April 13, 2018

Two Things to Do to Improve Executive Function Skills

New weekly planner? Check. Clean homework space? Check. How else can parents help their children to improve their executive functioning? Parents can address these two factors, which are sometimes overlooked.

    1. Too Much Screen Time

Students use their smartphones and laptops for much of their schoolwork, from research to reading assignments. But too much screen time – especially when students are multitasking – can have negative effects. The research suggests that this mental wandering has all sorts of downstream effects.

Thrive Global cited studies from Anthony Wagner’s Stanford Memory lab which found that “people who are heavy ‘media multitaskers’ — i.e., they report spending lots of time toggling between screens — actuallydo worse on tests of what researchers call ‘working memory,’ or the ability to hold multiple objects of attention in mind, like the digits involved in doing math in your head.” This means that students flipping between social media and their history homework may be less likely to absorb new information.

However, media multitasking can be a hard habit to break. With each new piece of information students receive from an electronic device, their brains get a dose of dopamine, a feel-good chemical, which can lower motivation to transition or focus on other work. What can parents do?

They can focus on building self-monitoring skills. Parents could block off time for students to check social media or to check the latest video on YouTube (while setting a timer to get them back on task!). If students have to use the computer for homework assignments, they can make use of several plug-ins that block users from accessing social media websites for a set period of time. Make sure to include children in the decision! This can help children guide the process and help the habit stick.

  1. Too Little Sleep

Students who struggle with planning may find themselves staying up late the night before a project is due because they forgot about it. According to the National Sleep Foundation, that lack of sleep can cause more problems when they’re in class the next day. Getting a good night’s sleep is the foundation to committing new skills to memory as well as staying focused during the day. Creating an effective tracking system may help avoid late nights, so students can catch more Z’s. What does this look like in practice?

For longer-term assignments, like a research paper, students can take the time to create mini deadlines for themselves. Those steps can include: conducting research, creating an outline, writing a rough draft, requesting edits, and compiling a finished draft.

After identifying those steps, students can create a bi-weekly or monthly calendar that they fill in with each item. By doing this for longer-term assignments, students can stay organized and avoid all-nighters to finish an assignment.

To learn more about these executive functioning tools, click here to make an appointment with Engaging Minds today.