Supporting Children who Struggle with Executive Functions

Author: Sarah Holgate 00:00, 13 February 2020 2115 0 0

Not every 7-year-old should have amazing executive functions all by themselves. Otherwise all children, instead of being in school, would be CEO’s of multi million-pound organisations and busy taking over the world! As adults and parents, we need to recognise this and need to arm children with the essential self-regulating skills that we use in everyday life to accomplish just about everything. 

Executive functions help us plan, organise, make decisions, shift between situations or thoughts, control our emotions and impulsivity, and learn from past mistakes. Children rely on their executive functions for everything from taking a shower to packing a backpack, choosing priorities in school and for success in academic achievement. 

Children who have poor executive functioning may take an extraordinarily long time to get dressed, regularly loose homework or start weeklong projects the night before they are due.

If you can identify this in your child, then there is help at hand. Our Connections in Mind EF coaches work with both children and their parents to teach a mix of specific strategies and alternative learning styles that complement or enhance a child’s particular abilities. Below are just a few techniques that will help with organisation and follow through in children with EF challenges. 

Check lists

The steps necessary for completing a task often aren’t obvious to children with executive function challenges and defining them clearly ahead of time makes a task less daunting and more achievable. By implementing a checklist of steps minimises the mental and emotional strain many children with EF challenges experience while trying to make decisions. Sometimes they simply get so wrapped up in the decision-making process that they never even start the task. Or, if they do begin, they are constantly starting and restarting because they have thought of a better way to do it. It’s exhausting for them! With a checklist, children can focus their mental energy on the task at hand.

These checklists can be for nearly anything such as the morning routine; make your bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, have breakfast, get your lunch, pack your bag. Completing as many of the morning tasks as possible the night before is also a success method. Lunches can be made ahead of time, clothes can be laid out, and bags can be packed and waiting by the door. It takes a little extra planning, but doing the work ahead of time can prevents a lot of drama the next day.

Set time limits

When making a checklist, it is worthwhile to assign a time limit for each step, particularly if it is a bigger, longer-term project. Practice breaking down different kinds of homework with children to get them used to the steps require and how long they might take. 

Use a planner

Some schools require students to use a planner these days, but fail to teach children how to use them, and it won’t be obvious to a child who is overwhelmed by—or uninterested in—organisation and planning. Children who struggle with executive functioning issues have poor working memory, which means it is hard for them to remember things like homework. How can a child remember to write something down as a reminder if they can’t remember to do it! Using a planner is only successful if you teach your child how to use it and integrate it into their daily life.  

Establish a routine

This is particularly important for older children, who typically struggle more to get started with their homework. Starting homework at the same time every day could be beneficial as it negates the child waiting for inspiration to strike and to start their homework. Ideally, children should come home, unpack their bag, have a snack, and then get started. Homework is best done in a quiet, well-lit space fully stocked with paper and pencils because a search for supplies can quickly derail homework time. Some families find doing homework on the kitchen table works best for their child, particularly if a parent is nearby to supervise and answer questions.

Use rewards

For younger children, you could consider putting a reward system in place. Younger children respond well to external motivators to highlight the value of these new strategies. For example, a star chart will show children the connection between practicing their skills and working towards a reward. Rewards can also be a good way to communicate to children that their parents and their teacher also value this skill. Tell them you appreciate all the hard work they’re doing. School can be really hard for a lot of children and recognise that it shouldn’t be a given that learning these things is easy.

Developing new strategies for learning isn’t easy either. Initially, it can put children who are already self-conscious even further outside their comfort zone, but it’s worth the effort. Our executive function coaches can work with you, as parents, and your children to use organisation strategies in a variety of ways for success in school and later in life. 

Most importantly they will free up more time for the fun stuff! 

EF Parenting Course

We have a new 6 week, evening, Parenting Course starting on the 6th of May in London so if you would like to find out more about how you can learn many useful strategies to help your children in their daily lives then please book your space by emailing

“This course was absolutely brilliant. The sessions are really informative and practical, and you have the opportunity to discuss your own challenges with others facing similar situations. Realising you aren't alone and are armed with all sorts of strategies to work with is empowering. Thank you.”

Deborah, mother of three girls aged 8, 10 and 15

About Connections in Mind


Connections in Mind are a highly motivated team of experts committed to supporting executive function development in both children, adolescents, education providers and adults. Executive functions are a set of skills that reside in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. These skills help us to plan and organise our responses, behaviour and emotions. These skills have a profound impact on children’s educational success, act as a strong indicator on educational outcomes during adolescence and promote health and success in adulthood.
The core Executive Functioning (EF) skills include planning, prioritising, working memory, sustained attention, flexibility, emotional control and time management. These skills are critical not only for success in school, but for typical tasks in everyday life.
We believe executive skills training and coaching can be transformative, not only for the child but also for the parents, as well as for adults wanting to achieve more in their home and professional lives.

Tags: executive functions neurocscience children emotions

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