The Best Approach to Improving Executive-Functioning Skills

Do you have a teenage child, student, or client who struggles to reach his potential, showing moments of brilliance but getting overwhelmed by simple things such as getting his work done on time or being forgetful? He shows the ability to focus, but also the capacity to appear totally distracted. These inconsistencies are often signs of executive-functioning difficulties. You may want to step in and do it all for him or, on the other hand, believe that doing too much will only hinder him in developing these skills. What is the right and best approach to improving executive-functioning skills?

Many intelligent and resourceful teens and young adults struggle with executive-functioning skills such as planning, memory, organization, time management, and flexibility. Common difficulties include prioritizing schoolwork, remembering appointments, keeping track of time, being organized, and working to the best of their abilities. The awareness that these difficulties are often the result of underdeveloped executive functions can be a powerful first step towards improving academic performance and increasing self-esteem. Teaching teens and young adults who may not want to listen to their parents’ or teachers’ lectures about executive skills can be problematic. Their independence needs to be valued and can be used to help them want to practice and internalize executive-functioning skills. When adults can stand back a bit and guide them towards knowledge and tools for executive skills, they may have more success.

  • The following list provides teens with resources they can explore by themselves. Having such resources to read and videos to watch can help them understand and improve executive functions all on their own.

    Executive Functions Bibliography for Teens and College Students

    Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang (2008)

    Train Your Mind for Peak Performance: A Science-Based Approach for Achieving Your Goals Lyle Bourne & Alice Healy (2014)

    Helping Students Remember Exercises and Strategies to Strengthen Memory Includes interactive CD Milton Dehn (2011)

    Moonwalking with Einstein: The art and science of remembering everything Joshua Foer (2011)

    Smart but Scattered Teens: The “Executive Skills” Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential Richard Guare, Peg Dawson & Colin Guare (2012)

    The CEO of Self: An Executive Functioning Workbook Jan Johnston-Tyler (2014)

    Train Your Brain For Success: A Teenager’s Guide To Executive Functions Randy Kulman (2012)


    Teen Brain Provides an explanation of the teenage brain and the development of certain executive functions and is designed to help parents understand their children. This “insider” angle may pique a teen’s interest in understanding executive functions.

    Let Me Be Your Camera – Understanding ADHD A video created with young people in mind that provides a detailed explanation of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and the executive functions affected by it.

    What is Executive Function? An easy to understand video for tweens and teens with great visuals that provides a brief introduction to executive functions and defines a variety of skills. 

    Why Executive Functions Are So Important Education expert Ann Dolin explains the importance of executive functions to teens and adults.

    InBrief: Executive Function A video produced by Harvard for adults and teens that explains what executive functions are and gives detailed examples about how they are used.

    Executive Functioning: Definition and Strategies for Success Video for teens and adults that gives tips and strategies on how to help children who struggle with executive functions. 

    11 Executive Skills This short animated video for children, teens, and tweens on executive functions uses the model of 11 executive functions from Peg Dawson and Richard Guare


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