Executive functioning is a hot topic here, and for good reason. Executive functioning consists of the various mental processes and cognitive abilities that allow our students to stay organized, remember things, manage our time, solve problems, accomplish goals – basically everything required for academic success. At its core, executive functioning is the level of self-awareness that allows us to take a step back from our lives and “troubleshoot” from a more objective position. So, as parents who want to help our children succeed, how can we work on their executive functioning skills outside of school?
In short, the best thing you can do for your students to help them develop their executive functioning skills is to ask them questions that encourage them to reflect. Ask them questions like the following:
- What happened?
- What can you do differently next time?
- What did you do to get such a good grade?
- What roadblocks are you encountering with your chores/homework/etc.?
- How can I help you stay accountable with chores/homework/etc.?
Asking questions like these encourages them to step back and think about the issues they’re encountering, and it gives them a sense of agency over how they address those issues. Help them define the end result or goal, then work with them to create and maintain systems to reach those goals. These types of “systems” include things like checklists, step-by-step instructions, tools (think alarms, time organizers, planners, etc.), specific schedules (with big projects broken into manageable pieces), and visual aids.
Let’s take a look at a particularly useful example (especially if your student forgets things at home a lot): a morning routine checklist. There’s no such thing as “too specific”! Ask them to break down their morning into each individual task. Most importantly, ask them to list the things they need to ensure are in their backpack before they leave. This type of step-by-step approach utilizing a visual aid (the checklist) is particularly useful for improving executive functioning.
You don’t need to be an academic coach with a teaching degree to work with your child on their executive functioning. By encouraging and facilitating reflection regarding schoolwork, housework, and the other responsibilities on their plate, you can empower and motivate real change. What works? What doesn’t work? Being disorganized, scatterbrained, or [fill in the blank] aren’t permanent states of being. With a little help, troubleshooting is possible.