Have you ever wondered how your child can be so forgetful? How he consistently waits until the last minute to start his lab report, or how she routinely forgets to write down her English homework? If so, your child may have difficulties with executive functioning.
Executive functions, also known as “cognitive controls” or the brain’s “CEO,” are a set of processes that help with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve goals. These processes include working memory, planning, task flexibility, and initiation, among others. Schoolwork requires students to self-regulate their behavior, and so when there is a problem with executive functioning, you may see your child struggling with tasks such as starting their homework or keeping track of multiple assignments.
Following are five ready-to-use strategies to help lighten the load on your child’s executive system and build independent skills for long-term self-management:
- Create and post a weekly schedule. Outlining a detailed schedule will allow your child to see how much time he or she will need to dedicate to specific tasks. Budget time for everything from eating breakfast to Thursday’s tennis tournament, and be as consistent in scheduling homework time as possible.
- Break down larger assignments. Create a checklist to help your child see the individual components that are needed to successfully complete a larger project. Then have your child add these to his or her weekly schedule.
- Use technology. If your child struggles to start homework assignments, digital alarms can help cue this initiation; timers can promote focus by pushing students to complete tasks within a specified amount of time.
- Start assignments together. Spark your child’s initiation by helping to gather required materials and providing supervision. Begin pulling away as your child shows more independent success in starting work.
- Set goals. Work with your child to create specific, timely goals regarding, for example, writing down all homework assignments or breaking down larger assignments into daily tasks. Help your child monitor concrete action toward these goals and reflect on what is preventing and propelling their success.
Keep in mind that while these strategies provide a sound starting point, outside help may be needed to identify where a process breaks down, which executive functions are responsible, and what interventions will best help the individual child. Pick up a copy of Cooper-Kahn and Dietzel’s Late, Lost, and Unprepared for additional resources, but more importantly, try a strategy today!
Cofounder, Madison Tutoring