Executive Functioning Issues and Learning: 6 Ways to Help Your Grade-Schooler

By Amanda Morin

At a glance

  • Trouble with executive functioning issues have trouble using new ways to solve problems.

  • Group work can be challenging for some kids with executive functioning issues.

  • You can help your child learn to organize information and check her work.

Your child’s difficulties with executive functioning may become more obvious in the later years of grade school. It’s a time of transition for kids, with a growing number of school demands. The more help and support you can provide, the smoother that transition will be.

can impact learning in many ways during grade school. Here are some common challenges and ways you can help.

Learning Challenge #1

Your grade-schooler has to write a paragraph on a story she heard in class. But she can’t figure out to how to organize the information.

The role of executive functioning issues: It can be hard to plan out work steps. Kids may have trouble coming up with a strategy for tackling an assignment.

How to help: Teach your child to write a “hamburger paragraph.” The top bun is the sentence that introduces the idea. The burger and fixings are the details that back up the idea. The bottom bun is the sentence that summarizes and holds everything together. This type of graphic organizing tool can help kids at different grade levels handle all sorts of writing assignments.

Learning Challenge #2

You try to help your child double-check her answers to long division by using multiplication. Your child gets upset and says it’s not the way the teacher showed her to check her work.

The role of executive functioning issues: It can be hard to see that there’s more than one way to solve a problem. Kids may think in very concrete terms.

How to help: Have your child show you how the teacher has shown her how to check her work. It can also help your child to have more than one approach to try when she’s doing homework. Ask the teacher if she can show your child a few different ways to check that would be acceptable.

Learning Challenge #3

Your child reads a chapter book but her book report doesn’t include the important plot details.

The role of executive functioning issues: It can be hard to prioritize information. Kids may struggle to sort out the key details.

How to help: Help your child learn active reading strategies. Encourage her to imagine the book as a movie, for example. It can help her figure out which details are necessary to retell the story.

Learning Challenge #4

Your child has trouble knowing which operation to use on word problems. Even after you’ve gone over the clue words to look for, she doesn’t know what to do.

The role of executive functioning issues: It can be hard to self-monitor work. Kids may not be able to tell if an answer looks reasonable.

How to help: Help your child create a list of phrases that signal addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. Teach her to underline them when she reads a word problem and write the symbol above the word or phrase. She can compare what she’s highlighted to the list before setting up the equation.

Learning Challenge #5

Your child has to do a project for the science fair. Instead of doing the work a little at a time, she tries to do the whole project a few days before the presentation.

The role of executive functioning issues: It can be hard to manage time. Kids may have trouble estimating how much time a project takes to complete.

How to help: Ask your child’s teacher to provide a breakdown of all the different steps to the project. You can help your child create a project calendar that sets up due dates over the span of a few weeks. In time, your child can learn to create her own project calendars.

Learning Challenge #6

Your child tells you she is mad that her classmates won’t do things her way when they work together on a project. She speaks dismissively of the other kids’ ideas.

The role of executive functioning issues: It can be hard to control emotions. Kids may struggle to understand or accept other people’s points of view.

How to help: Practice situations in which you pretend to be a classmate. Role-play scenarios that might come up, including differences of opinion. Let her practice statements like, “I don’t understand your idea,” or “Here’s why I’m suggesting this idea.”

Grade school—especially the transition from third to fourth grade—involves demands that your child may not have faced before. It can be tough for a child with executive functioning issues to manage the changing expectations. But there are ways to help.

Key takeaways

  • Your child’s teacher can help you find strategies to help with your child’s homework.

  • Graphic organizers, checklists and calendars can help your child organize information.

  • Role-playing can help your child learn how to interact with classmates.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.