Father and son sit at the kitchen table with the son's homework spread out in front of them. Both are smiling.

Teaching Executive Function Skills at Home

Executive functioning (EF) skills are the cornerstone of academic success and personal growth. These skills, which include planning, organization, and emotional regulation, are critical for students to navigate the complexities of school and life. While schools play a role in teaching these skills, the home environment is an equally important arena for building executive functioning capabilities.

In this article, we’ll delve into the unique challenges and opportunities parents face in teaching executive functioning skills at home, offering practical strategies and actionable insights for success. We’ll explore why the home environment is a crucial training ground for these skills, how parents can overcome common challenges, and the long-term benefits of mastering executive function.


The Challenges Parents Face

Teaching EF skills at home is not without its hurdles. Older students, in particular, may resist parental guidance, viewing it as an intrusion into their independence. This resistance is often rooted in the adolescent quest for autonomy and identity formation. Parents may also find themselves struggling with their own executive function, adding another layer of complexity to the teaching process.

The solution? A collaborative approach.

Instead of positioning yourself as the teacher, engage in the learning process alongside your child. This fosters a sense of teamwork and makes the learning experience more enjoyable for both parties.

By adopting a collaborative approach, parents can show their children that they respect their growing independence while still providing the necessary guidance. This balance is crucial for fostering a positive learning environment at home.

Home vs. School Environment

The home environment offers a unique opportunity to set the standard for EF skills. Unlike schools, where different educators may have varying approaches to organization and time management, the home provides a consistent setting for teaching these skills. Parents have a critical role in being intentional about building EF skills and applying them to school tasks.

However, there’s a trap to avoid: doing tasks for your child instead of with them.

This not only undermines your child’s confidence but also sends the message that they are incapable of learning these essential skills. The home environment can serve as a foundational platform for executive functioning skills, but it’s crucial to understand how these skills translate into the school environment.

For instance, the organizational system that works at home may not be effective in a school setting where the child has to juggle multiple subjects and teachers. Parents should communicate with educators to ensure that the EF skills being taught at home are adaptable and effective in the school environment.

Elementary school age child sits in front of her mom at the kitchen table with paper and crayons in front of them.

Effective Strategies for Teaching Executive Function at Home

The key to teaching EF skills at home is to learn alongside your child. Model the behaviors you want to see, and involve your child in planning and organizational tasks.

Remember, developing executive function skills is a process that requires practice, repetition, and feedback. It’s not something that can be mastered overnight, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

To make this process more effective, consider setting up a dedicated space in your home where you and your child can work on EF tasks. This can help to create a focused environment that is conducive to learning.

While modeling is a powerful teaching tool, it’s also essential to provide children with the opportunity to practice these skills independently. Consider setting up ‘challenge tasks’ that require your child to utilize their newly learned executive functioning skills.

These tasks can range from organizing a small family event to managing a budget for a school project. The key is to provide just enough challenge to stretch their abilities but not so much that it leads to frustration or failure.

Practical Activities and Exercises

One effective exercise to improve time management is the “my available time” activity. This involves the entire family sharing their schedules for the upcoming week, identifying any conflicts, and planning accordingly. Make it a weekly ritual to sit down as a family and discuss the week ahead. This not only improves time management but also fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility.

Another activity you can try is the “task breakdown” exercise. This involves taking a larger task and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts. This can help to make daunting tasks seem more achievable and can be a great way to teach planning and prioritization skills.

Adapting Strategies for Different Ages

Executive functioning skills are not one-size-fits-all. What works for a high school student may not be appropriate for a younger child. Tailor your approach based on your child’s age and developmental stage.

Remember, “the seeds we sow today are the forests of tomorrow.” The skills you teach now will benefit your child for years to come. For younger children, consider using visual aids like charts or graphs to help them understand concepts like time management.

For older children, consider involving them in more complex planning activities, such as planning a family vacation or budgeting for a large purchase.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Parents often make the mistake of rushing the learning process or solving problems for their children. While it may be tempting to resolve conflicts quickly, this robs your child of the opportunity to learn valuable problem-solving skills.

Another common mistake is not embracing setbacks as learning opportunities. The mantra here is, “Process trumps perfection.” Take the time to discuss challenges and setbacks with your child, offering constructive feedback and encouragement. Encourage your child to reflect on their mistakes and think about what they could do differently next time. This can be a powerful learning experience that can help to build resilience and problem-solving skills.

