade 2

Gets frustrated easily, and gives up instead of asking for help

Often throws tantrums over minor things

Insists on doing things a certain way

Answers questions in vague ways

Starts a task, gets distracted, and never finishes it

Often mixes up school assignments and brings home the wrong books

Wants to have friends come over, but never sets it up

Seems to focus on the least important point in a discussion

Loses track of time

Often does risky things

Has trouble working in groups

Forgets to fill out job or college applications

Is overly optimistic or unrealistic

If some of these signs sound like ADHD , there’s a reason. ADHD is a problem with executive function. But kids don’t have to have ADHD to have trouble with executive skills.

Dive Deeper

There’s no diagnosis for these challenges. But you can still find out the exact skills your child struggles with. This happens through an evaluation , which schools do for free. You’ll also find out about your child’s strengths.

Executive Function Tip: How to color-code your child’s school supplies.

Some specialists do private evaluations, but they’re usually expensive.

Executive function is complex, so it can be tricky to evaluate. But there are specific tests that look at a wide range of skills that are involved in executive function. These skills include:

Self-control (or “inhibitory control”)

Organization and planning

The ability to shift from one task to another (set shifting)

Kids who have trouble with executive function often struggle in other areas, too. So, testing should be done as a full evaluation that looks at other areas like reading and math.

Dive Deeper

There are lots of strategies to try at home to help your child manage the challenges and improve skills.

Here are some things you can do.

There are also things the school can do. Talk to your child’s teacher about what types of support your child might get.

Read about this mom’s system to help her son keep track of his stuff.

With the right support, kids who struggle with executive function can improve skills and feel more confident. Learn how to improve your child’s self-esteem and help your child stay motivated to work on challenges.

Key Takeaways

Executive function is a group of important mental skills like focus.

It’s key to learning and managing everyday situations.

You can help your child improve executive skills.

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About the Author

About the Author

Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Ellen Braaten, PhD is the director of LEAP at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Share Understanding Executive Functioning Issues in Your Child

Step 1: Executive Function 101

  • Executive Function & Self-Regulation
  • Executive Function: Skills for Life and Learning

Step 2: The Science of Executive Function

  • Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System
  • Video: How to Build Core Capabilities for Life

Step 3: Building Executive Function Skills

  • You Are Here: Activities Guides: Practicing Executive Function Skills
  • Building the Core Skills Youth Need for Life
  • Building the Skills Adults Need for Life

Executive function and self-regulation (EF/SR) skills provide critical supports for learning and development, and while we aren’t born with these skills, we are born with the potential to develop them through interactions and practice.

This 16-page guide (available for download, below), describes a variety of activities and games that represent age-appropriate ways for adults to support and strengthen various components of EF/SR in children.

Each chapter of this guide contains activities suitable for a different age group, from infants to teenagers. The guide may be read in its entirety (which includes the introduction and references) or in discrete sections geared to specific age groups.

Suggested citation: Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2014). Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.

How to help your child to develop the 7 executive functioning skills

Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence

An activities guide for building executive function

How to help your child to develop the 7 executive functioning skillsHow to Help Children Improve Executive Functioning

Executive functions are a popular “buzz word” right now and with good reason. In a nutshell, executive functions include the following skills: inhibitory control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning, problem-solving and planning. These super-important skills can be improved with training which is good news since they are necessary for at school, home and work. Executive function training includes activities such as computer-based training, working memory activities, traditional tae-kwon-do, aerobics, mindfulness, and yoga.

Here are several suggestions on how to help children improve executive functioning.

Act Early – children who need to improve executive functioning improve the most with executive functioning training.

Try activities that address a variety of executive functioning skills – If you work on working memory skills, the child’s working memory skills may improve but it will most likely not affect inhibitory control. Training while switching from one task to another helps to improve executive function skills across more domains.

Keep Challenging Children – Increase the difficulty of executive function tasks as children improve.

Practice all day, every day – Practice executive function skills throughout the school day and at home to ensure repetitive practice and learning in different environments.

Push children to try harder – Research indicates that the greatest gains in executive function skills are following the most demanding executive function skills and tasks.

Offer activities where children are self-motivated to improve – Children work much harder if they are invested in improving the skill. Pick tasks that children are motivated to participate in and improve their skills. Here are 5 suggestions to encourage self- motivation in children:

  1. Independent thinking: Allow the child to work on a certain skill and report back to you how they have improved that skill. They can improve or change it any way that they think will help.
  2. Provide choices: Children can be more intrinsically motivated if they have a say in how they are accomplishing a goal. Try not to make any activity a requirement.
  3. Teach self-direction: Everyone feels a larger sense of accomplishment when you are able to do something all by yourself.
  4. Power of positive thinking: Having an “I can” attitude can help tremendously and build up a student’s confidence. Check out Positive Affirmations Posters and Cards.
  5. Ask questions: Encourage students to think for themselves rather than provide answers for them. For example – what suggestions do you have to increase your self-control?

