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Executive Function Skills: Strategies to Help Your Child

“Why aren’t you ready for school yet?”

“I can’t find the book I need for class.”

“Have you finished cleaning your room?”

“Why do I have to clean my room – it looks good to me.”

As a parent, I had conversations like these numerous times with my daughter, and I suspect they were not exclusive to my household. Often, adults ask children to complete large, multi-step directions and forget that they are still building the skills needed to complete the complex tasks successfully. Setting goals, organizing materials, initiating tasks, sustaining attention and self-monitoring finished products are all aspects of Executive Function (EF) skills. EF skills begin to develop in early childhood but do not reach maturity until the early twenties. Fortunately, there are some strategies that can help foster the growth of these skills:

Visual cues:

  • Use pictures to show what the child’s backpack should look like before s/he goes to bed.

  • As we approach snowy weather, use a sequence of pictures to show the order in which to put on all of the gear to go outside.

  • Have a picture of a clean room to use as a guide so your child knows exactly what you expect when it comes time to clean up.

Transition cues:

  • Use the timer on the microwave or phone to let your child know when there are five minutes left in an activity.

  • As you give the five minute cue, be very clear about what will happen next so the child can mentally prepare for the change in activity.

In school, teachers foster the growth of EF skills by implementing work plans, creating prepared environments and providing rubrics for grading in the Elementary classes. Given that our children are growing up in a world in which information is often only a computer click away, it is vital that learning how to learn coincide with learning new skills.

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