Another common mistake parents make is the overuse of technology as a solution. While apps and tools can be helpful, they are not a substitute for fundamental EF skills like planning and prioritization. Parents should use technology as a supplement, not a replacement, for teaching these skills. For example, while a to-do list app can help with task management, it’s equally important to teach your child how to prioritize tasks based on deadlines and importance.

Mom and young daughter high five while sitting in front of an open laptop.

The Role of Parents

Parents should be actively involved in teaching EF skills but not to the extent that it causes conflict or stress. If you find it challenging to teach these skills, consider using resources like the Effective Student Course as a learning tool for both you and your child. This can provide a structured approach to mastering EF skills and offer valuable insights from experts in the field.

Additionally, don’t hesitate to seek external help if needed. Sometimes, a third-party perspective can provide valuable insights that you might not have considered. Parents should not underestimate the impact of their own behavior on their children’s development of EF skills. Children are keen observers and will often emulate the behaviors they see. Therefore, it’s crucial for parents to practice good EF skills themselves.

If you’re struggling with these skills, consider it a learning opportunity for the whole family. There’s no shame in admitting that you’re working on improving these skills, and doing so can make the learning process more relatable and less intimidating for your child.

Long-Term Benefits of Teaching Executive Function at Home

The benefits of mastering EF skills extend far beyond academic success. These skills are also crucial for emotional well-being. For instance, good emotional regulation skills can help children navigate the challenges of adolescence and adulthood, from handling relationship issues to managing stress at work.

Therefore, it’s crucial to make EF skill development a lifelong pursuit, rather than just a means to an academic end.

Parent marking something on a hanging family calendar while holding a coffee.

Putting Executive Function Skills into Practice

Teaching EF skills at home is a rewarding but challenging endeavor. However, with the right strategies and mindset, you can set your child up for long-term success. Remember, the home environment is not just a place to relax and unwind; it’s also a crucial training ground for developing skills that will serve your child for a lifetime.

A dedicated black female teacher enthusiastically guiding her students through a lesson, fostering an engaging and inclusive learning environment.

Quick Guide: Teaching Executive Functioning to High School Students

Many students’ transition to high school can be difficult, especially if they don’t have the necessary executive functioning skills. According to a 2010 study on academic vulnerability and resilience during the transition to high school, 

“The transition to high school is a critical stage in students’ academic trajectories and can be especially difficult for middle school students who struggle academically. Starting high school on a low academic track and with low academic performance often leads to dropping out of high school.”

The pressures of high school academics can be overwhelming for students that already struggle with handling school assignments, projects, and preparing for assessments. In addition, as students prepare for college, it’s crucial to have a system in place to thrive academically. That’s why executive functioning coaching is crucial for high school students. 

At Effective Students, we’ve seen the importance of this coaching first-hand by working with high school students to give them the framework they need to be prepared for college. We do this by teaching students a process and giving them the space and time to practice, leading to skills and independence. 

Want to learn more? Because we’ve done so much work with executive functioning coaching, we wanted to make a guide breaking down the benefits and how it works for students. Read this guide to learn more about what your high school student can get from coaching! 

Defining Executive Functioning 

While executive functioning sounds complicated if you’re unfamiliar, it is a fundamental skill. As Harvard University defines it, executive functioning allows you to “plan ahead and meet goals, display self-control, follow multiple-step directions even when interrupted, and stay focused despite distractions.” It is also often paired with self-regulation, which describes your ability to control how you respond to emotions and situations. Students with ADHD often struggle with both things, but ultimately, executive functioning is a learned skill— so all students can benefit from it. 

Two black students diligently collaborating on their homework, demonstrating teamwork and commitment to their academic growth.

At Effective Students, we go deeper into the definition of executive functioning. For us, executive functioning skills fall into two categories: 

  • Academic Management Skills– This involves planning ahead, meeting goals, and following directions in a sequence to complete class assignments. Students with these skills can also apply what they’ve learned.  
  • Social-Emotional Skills– This skill set is more related to how students respond to outside stimuli. This is about staying focused, managing your emotional response to stressors, and self-regulation. 

Both of these groups of skills make up the umbrella of executive functioning and set students up for success. For high school students, having executive functioning skills can be the difference between success and frustration, between getting paralyzed by tasks or being able to get things done one step at a time. If a student has executive dysfunction, no matter how exceptional or passionate they are about the subject, they can struggle to evaluate resources, complete tasks, maintain focus, and complete work efficiently.

