Executive Functioning And Your Child’s Success In School

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The summer is well underway with outdoor activities, vacations, new schedules, and, for many, a break from the structured educational settings of the school year. And while our minds take a break from the academic rigor of the school year, the summer can also be the perfect time to learn new skills and try out new habits and routines that will help students start off the school year on the right foot.

What are executive function skills and strategies? Executive function refers to the skills and strategies that occur in the brain that allow people to complete tasks. These include task initiation, organization, sustained attention, time management, working memory, and response inhibition. All children engage in executive function tasks on a daily basis, and everyone has areas that are stronger than others.

How do executive function skills help students at home and in school? As students continue to go through school, these skills gain importance. Students are often asked to manage their time for long-term projects, such as science fairs, book reports, etc. For students with executive function difficulties, these assignments are often time consuming, overwhelming, and draining for both parents and children. For older students in particular, focusing on their executive function over the summer months can be helpful in practicing strategies at home that then can be carried over into their schoolwork.

How do you decide which areas are strengths and which skills need extra practice? Here are some questions to think about:

  • Is it difficult for the students to transition between activities?

  • When given directions, do they follow through until a task is completed?

  • Are papers spilling out of their backpacks?

  • Do they have a hard time locating electronic documents that they need?

  • Can they keep track of items that are needed frequently, like shoes and masks?

How do I start helping my child with executive function skills? Focus on your child’s executive function strengths. Ask them what area they may want to work on, and discuss specific situations where improving this skill will be helpful in the future. For example, a parent may say, “Remember last year when you had that summer reading assignment for English class? You did well, giving good effort once you started it. You showed good perseverance. Do you also remember how it was hard to give yourself enough time to complete the reading and do the writing? For this year’s summer assignment, let’s sit down and create a list of what needs to be done and a timeline for accomplishing those goals. If we do that and stick to it, you may not feel as overwhelmed.”

For younger children, having weekly chores, utilizing a visual chart for their daily schedule, giving opportunities to follow multi-step directions, and emphasizing cleaning up after themselves are executive function tasks for which children can gain independence.

Like adults, children will be more likely to engage in something that interests them. Think about what your child enjoys and incorporate those things into their goal. Knowing their executive function strengths and areas for growth will allow students to reach out for help from teachers and adults and advocate for their needs in the future.

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