Parents and Executive Function

Parents are hungry for executive function resources. At first glance, the reason is obvious. Parents are on the front lines. When a parent sees his or her student struggle, whether they have learning differences or not,  it can break a parent’s heart. Likewise, when a student is losing her belongings, getting zeros on missing assignments, and struggling to get work done in a timely manner, a parent’s stress level can skyrocket. Clearly, parents who are feeling maxed out by their students’ struggles will be looking for executive function support.

On another level, why would parents want to learn about executive function strategies when being a parent is the ultimate executive function strategy? From the earliest age, parents fulfill the executive function roll for their children. In place of an immature prefrontal cortex, parents organize, prioritize, and shift for their kids, making sure that the kids are up, dressed, fed, and ready to face the world. I’ve learned a lot from watching parents create effective systems that any executive function strategy teacher, like myself, would envy.

If only it were that easy! Since parents aren’t in school with their kids, there is a gap between the structures that promote executive function at home and in school. Often, executive function weaknesses become apparent in this home-school gap. Also, the development of successful executive function strategies requires student input; only strategies that students have helped create will truly help them become strategic adults.

So, what should a parent do to help their student navigate the gap between home and school and the gap between where the student is now and where they need to be as an adult? Here are some tips for parents:

  • Learn what the research says about executive function, metacognition, growth mindset, and other relevant topics.
  • Understand executive function demands and resources at school. Find out not only what the executive function demands are in school, but also what resources exist to scaffold executive function (e.g., graphic organizers, homework websites). Where can your student turn for more support if he or she is struggling?
  • Make sure your strategies are transparent! While you may know how your home is organized and what it takes to keep things running smoothly, your student may not. Make sure they know the strategies you employ as well as the time you spend.
  • Involve your students in the development of strategies. Ask them if they like the approaches they are using and whether they find them effective. Tweak existing strategies or try new ones, but allow your students to have a voice when it comes to the strategies they use.


Looking to learn more? For the first time ever, ResearchILD is inviting parents to attend the Executive Function Conference. Join us on October 27 and learn about the important role executive function plays in successful learning as well as practical strategies you can use at home.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director