That’s why it is important to prioritize ensuring students acquire these skills. While students can learn the frameworks associated with academic management and social-emotional skills, they’re typically not taught in the classroom. In addition, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students may have lost the opportunity to develop the executive functioning skills they need,  especially in the absence of a consistent structure of a classroom. 

With the proper lessons and supportive coaching, students can develop executive functioning skills to successfully respond to the pressures of high school and skill sets like prioritizing, starting, and completing tasks. This will ultimately set them up for success and allow them to thrive in high school and beyond.

Executive Functioning Skills in High School

High school has unique stressors for students, as many are also starting to think about their college decision down the line. In addition to being in a new environment, students also may be taking more rigorous classes and balancing extracurriculars. While more challenging courses and engaging after school activities look great on a college application, it can be a recipe for an overwhelmed student. This is especially true if they haven’t already developed the executive functioning skills they need to thrive in high school. 

A bearded white male teacher actively instructing students using a computer monitor, facilitating a technology-enhanced learning experience.

To help high school students meet the unique challenges they’re facing, our coaches teach three critical skills: 

  • Working Memory– This is holding information in your brain while adding more information. Essentially, this is what allows you to combine two parts to solve a problem. With this skill, you can manage tasks and understand expectations.  Students who struggle with Working Memory can overcome this challenge with specialized instruction. 
  • Flexibility– This skill is related to flexible thinking, which allows you to make changes comfortably, even in your thoughts. This will enable students to adjust their approach to learning or solving a problem without feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Self Control– This skill helps students learn to think before acting and build focus skills. By building self-control, you can set aside time to work on your academics without getting distracted. This skill also pairs with self-monitoring, in which you can be aware of yourself, your emotions, and your performance. By understanding yourself and your current position or state, you can better understand your needs and are aware enough to balance them with your responsibilities. 

Beyond these core skills, our executive functioning coaches also teach vital skills like time management, sustained attention, task initiation, and stress tolerance.  By building emotional-social and academic management skills, students learn to manage all of their classes, extracurriculars, and after-school jobs without feeling overwhelmed. By focusing on emotional and challenging academic skills, students can have the toolbox that they need to succeed. These core skills, such as building organization, time management, study skills, and test analysis, create the framework for success. 

Together,  these skills equip high school students to balance their workload and thrive in their environment. In addition, if your student struggles to recover from distance learning, an academic coach can help with structure, accountability, encouragement, and learning guidelines. Providing these frameworks will help your student re-learn the skills they lost or missed. 

What Executive Functioning Coaching For High School Looks Like

While knowing what skills your high school student needs is important, they also need the right process to learn executive function effectively. 

An African American high school student confidently reading her essay aloud to the class, showcasing her communication skills and academic prowess.

At Effective Students, our team of successful professionals, educators, counselors, and graduate students imparts skills to a younger generation of students focusing on building academic grit. Using the Effective Student™ method, students work with coaches in one-on-one coaching sessions to learn core executive functioning skills. 

When students and parents join the initial consultation, we discuss what to expect from an Effective Student Certified Coach, how to partner with a coach for student success, and answer questions. Students complete an initial self-evaluation to determine their level of self-awareness and current functioning. Parents share observations, concerns, and goals for coaching sessions and student outcomes. This initial session allows us to set goals and determine the process a student will likely follow. 

Coaching begins with an introduction that explains executive functioning and learning and to understand what the student wants to get out of the coaching process. Students are invited into the methodology rather than kept in the dark, becoming partners in their success. By understanding the learning approaches and the reasoning behind why our frameworks are effective, they understand expectations of themselves, their coach, and how to self-monitor and progress. Focusing on the pillars of organization, time management, and study skills, students can put the lessons into practice as they navigate high school. The coaching includes interactive lessons, instructional videos, exercises, quizzes, online materials, and a pacing guide for parents and students. 

At Effective Students, we break down coaching into four stages: 

  1. Coaching Begins– The student meets with the coach weekly, or more often if needed, to implement steps to build executive functioning skills and learn processes to follow. 
  2. Parent Feedback– The parent provides feedback about independence at come. The coach incorporates this feedback into lessons. They also assign the student one or two goals to try. 
  3. Refined Problem Solving– Students refine specific study activities to improve test performance. They also continue metacognitive activities and process independence. At this stage, the student leads more sessions. 
  4. Move to Independence– Students start moving towards increased independence and the use of executive functioning skills. Support is faded by frequency, or the student transfers to a small group and returns to coaching during transitions. 

