With executive functioning skills now seen as more important to your child’s learning and academic success than their IQ, there’s never been a better time to help improve them. This specific set of skills can help kids formulate and pursue goals, focus their attention, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks successfully to name a few. However, as executive functioning skills aren’t always taught in school, many children may have difficulties establishing them. Here’s some ways you can help your child enhance these vital skills.
Understanding executive functioning
Executive functioning isn’t what we get done, but rather how we get it done. When narrowing down the specific skills that make up executive functioning it includes organisation, time management, planning and attention to detail. The brain uses this set of skills to filter distractions, prioritise, set and achieve goals, anticipate obstacles and control impulses.
According to Harvard University, executive functioning consists of three types of mental processes:
- Working Memory: Storing and processing information over short periods of time.
- Inhibitory control: Resisting impulses and thinking before acting.
- Cognitive flexibility: Focusing and shifting attention in response to different situations.
It’s also important to be able to spot weak executive functioning in your child. Here’s what to look out for.
- Difficulties focusing attention
- Trouble controlling behaviour
- Unable to plan or prioritise
- Find it hard to hold information in working memory
Improving kids executive functioning skills
Make a Daily Schedule
Ask your child to make a schedule for one day during the weekend. Ask them to think through and write down what tasks they need to do and what activities they’ve got planned, including homework time, meeting friends and having dinner. Get them to organise the tasks in chronological order and write down a daily schedule to follow. Doing this acts as a workout for their brain as it helps them process information, organise it and create a coherent plan accordingly. Remember to just offer your help and not do it for them!
Establishing daily routines with your child helps to improve their muscle memory, organising skills and the ability to juggle multiple tasks. This can be as simple as having 1 hour homework time as soon as they get home from school, hanging up their uniform each day and packing their school bag the night before. Start by creating a chart showing what needs to be done each day so your child can tick it off as they go. After a while, remove the chart and watch them complete their routine without being prompted!
Play Strategy Games
A fun way to enhance executive functioning skills is by playing strategy games with your child. This can include board games like chess, card games or memory activities. Often these games require your child to focus their attention and make quick decisions, which helps develop their working memory and cognitive flexibility.
Using External Reminders
If your child has trouble remembering information, start by removing barriers by making as much information as possible available to them. For example, if your kids lose track of big projects or completing homework to deadline, they’ll benefit from having a planner or electronic alerts sent to them; if they easily lose track of time, a clock or watch can help them improve time management skills or if they’re having issues remembering information from lessons, recording audio may improve their study sessions. Learning how to compensate for lack of a specific skill by making information easily visible will not only enhance your child’s performance but increase their self-esteem.
Tip: Remember, when helping your child to increase their executive functioning skills, it’s important to provide the minimum amount of support necessary for success. It can be easy for adults to give too much support, which can sometimes lead to your kids not developing the skills independently. Instead, determine how far your child can get with a task and only intervene if they need it.