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.

© 2023 Effective Students by W3 Connections Inc.