With the skills learned across all of these stages, students can stay more on top of their classes and experience less stress, and support for independence prepares them for college and how to self-advocate in that environment. 

Ready to Try Executive Functioning Coaching with Effective Students?

Of course, this is a broad overview of the importance of executive functioning coaching for high school students and a snapshot of our process. While it can be daunting to go through the process, choosing a partner like Effective Students makes the path toward well-developed executive functioning skills more straightforward. If you’re ready to start considering coaching for your student, we’d be happy to discuss this further. 

At Effective Students, we’ve created engaging courses and insightful programs that help students develop a robust skill set of executive functions, leading to long-term success. 

While our one-on-one coaching sessions are recommended for building executive functioning skills for high school students, we also have the Effective Student™ course. This course teaches some of the essential skills our coaches teach. If you’re ready to find the right option for you, contact our team to learn more.

Learn about the differences between Executive Dysfunction vs. Procrastination

Executive Dysfunction vs. Procrastination: Understanding the Difference in Students

When your student puts off their work, you may find yourself asking: are they simply procrastinating? Procrastination is tied closely to the behavioral condition called executive dysfunction—to the point where the two terms are often confused or misused.

In this article, we’ll define and differentiate executive dysfunction and procrastination.

What Is Executive Dysfunction?

To understand executive dysfunction, we must first define executive function. Executive function is the skill set that lets a person evaluate resources, formulate a plan and follow through with the plan to reach their intended goals.

Executive functioning skills is an umbrella term that represents almost a dozen discrete skills, including organization, time management, planning and prioritizing, sustained attention, Working memory, task initiation (getting started), emotional control, flexible thinking, goal directed persistence, metacognition (thinking about your thinking and self awareness), response inhibition (thinking before acting/texting/speaking), and stress tolerance.

Well-developed executive functions require a dance of all of these skills summarized as a self-regulatory process that connects cognition with action and behavior.

On the other hand, executive dysfunction, sometimes called executive function disorder (EFD), is a behavioral condition where a person has significant challenges calling on their executive function skills, making it difficult to plan ahead, stay focused, problem-solve, and more. However, executive functions are skills, which means they can be developed with instruction and practice.


Executive Dysfunction and ADHD

Executive dysfunction is still being studied, but it has a clear connection to other conditions, like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Students with ADHD have unique challenges, though, and thus may experience executive dysfunction to varying degrees. People who do not have ADHD can still experience executive dysfunction.  To learn more about the relationship between ADHD and Executive Function, see our article, “ADHD & Executive Functioning – The Chicken or the Egg?”

According to ADDitude Magazine, “ADHD is a biologically based disorder and a developmental impairment of executive functions—the self-management system of the brain.” It can help educators and students alike to think of executive functions as little managers in the brain, organizing tasks and planning ahead.


What Is Procrastination?

Procrastination is the deliberate action of postponing doing a task, even though the consequences of the delay are known. For example, if a student has two weeks to complete a project  assignment but does not get started on it until the day before, most parents and educators assume the student has procrastinated. 

The key word here being
deliberate, which means intentionally; in this case, if a student has procrastinated, he or she intentionally or deliberately waited to do the assignment. If procrastination is at play, most often the student is exhibiting a behavior.  To learn more about the difference between a behavior or a skill, check out our article, ”Behavior and the Wizard of Oz: What’s Behind the Curtain?”

Scientific Reports defines procrastination as “a self-regulatory problem of voluntarily and destructively delaying intended and necessary or personally important tasks.” For students and young people, it can be especially difficult to identify how procrastination negatively impacts not only their grades but also their overall behavioral health.


Comparing Executive Dysfunction and Procrastination

Put simply, executive dysfunction is a condition where one has consistent difficulties with the cognitive and behavioral skills related to planning, managing, and executing tasks, while procrastination is the deliberate avoidance of completing a task.  While it appears that procrastination is a common occurrence for a student struggling with executive dysfunction, it is important to distinguish that often skill deficits in task initiation or planning and prioritizing are instead present, rather than intentional procrastination.

