7 Proven Strategies to Help Your Teen Boost Executive Function Skills

As a mom, I know firsthand how challenging it can be to raise a teenager with strong executive function skills. Executive function skills, which include things like planning, prioritization, and time management, can be taught and developed with practice. And for those teenagers who struggle with executive dysfunction, there are strategies and hacks that can make things easier. 

I've put together some effective strategies that parents can use to help their teenagers develop better executive function skills. So whether you're a new parent or have older teens, keep reading to learn how you can support your teenager in becoming more organized, efficient, and productive

Just want the tips without why I think this is SO important?  Just CLICK HERE to skip down to some useful strategies for helping your teen develop stronger executive functioning skills.

I’ve spoken bluntly before about being a horrid housekeeper.  Things like knowing how often to vacuum under the couch, when to change the furnace filter or replace pillows, how to budget, how to set realistic goals for a day, how to manage my time to get everything done, and how to prioritize were not skills that came easy or that I was taught while growing up.

I remember my first conversation with my mom about budgeting.  I was married, had 4 children, and struggled paycheck to paycheck…even though my (now) ex-husband made good money & on paper, we should have been saving a good chunk every month. Her budgeting method didn’t work for me, but I remember thinking no one should get to their mid-20s without understanding how to budget and knowing at least a few different budgeting styles.

Even though I taught myself how to budget, how often everything needed to be cleaned & how, how to cook, and many other life skills I didn’t learn as a teen, executive function wasn’t something I had developed.  I went from my mother handling everything for me to being solely responsible for everything with no clue about how to truly adult. 

Because of my experience, I was always determined to make sure my children had the skills to thrive in life and become productive, responsible, and respectful adults.  Without knowing the term or being good at it myself, I’ve been teaching my children to develop their own executive function skills since they were little.

I didn’t hear the term executive function until after age 35, so I want to share the definition in case you aren’t familiar with it.

the group of complex mental processes and cognitive abilities (such as working memory, impulse inhibition, and reasoning) that control the skills (such as organizing tasks, remembering details, managing time, and solving problems) required for goal-directed behavior.


7 Strategies to Increase Executive Function Skills

If you haven’t been working on this and suddenly find yourself with older teens, don’t worry!  Executive function may not come naturally to some but it can be taught.  And those that truly suffer from executive dysfunction (such as those with ADHD, brain injury, learning disabilities, etc) can learn strategies and hacks to make things easier.

There are several strategies parents can use to help their teenagers (and ourselves) develop stronger executive function skills.

Teenage boy getting ready for school in the morning.

Break tasks into smaller, manageable steps: Encourage your teenager to break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. This can help them stay focused and avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Use visual triggers: Calendars, to-do lists, and other visual reminders can help teenagers keep track of their tasks and manage their time effectively. If they have a smartphone, look into apps they can utilize.  We use one called FamilyWall that helps keep everyone connected & organized. They can even set their own daily schedule that is only visible to them, unless you intentionally view it, to help avoid overwhelm.

Encourage prioritization: Teach your teenager to prioritize their tasks based on importance and urgency. This can help them avoid procrastination and manage their time effectively. We started using an Eisenhower Matrix when the kids were preteens to help them analyze tasks to start prioritizing things themselves in a more visual way.

Set realistic goals: Help your teenager set realistic and achievable goals. This can help them stay motivated and focused on their tasks. Teach them about SMART goals and how to utilize a reward system.  Rewards do not need to be large.  For example, a reward could be once they get all their schoolwork done they can read a book or take 15 minutes to play a game on their phone.

Practice time management: Encourage your teenager to practice time management skills, such as estimating how long tasks will take and scheduling their time accordingly. If they are struggling with estimating how long things last, have them use a stopwatch or do a 24-hour audit for a few days to get a realistic picture of how long things take them.

Provide opportunities for decision-making: Give your teenager opportunities to make decisions and problem-solve. This can help them develop critical thinking skills and become more independent. You can also have discussions about real-life scenarios and ethical dilemmas, encouraging them to think critically and make informed decisions.

Provide positive reinforcement: Acknowledge your teenager's efforts and accomplishments. This can help boost their confidence and motivate them to continue developing their executive function skills. For reaching their own goals and making large improvements, you can even do a surprise reward like a trip to Starbucks or taking them out to lunch just the two of you.

Taking decisions for the future man standing with many direction arrow choices, left, right or move forward

In a nutshell, developing strong executive function skills is a big part of a teenager's growth and development. But as parents, we can help them become more organized and efficient with some simple strategies. So let's break those tasks down, use visual aids, prioritize, set realistic goals, practice time management, and provide opportunities for decision-making.

Oh, and don't forget to offer positive reinforcement! As moms, we can support our teenagers in developing essential skills such as planning, prioritizing, and managing their time. By doing so, we can equip them for success and help them thrive. Plus, we might even learn a few things ourselves along the way!

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