Tips and Strategies to Improve Executive Function Skills and Working Memory
Kids with learning disabilities often struggle with executive function skills, which can prevent them from successfully remembering pertinent details and strategically planning, organizing, and completing tasks. Poor working memory, which is the ability to temporarily process and prioritize information in real time, is thought to be a factor for kids who struggle with poor executive function skills. Find tips and strategies below to improve your child's working memory and executive function skills through practice and repetition.
Improving Working Memory for Better Executive Function
As we learn more about the brain's ability to change and improve throughout a person's lifetime, it stands to reason that "exercising" our working memory just as we exercise certain muscles can improve performance. If your child has trouble remembering age appropriate multi-step instructions or shifting between tasks, consider helping your child work back and forth between two tasks for extra practice. For example, if your child needs to complete a task like a reading or writing assignment, have your child switch focus between the assignment and a puzzle until both are complete. While this exercise may push your child's limits at first, with practice your child's ability to oscillate between tasks should get easier. Utilizing technology can also be helpful for improving working memory. Choose video games or apps for your child that combine navigating among different screens with searching for an object or solving a mystery. Shifting focus while remembering clues can give your child's working memory a boost.
Tips for Improving Executive Function
- Plan ahead for organization. If kids have trouble remembering needed school supplies and homework, set them up for success by creating an at-home work station. Consider a dry erase board for writing daily schedules, refills of school supplies like extra paper, rulers, erasers, and pencils, and brightly colored index cards for writing daily reminders that can be taken to school. Require kids to pack their backpacks each night with new supplies and any work that is due. Help your child write reminders for the following day on the bright note cards and place in their backpacks as well. Getting organized and planning ahead will reinforce executive functions skills that may not come naturally to your child.
- Avoid procrastination. Schedule a time for tasks to be completed to help your child avoid the stress of waiting to the last minute to complete assignments or responsibilities. Whether it's homework, chores, or other responsibilities, give kids a scheduled chunk of time that they must work on a task. If your child is overwhelmed by large tasks or assignments, break them down into several steps with a completion date and time for each step. Be sure to write these expectations down on a piece of paper so your child can check off each smaller task as it is completed. Easing the anxiety of large projects and/or tasks can help your child avoid procrastination.
- Set goals and avoid over-scheduling. Kids with poor executive function skills may struggle to make choices and prioritize their time. Help your child choose goals for each semester and identify potential stumbling blocks to achieving those goals. Set limits for extracurricular activities and social events so kids don't become overwhelmed with too many activities. For those times when there are too many tasks and not enough hours in the day, help your child decide which tasks or responsibilities must take priority and which are not necessities. Learning when to say no can be just as important as learning initiative and perseverance.