In practice, it can be challenging to distinguish whether executive dysfunction or procrastination are present since they share a lot of overlap, thus they can be hard to untangle, particularly when they present so similarly in the classroom environment. Fortunately, well-developed executive function skills built on sound processes can both remedy the executive skill of task initiation and lead to timely work completion and reduced anxiety and stress.


Causes of Executive Dysfunction

Despite how commonly executive dysfunction occurs, we don’t know its true cause. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Experts don’t fully understand why executive dysfunction happens, or why it can take so many different forms.” It has been linked to a range of other factors and conditions, including ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, depression, degenerative brain diseases, and more.

However, almost all teens with or without a specific diagnosis struggle with executive function skills.   These critical skills are developed through the teen years and are managed by the prefrontal cortex or the frontal lobe of the brain. The prefrontal cortex develops between the ages of 13 and 23 (and sometimes up through 25 for individuals with ADHD) which is why we observe teens struggling to connect their choices with outcomes. To read more about the Teen Brain, see this article from American Academic of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving and Decision Making.”

When a student is observed not completing a project over time, or waiting until the last minute to complete homework, if educators had the instructional tools to deliberately teach students how to plan, prioritize and break assignments into manageable parts, it would be easier to identify if executive dysfunction or procrastination habits occurred first for a student. 

Exploring the origin of why a specific student is having such a hard time getting started on their work (the skill of task initiation) will inform the appropriate instructional strategy. From there, teachers can tailor instruction for the student or groups of students to help them develop skills to overcome their executive dysfunction and eliminate the habit of procrastination.

For many  students, a lack of knowledge impairs them from starting. As adults, we are quick to assume that a student doesn’t do something because they don’t want to, not because they actually don’t know how to. If a student is confused about the outcome of the project or struggles with the subject material, they don’t know how to begin. 

Students may not feel confident that they know enough about the task to do it, or they experience anxiety about how challenging they perceive it to be, so they simply do not start. As academic coaches, we often see written project handouts and assignment sheets that appear to be clear to the teacher, but when we review them with the student, they are missing key components for students to follow a step-by-step process.  

In other situations, students are charged with completing tasks that are unenjoyable, boring, or cumbersome—maybe it’s their least favorite school subject or class. As adults, we may forget the lack of agency many students feel, since It’s easy to forget how having to complete unpreferable tasks is part of growing up. 

As adolescents, students have not developed the self-discipline to push past these negative feelings and get started anyway.  We often observe students  prioritizing non-academic pursuits that they consider to be more fun or engaging. We could share thousands of examples but in the age of cell phones, but we think you get the idea.

Executive dysfunction is closely tied to ADHD, but whether it’s a cause or a symptom is still up for debate. It’s important to consider that students with ADHD or other conditions may concurrently experience symptoms beyond executive dysfunction that affect their classroom experience and behavior.


Symptoms of Executive Dysfunction in Students

Executive dysfunction can have the following symptoms (just to name a few):

  • Inability to manage and control emotions
  • Information processing challenges
  • Trouble managing and organizing tasks and materials
  • Inability to plan ahead for future events
  • Trouble with follow-through on long-term actions


For example, a student may sit down to work on one homework assignment but completely miss that they have another assignment as well. They could forget about the upcoming test they have or let their fear prevent them from committing to studying.

Students with executive dysfunction may display an inability to self-regulate in terms of both cognition and behavior. Some of their peers may look at step-by-step directions and get started with ease, but that type of self-management isn’t possible for them due to their executive dysfunction.


6 Strategies to Address Executive Dysfunction

An executive functioning coach working with a student.

  1. Build behavioral momentum. Take the time to clearly communicate how it will be easier to start with one or two aspects of the task and go from there. The student will build confidence as they approach more difficult activities. 
  2. Set sub-goals. Break down the assignment into smaller parts that are easier for the student to understand. These sub-goals can serve as checkpoints and make it easier to monitor progress.
  3. Explain the “why.” Inform the student about why the assignment must be done and give them an idea of the big picture. Resilient Educator explains, “Clearly communicating our expectations and explaining how they align with course competencies helps students see a purpose to their learning.”
  4. Implement a break system. Regular breaks can give students a bit of relief and allow them to regroup with fresh eyes rather than grinding away at the same assignment for hours.  
  5. Be empathetic. Explain to the student that they may experience intrusive negative emotions when they aren’t succeeding at their executive functions, but that’s normal. Reframing for a more positive mindset can foster a healthier relationship with learning.
  6. Fade support. As students become more independent with a process, make sure to take a few steps back so they can begin working on their own.

