When kids enter their middle school and high school years, they’re faced with higher expectations from their teachers and coaches. Many children struggle with more responsibility, with a hard time pinpointing what exactly needs to be done and the best way to go about it.
But with a little guidance, you can help your preteen or teen manage their daily schedule and prepare for adulthood — in turn, they’ll be more of a help at home.
What parents can try to improve executive functioning in teens and tweens
Executive functions are essentially self-management skills that allow us to plan ahead, focus our attention, remember directions, and juggle more than one task at a time. They’re crucial for adults, but many people start learning them in their adolescent years.
Here’s what you can try to help your teen or tween level up on their executive functioning skills.
Making to-do lists
Making a daily to-do list is a tried-and-true method of staying organized. Whether they use a mobile app or an old-fashioned pen and paper, this might help your child visualize what needs to be done and find satisfaction each time they check something off.
Breaking up tasks in steps
More complex tasks are often overwhelming, making your child avoid getting started. But breaking them up into smaller steps can help them feel like it’s something they can actually accomplish.
Keeping a family calendar
Consider keeping a family calendar in plain sight with all your shared events and potentially a chore schedule. This will help your child know what’s coming up, where they’re expected to be, and what they need to do in the next few weeks or months.
Tidying up and organizing at home
Keeping the home tidy might come easy for adults, but your kids may not see it that way. To help them build this executive functioning skill, start with something you can tackle together, like cleaning up after dinner or folding laundry. Talk about how you’re doing things and in what order, then the next time, let them try handling the task on their own. Some kids will need a reference the next time, like a written list or picture chart to describe which step is first.
Assigning chores ahead of time
If you want your middle schooler or high schooler to be better about helping out at home, try assigning chores ahead of time. This might be met with less resistance than requesting something in the moment. For instance, if you want them to take the garbage out weekly or empty the dishwasher nightly, consider adding it to the family calendar or a shared chore chart.
5-minute nightly clean-up
Another idea is to have everyone in the family participate in a five-minute nightly clean-up. Set a timer, and allow each person to take on whichever cleaning or tidying task they want. Five minutes is short enough to make it something your child doesn’t dread. And who knows? It might end up being a fun family activity.
5-minute next-day planning
On a similar note, you might try encouraging your teen or tween to spend five minutes each night getting ready for the next day. This might involve writing a to-do list, laying out their clothes, or packing their backpack.
It can be easy to swoop in when things aren’t done at all, or even when they aren’t done to your standards. Try to offer praise for even a failed attempt, or support if a complicated task isn’t going well. All children learn in different ways, so using a different method or explanation can be helpful. And even poorly folded laundry is still folded laundry!
If chores or tasks aren’t getting done at all, in some cases it’s okay to let things play out. If your teen was in charge of packing their sneakers for gym or their homework — you don’t always have to rescue them when they forget. Small failures are great learning opportunities, and kids won’t benefit from an additional punishment from you. Make family rules clear before chores are assigned. For example, “There isn’t screen time until chores are done. I’ll help you stay focused to unload the dishwasher by holding your phone.” At the end of the day, you’ll be trusting them with more and more responsibilities!
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
Harvard University. “Executive Function & Self-Regulation.” Center on the Developing Child. Web. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/