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How Parents Can Improve Cognitive Control 

According to NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, a child’s ability to concentrate on a task and demonstrate self-control is called cognitive control. Cognitive control is on a spectrum: easily distracted to able to concentrate. It may be interesting to know that the brain turns cognitive control “on” or “off” as it sees fit. Self-evaluation is the first skill in concentration. Turning cognitive control “on” requires one to measure how well they are doing and to develop an awareness of when they complete work accurately. In other words, there are two dominant feedback loops for cognitive control: self-assessment and motivation. By paying careful attention to these two aspects of cognitive control at school or in the home, parents can help students perform to their potential.

To be clear, urging a student to pay attention and listen does not increase their ability for cognitive control. Instead, teach students how to take control of their day by giving him or her the freedom to plan their week. First, ask what the goal is for that week. When a student sits down to complete work, ask him or her to plan out the next few hours with pen and paper. When possible, encourage him or her to choose the assignments or topics they find attractive. The motivated brain is quicker and filled with dopamine! Allow students to check their own work routinely. Self-evaluation will develop into a habit, but first, they must be able to identify ‘good’ work. 

 How to start the conversation with students about time management:

  • Let your students lead the conversation. Take cues from their conversation, and let them bring it up. If they express boredom, this could be a great time to talk about how to fill time. 
  • Ask them open-ended questions and allow them to be transparent about how much support they need from you.
  • Encourage them to keep all material organized and to put ‘material maintenance’ into the schedule.
  • Set aside time for play, meals, rest, being active, learning, and sleep. Breaks can be productive, but schedules keep them from becoming procrastination. 
  • It is okay to start small and to reevaluate often! Continual progress builds a growth mindset.
  • Celebrate victories as much as you can. We want to be a student’s cheerleaders as often as possible. Check out this blog for more tips on being a parent cheerleader. 

Learning can be encouraged throughout the day, not just during “school time” at home! EF skill development doesn’t take vacations! The tips above can and should be applied to sports, scouts, and everything in between. This is a new normal for all of us. For students with learning differences, particularly with ADHD, cognitive control is crucial. We want to equip parents with all of the tools they need to help their students thrive. Would you prefer an expert in cognitive control to coach your student through this difficult time? Check out our services page for information on one-on-one coaching. 

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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