3 Strategies to Address Procrastination

  1. Don’t label them. Once a student is called a procrastinator, they can adopt the label and decide there’s little they can do about it. Instead, focus on specific strategies to motivate the student.
  2. Show simple steps. Review the expectation of the assignment and the required steps, giving them more time to absorb the information and cement understanding.
  3. Create a schedule. Set aside a specific time block for homework or studying. A sense of routine can help remove some of the outside distractions that feed into procrastination.

Read more tips on how to stop procrastinating homework in this article.


How Academic Coaching Can Address Executive Dysfunction

Academic coaching can be transformative for students.

What is the difference between an academic coach and a tutor? Often, when a student is struggling in class, a tutor is called. Tutors are experts on subject material, though, and not on the study habits and self-regulation skills that students with executive dysfunction experience. Instead of seeking a tutor, students with executive dysfunction can benefit more from an academic coach or executive function courses, like those we offer at Effective Students.  

The popular Effective Student Method™ course teaches executive function skills to students through a step-by-step academic management style where they can see their progress. The course is appropriate for students from fourth grade to twelfth grade.

For students who would benefit from  one-on-one support, our academic success coaches can deliver in-person or virtual sessions. Working alongside the students, academic coaches can model specific skills and monitor progress in real time. Individual instruction affords parent and school collaboration as needed. 


Explore Academic Coaching for Executive Dysfunction and Procrastination

Executive dysfunction and habitual procrastination can be daunting to overcome. Fortunately , you don’t have to do it alone. At Effective Students, we created engaging courses and insightful programs that help students develop a powerful skill set of executive functions, leading to long term success. 

Explore the Effective Student Method™ course and one-on-one coaching sessions from Effective Students. To find the right option for you, contact our team to learn more.

how to help your child develop self-regulation skills

Helping Your Child Develop Self-Regulation Skills

Setbacks are a natural part of life. The perfect plan is usually too good to be true and is often never executed as intended; there’s almost always a pesky roadblock that keeps things from running smoothly. Whether that be a pop quiz that messes with a student’s chances of getting an A in a class, an injury that keeps an athlete from playing in the final game of a season, or a literal roadblock in the form of traffic that makes someone late for class, there’s always going to be challenges that we’re going to have to face. Unfortunately, this can be a hard reality for a lot of young people and sometimes their reactions to adversity make an unfavorable situation worse. This is when self-regulation skills, also known as self-management skills, become an invaluable resource for young people in school and later on in life.

Emotional Quotient and Why It Matters

Self-regulation skills are one of the five main characteristics that make up an individual’s emotional quotient (EQ), or in other words: emotional intelligence. Self-regulation, self-awareness, motivation, empathy, and social skills work hand in hand to make us part of a well-adjusted member of society. 


Self-regulation is the ability to modulate an emotional response to a desired or undesirable situation or turn of events. Examples are remaining calm when things don’t go as planned or refraining from emotionally withdrawing when encountering a setback. Even getting upset but returning to a calm state would qualify as being able to ‘self-regulate’. Having deficiencies in self-management skills makes for an unbalanced EQ, often leading to undesirable outcomes in the form of low self-esteem and low self-confidence for kids and adults in the long run.

Signs of Underdeveloped Self-Management Skills

Parents or teachers may observe a student who is emotionally sensitive in response to situations not going their way, has a large emotional reaction to disappointment or frustration, and/or becomes stuck (rigid) in an angry state and is unable to calm down without external support. These students often fixate on the negative emotions and miss out on opportunities to healthily overcome adversity and grow from the experience. Facing undesirable situations is an inevitable law of life. Using one’s self-regulation skills to emotionally modulate responses is important to get along in social settings, adjust expectations to complete tasks and ultimately learn from mistakes.

Self-Regulation Skills for Children

The ability to self-regulate begins from the moment we’re born into the world. A baby is capable of practicing self-management skills when it self-soothes by sucking on a pacifier or focusing in on the colorful mobiles hanging from atop the crib. Later on, young toddlers and elementary school-aged children learn to reflect on their feelings before they act on their impulses by practicing breathing techniques or counting strategies to cool down if they feel upset in moments of distress. As they age and school becomes more complex these strategies need an upgrade. Higher-level concepts like time management and careful, purposeful planning become crucial to meet the needs of middle school, high school, and college workloads. 