Reference: Diamond, A. (2012). Activities and programs that improve children’s executive functions. Current directions in psychological science, 21(5), 335-341.

How to help your child to develop the 7 executive functioning skills

Self- Regulation Skills Taught: This curriculum provides an effective, time-efficient structured system to provide classroom breaks, improve self-awareness and self advocacy and teach specific self-regulation skills so that kids have tools to use in their classrooms. This system will get kids moving, give them the benefits of a brain power boost [from getting their heart rate up], give them heavy work and isometrics to help them calm down, and help them learn techniques to quiet and control their bodies in order to return to their academic work. FIND OUT MORE.

Empower children. Train the brain.

Posted May 02, 2014

I’ve often marveled at how some adults who had the most horrific childhoods are so resilient and successful while others continue to suffer as adults. Likewise, affluent and relatively uneventful childhoods do not reliably predict later happiness in life. Research repeatedly demonstrates that while some outcomes are largely due to our genetic blueprint, how we shape that blueprint is the key to thriving.

As a parent, I have always been preoccupied with figuring out how to help my children process new experiences in a healthy way. Would the tragic death of a teacher who was hit by a car in front of her students scar my daughter? Would being late to learn how to read erode my son’s confidence? And would something as frustratingly commonplace as losing my patience with my children impact their development? As a trial lawyer accustomed to relying on evidence and expert opinions, I wanted neuroscience to help guide and improve my parenting.

Research shows that one of the best predictors of success in school and in life is not IQ scores (no surprise), but capable executive function. Executive function is essentially the Chief Executive Officer role of the brain, i.e., the job of integrating key systems of the brain to execute high-level cognitive tasks, including planning, problem-solving, and decision-making. According to a study by Harvard’s Ceter on the Developing Child, executive function skills help us “focus on multiple streams of information at the same time, monitor errors, make decisions in light of available information, revise plans as necessary, and resist the urge to let frustration lead to hasty actions.”

For children, emerging executive function skills are the building blocks for learning to read and write, remembering the steps for performing arithmetic, participating in class discussions and group projects, and interacting socially. In short, executive function, depending on its strength or weakness, will assist or impede the development of both cognitive and social capacities.

While there has been much attention focused on strengthening executive functioning in children with Autism and ADHD, there is little focus on boosting executive functioning in all children through practice. And from a parenting perspective, there is almost no discussion of ways to help your children build these skills during the stages when the pre-frontal cortex of the brain is developing and maturing, from as early as the age of three through adolescence. Yet researchers at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child have long concluded that providing the support that children need to build these skills at home, through practice as applied and honed with experiences, “is one of society’s most important responsibilities.”

In this blog, I will explore the ways that researchers, experts, and parents strengthen children’s executive function skills as they encounter universal life experiences. My philosophy is this: Teach children to L.E.A.D., and they will thrive. That is, regularly help children as part of their daily routines to integrate:

Logic,

Emotions,

Analysis, and

Decision-making.

How does this work in practice? By empowering children to develop their own plans as they encounter new experiences—for everything from celebrations (e.g., creating a plan to make a holiday meaningful) to the most difficult of life’s challenges (e.g., creating a plan to mourn)—children integrate the key systems of the brain and boost executive functioning. Their ability to do this at a young age is astounding.

Mounting empirical evidence demonstrates the enormous value of encouraging children to develop their own plans. A large-scale study was conducted of the research-based early childhood program Tools of the Mind, a key part of which involved pre-school and kindergarten children creating, with the aid of a teacher, individual “play plans.” In their plans, children as young as three draw pictures of themselves in their chosen role, practice writing out their plans, and then attempt to execute (and as necessary, adjust) their plans. The results are overwhelming: Only half the kindergartners in the non-Tools group scored “proficient” at their grade-level, while 97% of their peers in the Tools group scored “proficient.” Additional testing of the program demonstrated among the Tools groups increased IQ scores and significant improvement in behavior ratings. Award-winning journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman conclude in Nurture Shock that through a plan-based curriculum “the child’s brain learns how one symbol combines with multiple other symbols, akin to high-order abstract thinking.”

From yet another perspective, Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the 10,000-hours rule for exceptional performance. As it turns out, this rule finds support in brain science. While early theories of the brain depicted it as unchangeable, we now know that due to the brain’s plasticity it can strengthen and increase connections with practice, especially for youth. Consequently, if we want children to strengthen their executive functioning to achieve social and academic success, then they need to practice executive function skills, i.e., developing and executing plans.

Just this December at the 2013 Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, Dr. Martin Seligman, the leader of the positive psychology field, referred to our species as “Homo Prospectus” (“the one who plans”), instead of “Homo Sapien” (“the one who knows”), emphasizing the profound importance of the skill of planning. Seligman asked the question: “Can we become better ‘prospectors’ and then become happier?”

