Does your teen need help learning to organize and prioritize their work?  Executive functioning skills are the key!

It seems like every teenager has trouble planning their day around their homework, sports activities, or just plain getting things done. But, we are not born with organizational and planning skills! But with a little patience and practice kids of all ages can develop skills appropriate for their age. 

What is Executive Functioning?

You’ve probably heard the term “executive functioning” a lot lately. It seems like a lot of parenting sites, educational organizations, and even schools newsletters have been focusing on this term. So what are executive functioning skills? My favorite explanation is from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child:

Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. 

Children learn and develop different executive functioning skills at different stages. Teenagers should be able to do goal setting, planning and self-monitoring. However, schoolwork, sports, and other extracurricular activities demand executive functioning skills similar to adult levels. 

What if my teen seems more disorganized that most?

Problems with executive functioning skills don’t have to be related to a learning disability. While it is a common problem for kids with learning disabilities, most kids face the challenge of learning on their own how to prioritize and stay focused.

How can you help your teen?

One of our most important responsibilities as parents is to support our kids as they develop executive functioning skills so they can be more efficient as they work on a task or project to completion. But, most adults don’t have experience teaching others how to be better at planning, organizing, and self-monitoring results.

So what can you do if you’re not an expert? At the most basic level, teachers and parents can help set routines for organization, with key reminders and easy to follow timelines, and provide opportunities to practice the correct behavior.

5 easy steps to improve executive functioning skills

Sometimes the best thing to do is to oversimplify the routine until it feels like second nature. Your teen can start by following these simple steps every day:

  1. Plan ahead. Break each task or homework assignment into small pieces.
  2. Prioritize! Run through each task and decide which are the top 3 tasks that need to happen, and focus on those first.
  3. Set a timeline. How much time will you spend on each homework assignment?
  4. Set periodic check-in points. Set a timer and check in with yourself: Are you paying attention? Are you on task?
  5. End your day with self-reflection. Were you able to complete each assignment? Did I finish in the time I thought it would take?

The more they practice this routine, the more progress they will make in planning and time management. This can prepare them to organize an afternoon with many homework assignments, or juggling a long sports practice plus homework.

Ready to become a master planner? 😉

Creating an easy to follow system can play a big role in bringing your teen around to complete their work, while reducing the stress they feel from being overwhelmed. So they can get ready to get more done!


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Executive Functioning: 5 simple steps every teen can do to build their planning skills

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