Self-Regulation Skills for Students

Being able to plan around or adjust to potential setbacks is one of the most important skills that a student can have in school. In fact, setbacks are often disguised as learning opportunities.  For instance, you aren’t always able to pick the partner of your choice for a project, and sometimes you’ll feel like there just isn’t enough time to study and also keep up with band or soccer practice. Life gets hectic and the need for discipline and grit is essential when confronting all that life has to throw at us. At Effective Students, we help your student grow by reframing situations and providing guidance using the tenets of good executive functioning coaching. 

Self-Management Skills Examples

Self-regulation and self-management skills fall under the umbrella of executive functioning, encapsulating the necessary mental processes that allow us to focus our attention, plan, and organize tasks effectively, and adjust to the unexpected. 


The following executive functioning skills, when taught successfully by the right coach or teacher and parents will yield incredible results for children that struggle with self-management skills:

  • Planning & Prioritizing
    • With the right scheduling and planning, a student will feel comfortable knowing exactly what is expected during the school day. By having a good plan for the week, you can account for any bumps in the road by prioritizing activities according to their rank of importance. 
  • Organization
    • Having the right materials organized in the way that best suits a student’s learning needs is crucial. There is much relief when you know exactly what works and where it is located. 
  • Time management
    • This goes hand and hand with planning and prioritizing. The busier the schedule, the more time management is necessary to make things happen. A student can feel overwhelmed without a proper sense of time management in their lives. 
  • Emotional Regulation
    • Breathing techniques and other forms of self-awareness including physical activity are excellent channels that go a long way toward helping kids when they encounter stressful or unexpected situations. By incorporating these into their lives, students will grow the appropriate social-emotional responses to many of life’s challenges. 

Find ways to incorporate self-regulation skills activities into the lives of your students and children by visiting and researching our course curriculum and speaking to one of our trained executive functioning coaches! Having well-balanced self-regulation skills is an important part of school and life.  At Effective Students, we can help your student develop the skills to be strong, self-directed learners.

what is flexible thinking

What is Flexible Thinking?

Flexible thinking is the ability to think about something in a new or different way.  Inflexible thinking or rigidity is being stuck or being only able to do something only one way.  Students who struggle with executive functioning often also struggle with fundamental skill.  They may be stuck in a routine or mindset that isn’t working for them.  They may be aware that what they are doing isn’t working but not be able to make a change or be willing to even entertain a change. 

Becoming a Flexible Thinker

A few years ago, I worked with a fifth grader whose parent and teacher shared that the student struggled with organizational skills and executive functioning.  Upon meeting the student for the first time, I asked to see his binders (there were 7) and asked if he was open to a change in how he was managing them.  He refused to even show me his backpack and held his binders to his chest as if I was going to steal them.  In this scenario, I had to be the flexible thinker (modeling) and move to another lesson until he trusted me enough to come back to demonstrating the Organization skill.  Ultimately, the student earned the most improved 5th grader award and rightfully so! He did a lot of growing that year.  

To the observer, the lack of flexible thinking may sound like, “I don’t need help” or “My way works” or “I’ve already tried that”.  The behaviors have been observed in students and adults alike.

We can’t effectively discuss flexible thinking without broaching the subject of margin and anxiety.  Margin is the bank of reserves we have available of time, money or maybe patience.  It’s what we may have set aside in case of emergencies, the unexpected or surprises.  

When students are in a state of ease (lots of margin), mental flexibility is much easier.  They may be open to considering or even trying new things, open to learning and even solving problems.  The opposite is also true, when students are in a state of stress, they are generally out of margin, are less flexible and more rigid.   

Students are more open to flexible thinking when they have a process they can control to manage their affairs.  Learning that process begins with managing time/tasks effectively so they can build margin into their day and week for self care, self management and planning.  

Time Management →  Margin →  Flexible Thinking

Once students have a process to see and plan their time and tasks, they can build the muscle of flexible thinking by being rewarded for variations and adjustments to their processes, like a science experiment and soliciting their feedback on those adjustments (metacognitive exercise).

For students with executive functioning difficulties, flexibility thinking and structure are important opposites to balance.  A problem can have more than one solution!  Students are more open to flexible thinking when they feel safe, have a process they can follow and are rewarded for trying new solutions.     

Want to learn more about executive functioning and how it may help your student?  Contact us!

© 2023 Effective Students by W3 Connections Inc.