It’s already back-to-school time again and with that comes all the preparation and excitement for the new year. Decisions around the house will once again revolve around choosing between schoolwork versus video games, getting homework done amidst a fully scheduled calendar and deciding whether to prepare lunches the night before or in the morning. For some, these decisions will be easily made, work first, play later. For others procrastination may be the name of the game, putting off work until the last minute, which can often lead to lack of sleep and endless parental nagging.
And yet there is another subset of the population who struggles with what neuroscientists have called “executive function.” Executive function refers to all the cognitive processes that allow us to achieve goals- prioritizing, managing time, separating the big picture from details, shifting from one task to another (often called flexibility), checking as you go and reflecting on your outcome (self monitoring).
For individuals challenged with executive function skills, it is not a question of motivation or effort, but rather, they just don’t know where to start and how to proceed. Without specific teaching, getting organized is not all that easy. As with many other life skills, like skiing, reading, singing – some of us have more intuitive talent than others.
Here are five techniques that you can try at home at the start of the new school year to help your child plan and manage his/her time more efficiently. Help and encourage your child to:
1. Create checklists. Following a checklist minimizes the mental and emotional strain many kids with executive dysfunction experience while trying to make decisions.
2. Follow routines. Creating routines makes it easier for your child to remember what comes next and keeps them from getting distracted doing something else (i.e. start homework at the same time every night).
3. Create an organized space in which they can do their homework each night and stock it with school supplies.
4. Break up big projects into smaller steps, prioritize the steps and then estimate how long each will take.
5. Use a calendar to “backwards plan”, and allocate time to work on each step. If a project is due on a certain date, work back from that date filling in what needs to be done each day to have a completed project in the time frame given.
There are some people who even with the best of intentions and implementation of strategies still find themselves scattered and unorganized. When an individual feels like things are not working it might be time to seek the help of experts.