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

By Amanda Morin
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At a Glance

  • Some kids with executive functioning issues have trouble thinking flexibly.

  • The more complicated schoolwork of middle school may feel overwhelming to your child.

  • Your child may have trouble remembering information and checking her work—but you can help her improve these skills.

If your child has executive functioning issues, learning difficulties may become more obvious in middle school. It’s a bumpy time for kids anyway, so the more help and support you can offer your child, the smoother the middle school years will be.

Learning Challenge #1

Your child has to write a book report, but after an hour of working on it, she’s still stuck on the first few sentences.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have difficulty creating a plan for getting from the beginning to the end of the assignment.

How to help: Show your child how to use a graphic organizer, such as a concept tree or mind map. She can use these tools to put thoughts on paper before beginning to write.

Learning Challenge #2

You try to help with long division using a different technique than the teacher. Your child gets frustrated and insists it has to be done the other way—even though neither approach makes sense to her.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have trouble thinking flexibly and changing the way they approach a problem.

How to help: Ask the teacher to show your child different ways to approach the same type of problem. Your child will then have a teacher-approved “bag of tricks.” It might also help to learn the teacher’s preferred technique and reinforce that strategy at home.

Learning Challenge #3

Your child reads a chapter of a book but is unable to summarize what happened.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have weak working memory skills, making it hard for them to keep information in mind long enough to use it.

“Kids with executive functioning issues can have trouble thinking flexibly and changing the way they approach a problem.”

How to help: Use active reading strategies like highlighting key words and writing notes in the margins. Encourage your child to stop after every paragraph or two to take notes. Later these notes can be compiled to summarize the chapter.

Learning Challenge #4

Your child makes the same careless math error on every homework problem, even after you checked the first one and pointed out the error.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues have trouble self-monitoring their work and recognizing when the same mistake has been repeated.

How to help: Help your child create a checklist of what needs to be double-checked on assignments. It can be as simple as asking herself, Did I follow all the directions on this problem?

Learning Challenge #5

Your child has long-term projects due in three different subjects. Instead of staggering the work, she tries to do them all a few days before they’re due.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have trouble prioritizing tasks and estimating how much time a project will take.

How to help: Ask your child’s teacher to provide a project calendar that breaks down the project into smaller pieces due each week. A points system could encourage your child to complete these smaller steps on time. Eventually your child can create her own calendar and due dates.

Learning Challenge #6

The teacher reports that your child is rude and dismissive of others’ ideas when working in groups.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have a hard time understanding other people’s points of view and opinions different from their own.

How to help: Role-play scenarios in which you pretend to be a classmate. Use active listening skills, such as making eye contact and asking your child to clarify things when necessary. Let her practice “I” statements: “I have trouble understanding people when they talk fast.” Point out when responses could be perceived as rude and help her rephrase.

Middle school involves a lot of juggling that your child may not have encountered before. It can be tricky for a child with executive functioning issues to adapt. But there are strategies you can try at home to find new ways to work around the difficulties she might have with organization, flexible thinking and other skills.

Key Takeaways

  • Your child’s teacher can work with you to come up with strategies for homework.

  • Calendars, checklists and note-taking can all help a student stay organized.

  • Role-playing can help kids learn how to successfully interact with others.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Jenn Osen-Foss, MAT 

is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions, and co-planning.

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