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Helping Your Preschooler With Executive Functioning Skills

Does your child struggle with organization? Is following through with directions and projects difficult for him? Does he have trouble managing his time effectively? If any of these ring true, your child may have some issues with executive function. The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) defines executive function as the ability to "connect present action to past experiences." Put simply, executive function helps people to plan and follow through. However, before you start trying to self-diagnose your child with a learning disability, here are some ways that you can help your child to improve his executive function at home.

Give it time. Often, parents start to worry about their child's executive functioning skills long before there is an actual issue. However, some executive functioning skills simply take time to develop. By definition, a child has to have past experiences in order for executive function to increase.

Preschool is a prime time to begin developing these skills in children, but there is a wide range of developmental appropriateness at this age. In the same way that children learn to walk and talk at different ages, they also learn skills like time management, organization, and visual-spatial relationships at different paces as well. 

Set clear expectations. Sometimes young children have trouble following through with requests because they don't understand the request. If you tell a child, "I want you to be good at the store." the child may still act up because you haven't told him what being good at the store involves. A much more effective approach might be to say, "We are going into the store. I want you to sit in the cart, and keep your hands to yourself." This way, your child knows what is expected of him, and he is much more likely to comply.

Teach time management. Time management and task completion are not skills that come easy for most preschoolers. There are so many things to see and explore. There are new experiences everywhere, and distractibility among children of this age group is very common. By teaching your child to set limits, you will help him to improve his self regulation. For example, by saying, "I am going to count backwards from ten, while you put the toy in your room." you are giving him a verbal reminder of the time limit and providing clear instructions.  

Follow through with consequences. Both positive and negative consequences can have an effect on your child's motivation for improving his executive functioning skills. By providing praise and rewards when your child completes a task within a reasonable amount of time, and having a negative natural consequence when a task is neglected or abandoned, you will be reinforcing the idea that improving his executive functioning skills is worthwhile.

Teaching executive functioning skills is not an easy task. It takes patience and consistency, but developing these skills when your child is young can help him to be successful all throughout life.