How to Improve Executive Functioning Skills and get your Child Organized for the New Year

Enrichment Therapies

January 20, 2020

By: Kaylie Wright, M.A. CCC-SLP

What are executive functions and what can you do as a parent to support their development? Executive functions are the mental processes that enable us to plan, control our behavior, focus, and manage multiple tasks successfully to help achieve the desired goal. Oftentimes, for students in elementary school (or younger) there are supports in place to help students stay on task and keep organized. As students get older, these supports dwindle and they are expected to take these responsibilities on themselves. 

Once students start middle school or high school the expectation is that these skills have been mastered. Unfortunately, this is often not the case and can be overwhelming for many students. These skills may need to be explicitly taught, modeled, and practiced to facilitate success. Here are some ways that you can help your child get organized and prepare for the new year. 

Check Lists/Prioritize – It may be difficult for students to visualize the tasks at hand. A simple checklist or To-Do-List may be beneficial. This could be done with lists or pictures. It is also important to prioritize the list to help your student use their time efficiently. Creating a list will help the student know what to expect next and minimizes the decision-making process and in turn, keeps the child’s focus on the task at hand.

Set Time Limits – Creating a time limit will help students know what to expect and how long they have to keep working on a specific task. This can decrease anxiety about how long a task will take. If the student does not finish the task in the time allotted, adjust your time limit moving forward or come back to it at a later time. 

Establish a Routine – This can be especially beneficial for older students that struggle to start their homework. It may be helpful for students to start their homework at the same time each day. Homework should be done in a quiet, well-lit space with few distractions. 

Color Coordinate – If your student struggles to keep their things organized, color-coordinating their notebook and folder may facilitate success. This also makes it easy and quick to find the matching materials needed for each class/subject. 

Planner/Organizer – Many schools require students to use planners these days but it is important to teach students how to use them. Oftentimes, students that struggle with executive functions have poor working memory which in turn makes it difficult to remember things like homework assignments. It may also be beneficial to color code the planner according to the matching notebook/folder color system. This will keep the visual supports consistent to help your students know exactly what is due for each class/subject. 

Clearly Discuss Rationale – Your student is learning these new skills that may not come naturally, therefore, it is crucial to spell out why each step is being done. Students may feel that some steps are adding too much time or are unimportant, so discussing why they are important will be worthwhile. It is also important to keep an open line of communication. If something isn’t working well, it is ok to change it! Some tools also may work for a while and as the student grows and matures, the tool may no longer be supportive. Talking with your student about their progress in executive functioning is important to aid in the success and further developing skills. 

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success.  Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.

740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317


5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131



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