Strategies to improve Executive Functioning skills (for children)
Updated: Jun 15
In this post, I explain expert tips to help your child in the following areas:
Before I start I’d like to acknowledge a key factor when utilizing the tips I mention below. If your child has difficulty with task initiation that could be a task initiation problem, but it can also be a symptom of a larger challenge. For example, maybe your child’s attention impacts their ability to initiate tasks, and if they were able to fully attend to tasks, they would no longer have a task initiation problem. It is always beneficial to consult with a professional if you have any concerns.
Now let’s take a dive into some tips that target each executive function skill…
Expert tips that help your child with task initiation
Recall from my last blog post, task initiation, or the ability to begin a task.
1. Setting up a routine for homework is always important.
Will homework be done right away? Right after a snack? Right after dinner? If there is a set time and place for homework, it is something a child will expect.
Homework can become a routine just like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. In 2009, Philippa Lally, et. al, concluded that it takes on average 66 days to solidify a new habit. Some took a little longer and others took a little shorter.
2. Transition prompts may be helpful when assisting children who present with challenges in task initiation.
An example can include a verbal prompt (for example, “in 5 minutes, you need to start your math homework.”)
3. Give your child choices. If your child has to accomplish multiple tasks, choices will allow them some options in what to tackle first, second, third, and last. If they have a choice, task initiation won’t be as challenging.
4. Most children and teenagers use technology as a distractor, thus often delaying task initiation. Instead, we can use technology as a reward.
For example, when your teenager completes x amount of work, they can go on their phone for x amount of minutes.
Expert tips that help your child with task completion:
Task completion is the ability to complete a task in entirety.
1. If your child can track progress, it will help children complete tasks more effectively and efficiently.
2. Some tasks seem insurmountable. Breaking things into manageable pieces so that not everything needs to be completed at once is a helpful strategy to assist in task completion.
3. Avoid distractions which make completing tasks more challenging.
Expert tips that help your child with organization difficulties
1. One of the most helpful tips for organization is utilizing a planner, especially one that has a week- or month- at a glance.
Expert tips that help your child with difficulties focusing:
Focus is the ability to attend to tasks while filtering out other distractions.
1. Be the role model for your child. This will show them that you, as the parent, can complete your work without scrolling through your phone.
2. Give your child multiple choices. This will allow them to have some authority over what they do and can improve their ability to focus.
Expert tips that help your child with working memory:
Working memory is the ability to hold information temporarily for immediate recall.
1. Reduce the direction length. Instead of giving multi-step directives, give one-step directions. Once your child is successful, move on to two-step directions, etc.
2. Have your child repeat directions back to you to ensure they know what they should be doing
3. Use Mnemonics.
Who remembers learning “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” or PEMDAS in math class? Mnemonics are a great way to recall important material.
4. Teach your child to offload information they cannot remember. Teach your child to write down steps in a direction or use a planner to help them remember everything.
Expert tips that help your child with response inhibition
Response inhibition is the ability to control impulses.
1. Play games that encourage response inhibition skills.
Examples include freeze dance, musical chairs, and simon says.
2. Help your child create a plan for undesirable behaviors.
For example, instead of taking your sister’s clothing without her permission, ask if it’s okay first.
3. Teach strategies, such as reviewing work. This will help them catch mistakes they otherwise wouldn’t have.
4. Children with response inhibition often trip up on multiple choice tests because there is often one response that looks right and if the child doesn’t read all the choices, she may choose the wrong answer. Teach them to read all the choices on a multiple choice test or assignment.
Expert tips that help your child with time management:
Time management is the ability to use your time effectively.
1. Have your child predict how much time is necessary for specific tasks. Write down these predictions as well as how long it actually took. Sometimes children do not actually know how long something will take. Once they know how long something will take, they will be able to manage their time in the future.
2. Planners with a week at a glance so that they can see and anticipate future tests/due dates and other commitments.
3. Breaking projects into smaller more manageable pieces that way your child won’t feel as overwhelmed.
Expert tips that help your child with flexibility:
Flexibility is the ability to be adaptable to one’s environment. Life is unpredictable and we need to cope.
1. Proactively teach flexibility. Make sure to vary activity and environments. Instead of going the same route to the park or the same grocery store, change things up. Show your child that you can accomplish the same thing while remaining flexible.
2. Play games that require flexibility. Examples include musical chairs and Simon says.
Expert tips that help your child with self-regulation:
Self-regulation is the ability to manage one’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts in order to achieve long-term goals.
1. Self-talk can be helpful. Help your child use phrases in their mind like “it is ok” or “I can get through this” when tasked with something they find challenging.
2. Breaking down a word problem. When breaking a larger problem into smaller pieces, it will be easier for a child to tackle and won’t create as much of a burdensome load for a child.
Expert tips that help your child with emotional self control:
Self Control is the ability to manage one’s emotions to achieve positive outcomes.
1. Talk about your own feelings! As a parent, it is important to be open and talk to your child about your own feelings.
2. Teach coping skills by modeling. When you feel frustrated or angry, model what you would do in front of your child.
3. Process the emotional event afterward. Following an emotional event, process what happened, what worked, what didn’t work, and what could be done differently next time.
4. If you watch movies with your children, talking about each of the characters and their emotions. While I am personally not a big proponent of TV and movies, I feel the movie “Inside Out” did a very good job at describing feelings.
Speech therapy with me
As a Speech-Language Pathologist specializing in helping individuals struggling with executive functioning, my job is to find and treat the root cause of the problem. I do this through informal testing and speaking with the child’s family members and/or teachers. There is no single formal assessment that provides an accurate measure of an individual’s executive functioning skills because executive functioning skills work in different permutations depending on the activity. What can appear as a challenge may be a symptom of a larger or a different challenge. By treating the root cause, a child or adult will have a much easier time managing the daily tasks and demands in their lives. It will reduce the stress in daily life and make planning much more manageable. To schedule your free consultation, please contact me here. I am here to help you find the best solution for your unique needs.
About the author:
Stephanie Jeret is a Speech-Language Pathologist and the owner of Speak with Stephanie LLC. She obtained her Bachelor's and Master's degree from the City University of New York. She has practiced speech therapy in a number of settings including outpatient rehabilitation, telepractice, skilled nursing facilities, schools, and a private practice. She specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of a variety of communication disorders including articulation disorders, receptive/expressive language disorders, and fluency disorders. Information is available by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting www.speakwithstephanie.com.