Our blueprint for parenting should include plan-based tools for children to help them LEAD their futures in healthy and meaningful directions. We can’t control all of the good and bad things that will happen to our children, but we can give them the tools they need to make their experiences, whether joyous or painful, opportunities for growth. Stay tuned, as I explore the many ways we can empower children to boost their executive function skills through plan-based practice.

by Kim Peeples, Head of School at Groves Academy

Groves Academy’s Head of School, Kim Peeples, is being featured by multiple Twin Cities media outlets this week to share insights on how parents can help develop executive function skills at home.

Students with learning disabilities often struggle with executive functioning — which are the skills we use to manage our time, prioritize our activities, regulate our emotions, and persist in achieving a goal or completing a task.

Think of executive function as a conductor for an orchestra: An orchestra is made up of a variety of talented musicians and with the guidance of the conductor, they bring sounds of multiple instruments together to create beautiful music.

Parents, here’s what you can do to help develop your child’s executive functioning skills at home:

  • Involve your student in creating a goal they can accomplish by the end of the week, like creating a special family dinner
    • Together, create the tasks that need to be completed
    • Prioritize the order of completion for those tasks
    • Create a schedule for when the tasks need to be done

At the end of the week, perhaps during the special family dinner, be sure to talk about the experience. What worked well? What was challenging? What could have been done differently?

I invite you to learn more about Groves and our additional resources!

How to help your child to develop the 7 executive functioning skills

Did you know the brain doesn’t fully develop until age 28? Your child’s brain goes through a lot of growth and development from late childhood into teen years, especially their frontal lobe, the executive functioning center of the brain. You can think of the frontal lobe as the “air-traffic controller” for the brain, and we will discuss some ways to help strengthen the connections in the brain and build up executive functioning skills at home.

Why is this important? Strong executive functioning skills can set up your child for success in life, but these skills aren’t always taught in school. Skills like time management, attention to detail, organization, and planning don’t come naturally to most and must be practiced to become stronger, especially in the fast-paced world children face today.

We know as a parent you’ve probably heard, “I forgot it at school,” when they have reading to do or are familiar with finding out your child has a test the next morning and needs help studying at 8:00 p.m. As frustrating as these times can be, it is important to use them as “teachable moments” to show your child ways to develop executive functioning skills such as planning and prioritizing.

Helping your child strengthen executive functioning can be simple when you create a weekly routine. For example, you can encourage your child to plan out each week in advance. A great time is for this is on Sunday evenings, taking the time to sit together and plan your week out as well–children often model our behavior, so it is important to show, not just tell them about good habits! Keeping visual reminders around the house, such as a family whiteboard, calendar, and checklists are great ways for your child to track assignments, events, and extra-curricular activities. The brain is extremely visual and loves brightly colored reminders!

Planning and tracking goals can be extremely helpful in showing the importance of executive functioning to your child, as well as helping them see the importance of long-term planning. Work together to set a goal they can achieve in 3-6 months, and help your child create an outline of the steps needed to successfully complete the goal. Make sure the goal is attainable and the steps are small enough to complete at one time to ensure you are setting them up for success.

How we talk to ourselves is just as important as the actions we take. Sticking with a goal becomes extremely tough when we get down on ourselves, not to mention, challenges and roadblocks are bound to pop up for any goal. Teaching your child positive self-talk and having them visualize completing the goal will help them with the process.

There are also fun activities to help with frontal lobe development! Yoga is a great activity to help promote mindfulness and may help teens develop sustained attention, reduce stress, and promote less reactive, more reflective decision-making and behavior. A good-old fashioned card game such as Hearts, Rummy, or Spit can exercise working memory, cognitive flexibility, and sustained attention. Brain Teasers such as Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and Rubik’s Cubes are fun for long trips or a waiting room and can help increase mental flexibility!

Neurofeedback training can also help improve attention skills and concentration. Neurofeedback is direct training of brain function that teaches the brain to function more efficiently. In neurofeedback, the practitioner observes a child’s brain in action from moment to moment through monitoring their brain waves. They show that information back to the child, through a video or game, and reward the brain for changing its activity to more appropriate patterns. This is a gradual learning process. It teaches self-regulation to the brain, which is a necessary part of good brain function. Neurofeedback can help the brain learn better brain wave patterns, and the results are long-lasting!

If you would like additional support for your child through these years where executive functioning development is crucial, La Jolla LearningWorks offers a unique Executive Functioning Program, that teaches a new skill weekly, starting by helping your child to identify their unique learning style, and giving them tools and lessons to learn how to best manage their time, organization, and goals independently. Don’t hesitate in taking time to harness these skills — your child, their brain, and their future successes will thank you!

About the Author

Jillean Veroneau is an educator and neurofeedback clinician, with experience working with children with a range of developmental disabilities/needs including ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, Anxiety, Sensory Processing Disorder, Depression, Specific Learning Disability, Auditory Processing Disorder, and Visual Processing Disorder. Jillean provides educational therapy coaching for students at La Jolla LearningWorks to strengthen skills in executive functioning, as well as test preparation, reading and writing.