Karen Hundal, Coordinator of Learning Services for Upper School 2023

Five Ways Parents Can Help Teens with Executive Functioning


Executive function skills help us plan, prioritize, organize and follow through, all while regulating our emotions. In other words, they play a role in pretty much everything! When students struggle with executive functioning, it can make school and home especially challenging for children, and also the adults who love them. At McLean School, our teachers are experts in supporting students with long term planning, breaking projects down into manageable chunks, and organizing time and materials. But the development of competency in executive functioning skills takes time and can be supported at home, as well. Here are some of my favorite strategies for parents when helping students sharpen these important skills. From small changes in routine to bigger shifts in thinking, all share the goal of building independence, mastery, and confidence.

Create a “Launch Pad”

  • Set up a spot (this can be a bench, hooks, even a spare chair) where your teen enters and exits the house for them to set down everything that leaves with them to school.  Items such as: backpack, outerwear, sports equipment, keys, chargers, mask, etc.
  • Encourage them to get everything set up and ready to go the night before school, especially if mornings are a challenge.
  • Habit is powerful and when putting things in the same place becomes routine, it can eliminate last minute “treasure hunts!”

Lead by Example

  • There are so many things you can’t control, but if you organize your environment and time, it can be a teaching opportunity.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to talk about why you use the tools you use to organize your space or keep track of your time. It can be helpful for your child to know that you also need reminders for appointments or to-do lists for work. And share what apps make your life easier!

Let Your Teen Make the Call

  • Remember that you may be comfortable with a very organized environment, but this may not work for your child. Also remember that the tools or methods that work for you may or may not be the ones that work best for your child.
  • Choice is powerful. High school students tend to reject strategies and tools that are chosen for them. If they make the choice, however, they are more likely to continue to use the tool or strategy.

Aim for Independence

  • While younger teens may need more support and guidance, those who are nearing college will need more independence. Remember, they will need to do this on their own soon.
  • Small mistakes are powerful teachers. If your student forgets their assignment at home or doesn’t bring their sports equipment for practice, resist the temptation to rescue them.
  • If an email needs to be sent for clarification on an assignment or for organizational help from a teacher and your teen is reluctant to reach out, help them draft an email or brainstorm a “script” for approaching the teacher, but let them send the email and do the talking.

Recognize Progress

  • It can be difficult to see progress when we know what our teens need to be able to do as adults and we see the day-to-day struggle.
  • Remember, learning any skill takes time and there will be bumps in the road. These bumps can be some of the most powerful teachers.

-Karen Hundal, Coordinator of Learning Services for Upper School 2023