Here's How to Help Your School Child Cope With Executive Dysfunction

Here’s How to Help Your School Child Cope With Executive Dysfunction

Executive dysfunction can be difficult for people of all ages and in all situations. For children trying to manage a remote learning or training schedule, though, it can be even more frustrating.

Children haven’t yet developed executive functioning strategies to help aid them in their abilities to focus and complete tasks. These strategies are even difficult for some adults, so little ones need some assistance from caregivers and instructors.

If you’re trying to learn how to improve executive function for your child at home while they’re learning remotely or even completing day-to-day tasks, you’re already taking a good first step.

Keep reading to learn about a few helpful strategies for helping children develop their own executive functioning strategies and assisting them in that journey.

What is Executive Function?

What are the signs that your child is succeeding in their executive functioning abilities?

All children are going to be different, and their success should be measured by progress. A child (or adult) that is having no (or few) problems with executive function will be able to begin and complete a task without getting distracted.

There can be other things going on or other appealing options that they may want to participate in, even sounds or sights that might be distracting, and the task will still be completed even if multitasking is necessary.

A child that is unable to complete this task once set on it, or who is unable to set themself on a task in the first place, is showing signs of executive dysfunction.

This child may not have the ability to “get up and go” or organize their thoughts once they’ve gotten started. They need help facilitating that behavior in themselves in order to succeed.

People who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries, ADHD, mood disorders, depression, and more can suffer from executive dysfunction. Often times, a well-structured environment like a classroom is great for managing this functioning ability. But how can it be assisted when you’re in a non-structured environment for the first time?

Make (and Follow) Schedules

Your child needs structure. This is true of all children. Children thrive with firm structure and boundaries in place to help them learn.

Children who deal with executive dysfunction need structure more than other children, and they need this structure to be enforced. Adults suffering from executive dysfunction might realize that they don’t have the ability to follow their own schedules because they no longer have parents there to guide them. Your child has the benefit of a caregiver to help them on their path.

The schedules should be simple but clearly-laid-out sets of tasks that they can follow and check off as they’re completed. They might be segmented by time to help children go through their days with a clear plan.

When should your child get up for school even when that school is at home? When you’re in charge of lunch, what time will it be? Try to make it the same time every day. Your child will want to wander, but being firm about your schedule will make it more like a school environment.

Over time, these schedules can be less strict. With a child that really suffers from executive dysfunction though, you should not deviate.

Consider Reward Systems and Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a proven method for helping children’s behavior. Negative reinforcement can encourage bad habits in children while positive reinforcement can encourage a feeling of safety.

As a parent, you want to see your child succeed. When they’re struggling with schoolwork or performing poorly, you may be frustrated. That said, progress needs to be rewarded, not just perfection.

If your child is able to pay attention to their studies for longer than the week before, that is behavior that should be rewarded. This encourages growth. When your child doesn’t get up and do other things or get frustrated with their tasks, this is behavior that should be rewarded.

Children are constantly developing. Growing up is an exhausting process and it’s made more exhausting by having a mind that refuses to function “correctly”. Supporting your child with praise when they progress is crucial.

Encourage Active Reading and Listening

Your child may have a hard time focusing on what they’re trying to consume for their studies, whether it’s a movie, a podcast, or a book.

Practicing active reading and listening activities with your child both inside and outside of the learning environment is a great way to help them learn to slow down and focus on what they’re doing. A child with executive dysfunction might seem like a fast reader (if they’re of reading age) but they might be on autopilot and not actually digesting any of the content. The same goes for digital content.

Active reading and listening encourages your child to carefully search through the content for specific things. If you start with non-educational texts, shows, or sounds, your child can ideally move these skills to the classroom.

Consider a game: You find a family-friendly podcast. Make sure you’ve listened to it first. You make a list of “scavenger hunt” style questions and give it to your child. Who are the characters involved? What did they want? Where did they live? The questions will vary based on the content.

Your child can listen to the podcast, maybe while coloring or doing something simple, maybe on its own if they’re not yet at the multitasking stage. If they’re actively listening, they’ll be able to answer those questions while the podcast is happening. They’re digesting the information.

Executive Functioning Strategies are Crucial for Children

Developing these executive functioning strategies early can help a child thrive. It’s much easier for a child to adapt than an adult, so it’s crucial that your child learns to manage their executive dysfunction early.

Children want to learn and grow, but some need extra help focusing. It’s easy to get frustrated with them, but negative reinforcement won’t encourage a positive change in behavior.

If you want extra help for your child who’s dealing with executive dysfunction and you’d like to have them see a professional, contact us. We help tweens, teens, and young adults learn new strategies for managing their executive dysfunction.