Executive Functions

The Parent’s Guide to Executive Functioning Skills

How to model prioritization, self-monitoring, and organization skills for your children with ADHD.

Boy with ADHD leaning on father in park outside
Boy with ADHD leaning on father in park outside

As the parent of a child with ADHD, I am acutely aware of the executive functioning skills your child needs to achieve attention, organization, and timely completion of schoolwork. Yet, over the last week, while trying to balance the multiple details of my three kids’ lives and prepare for the holidays, I’ve realized that my own executive functioning skills are in high demand, too. Without them, I’d be no good at getting my kids to where they need to be, making sure homework is done, or keeping on top of school life. So, what are these skills that we need to better manage our children? And, how can we model them for our kids?


How many times have you wanted to make a phone call but realized that doing so would make you late for karate, or Boy Scouts, or swimming lessons? So, you prioritize. That is, you assign numbers to the tasks that need to get done before leaving for karate, such as finishing homework, practicing multiplication facts, having a snack, getting shoes on, and getting in car.

Prioritization skills are essential throughout life. So, in an effort to help your child figure out which assignment to conquer first, you want to ask her, “Do you want to work on the easiest or the hardest assignment first?” And, let that be your approach for the day. You may also want to consider setting deadlines — and marking them on a prominent calendar or two. Assignments or projects due tomorrow are going to take precedence over assignments due in two days or in four.


Self-monitoring is observing yourself. That is, using your thoughts to guide your actions. As a parent, I’m sure you find yourself asking yourself several times each day, “What do I have to do next?” I know I say that out loud a lot! What I’m doing is trying to make sure that I am working on things that are in line with my priorities for the day. If I want to check my email but know that I need to make dinner so that we can get out to karate on time, I’m going to hold off on my impulse to check my email and focus on dinner.

When you self-monitor and your children are watching, the question “What do you need to do next?” should sound familiar. We coach children to ‘catch’ themselves when their focus or thoughts start drifting off of the teacher’s lesson. I encourage the children and adolescents that I work with to ask themselves, “What should I be focusing on right now? Oh yeah, the Math lesson. What is my teacher saying? Okay, I got it.”

[Read: Executive Dysfunction, Explained!]

Model for your children how you self monitor, and it won’t seem like a foreign concept when you ask them to do the same in the classroom. They may also have a better answer than “I don’t know,” when you ask, “What should you be doing right now?”


Being a parent requires a lot of organization. You need to know where your household supplies are so that you can find them with ease when you are cooking, cleaning, or sewing on a Girl Scout patch. If we had to search for these basic items each time we needed them, it would take a ridiculous amount of time each day.

As a parent, you and your children should designate a home for basic items like backpacks, shoes, jackets, homework folder, and most importantly, your keys! I drop my keys in my key bowl as soon as I walk through the door, so I always know where they are. With your children, give each of them a bucket or large Tupperware container where they can drop their shoes, jackets, umbrellas, and backpacks. This way, there is no searching for your son’s backpack everyday.

The same goes for your child’s bedroom. A place for everything and it stays consistent. Encourage your child to place these items in the same place everyday until it becomes habitual and routine. Initially, you will need to guide your children to walk in through the door and drop their stuff into their buckets. Don’t do it for them. They need to go through the motions so they have the memory of where they dropped their belongings.

Executive functioning skills are a part of our daily life. The hope is that you will think ahead about being efficient in your daily functioning at home, and that it will rub off on your children, too!

[Download: Executive Skills Checklist for Parents and Teachers]

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