No matter how strong the routine, nothing seems to withstand the whirlwind of a tween or teen arriving home after school. Bookbags are dropped (usually in the wrong place) and things begin exploding all over the place. You start with the usual round of questions:
“How was school?”
“Do you have any homework?”
“Maybe. I’m not sure.”
It’s at that point that your blood might start to boil. What do you mean that you don’t know if you have homework? Either you have homework or you don’t. Calming yourself down, you start to help your tween or teen figure out the homework is and get started.
Of course, now you’re emotionally exhausted from having served as your child’s personal assistant and you still have a million things of your own to organize and maybe other children to pay attention to.
Executive Functioning (or the lack thereof)
Teens and tweens are just starting to develop executive functioning skills that help them manage the challenge of what they need to do and in what order they should be doing. Executive functioning serves as the brain’s manager allowing a person to allocate resources and brainpower to different tasks. It’s among the last set of cognitive skills to develop in a child and it’s probably the cause of a fair amount of parental exasperation with a kid.
We live in a fast-paced society that encourages multi-tasking and short attention spans which is the exact opposite of helping to develop stronger executive functioning skills. These are skills, however, that can be developed and honed with a little support at home.
My After School Planner
The key to helping kids develop stronger executive functioning skills is to build practicing them into part your daily routine and gradually fade yourself out of providing direct support. Despite any daily explosion of stuff, redirect them to the routine (this doesn’t mean bypassing a check-in, snacks, hugs or whatever your arrival plan is).
Initially, your child really needs a place to do a brain dump. Even if they have been using a school-provided planner, she probably has a few things taking up valuable bandwidth in her head related to school assignments. Writing them down will clear that space for planning and getting the work done.
Get these into two lists, one for short term work (due in one or two days) and another for long term projects (due in more than two days). Thinking about things in these two lists will help her start to think about more than just this afternoon for getting things done.
Next, have him estimate how long each task will take. Initially, his estimates are going to be off. Don’t worry about this. Most of us are bad at estimating how long a task will take. Over time this will improve and you can encourage him to add buffer time later on.
Once he knows how long things will take, have him prioritize the list. Make sure that both short term and long term assignments are factored in. Encourage him to think about the urgency and challenge of each project add he prioritizes the work.
The last step is to develop a schedule. You can use a paper schedule. Or have her enter it into her phone’s calendar. Use the priorities and time estimates to help create the schedule. Don’t forget to leave time for meals, breaks, and other responsibilities!
This won’t change things overnight, but it will get your teen or tween on the right path toward growing her executive functioning skills. To help you out, I’ve created a template for after school planning that you can download here. (Tip – laminate it and fill it out using a dry erase marker for daily use!)