Tear Paper for Fine Motor Skills

Tear paper fine motor activity

Did you know you can tear paper to improve fine motor skills using materials you already have in your home? I have an incredibly easy fine motor activity to share: tearing paper! When kids tear paper, they are developing fine motor skills like grasp, hand strength, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, and more. So often, parents are looking for easy ways to help kids develop fine motor skills, and the very material that can improve all of these areas is found right in the home. Let’s break down tearing paper as an amazing fine motor activity for kids.

Tear paper to build fine motor skills and to use in occupational therapy activities like improving coordination, visual motor skills, and more.

Tear Paper for Fine Motor Skills

Tearing paper a simple fine motor activity that requires only scrap paper and your hands. In fact, tearing paper actually helps children develop so many essential skills: hand strength, hand eye coordination, precision, refined movements, bilateral coordination…

When a child tears a piece of paper, they improve hand strength and endurance in the small muscles in the hand.  These intrinsic muscles are important in so many fine motor skills, including those important to handwriting and coloring, managing buttons and zippers, manipulating pegs, and more.  

When paper is torn, the hands assume a great tripod grasp which is effective and a mature grasp for writing and coloring.  The non-dominant hand is assisting in the tearing and encourages appropriate assistance for tasks like holding the paper while writing, and managing paper while cutting with scissors.  

Just look at the skills kids develop with a tear paper activity:

  • Hand eye coordination
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Pinch strength
  • Arch development
  • Intrinsic hand strength
  • Separation of the sides of the hand
  • Open thumb web space
  • Shoulder and forearm stability
  • Precision and refined grasp
  • Proprioceptive input
  • Motor planning
Tearing paper is an amazing fine motor activity for kids to build coordination and hand strength.

Paper Tearing Activity

In this paper tearing activity, we use recycled artwork to create Torn Paper Art that would look great on any gallery (or family dining room) wall!

Tearing strips of paper is especially a great fine motor task.  To work those fine motor skills, start with some junk mail or recycled paper materials and practice tearing.

Tear paper into strips- To tear a long sheet of paper, you need to grasp the paper with an effective, yet not too strong grasp.  Tear too fast, and the paper is torn diagonally and not into strips.

Make slow tears in the paper- Tearing the paper slowly while focusing on strait torn lines really encourages a workout of those intrinsic muscles.  

Tear different weights of paper- Paper comes in different thicknesses, or weights. Practicing tearing different thicknesses really hones in on precision skills. We tore an 9×11 piece of painted printer paper into long strips, lengthwise.  The thin paper isn’t too difficult to tear, but requires motor control. Thicker paper like cardstock or cardboard requires more strength to grip the paper. The thicker paper also requires a bit more strength to tear with accuracy and precision. Tearing paper that is thicker like cardstock, index cards, or construction paper adds heavy input through the hands. This proprioceptive input can be very calming and allow kids to regulate or focus while adding the sensory input they need.

Tear paper into shapes– Use the paper to create simple shapes like a circle, square, etc. You can make this task easier by drawing pencil lines and ripping along the lines. This is a fantastic way to build motor planning skills. Or, work on visual perceptual skills and try ripping paper into shapes without a template.

Vary the texture of the paper– You can add a sensory component and use different textures of paper. Try painted or colored paper. Try printed paper or a rough paper like last year’s paper calendar. Try ripping cardstock or textured crepe paper.

Work on tearing paper fringes- Tearing into the edge of the page, and stopping at a certain point requires refined motor work. It’s easy to tear right across the page, but requires precision and coordination to stop tearing at a certain point. To grade this activity easier, try marking the stopping point with a pencil mark.

tearing paper is a fine motor skills workout for kids.

Types of paper to use in tearing paper activities

There are many benefits to using different textures and types of paper. Let’s take a look at some of the possible types of paper. These are materials that you may already have in your home. Varying the paper type in torn paper activities can help to grade an activity, or make it easier or more difficult. These are great ways to vary the amount of fine motor strength and precision needed, thereby improving fine motor skills and visual motor skills.

Types of paper to use in tearing paper activities:

  • Junk mail
  • Old phone books
  • Recycled newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Flyers from school or the community
  • Printer paper
  • Notebook paper
  • Cardboard
  • Recycled food boxes (cereal boxes, tissue boxes, etc.)
  • Paper bags
  • Tissue paper
  • Crepe paper
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Napkins
  • Paper plates
  • Recycled artwork
  • Used coloring books
  • Cardboard tubes (toilet paper tubes, paper towel rolls)
  • Old calendars
This torn paper art is a paper tearing activity for kids that uses recycled artwork to build fine motor skills and motor control while tearing paper.

Torn paper art  

This ripped paper art is a craft that is so simple, yet such a fun way to create art while working on fine motor skills.  

Tear paper into strips to work on fine motor skills with kids.

You’ll need just a few materials for ripped paper art:

  • Paper (Any type or texture will do…old crafts, kids artwork, or paper that has been painted)
  • Glue
  • Paper to cardstock to use as a base
  • Your hands!

We all have piles of kids’ artwork that is gorgeous…yet abundant.  You keep the ones that mean the most, but what do you do with those piles of painted paper, scribbled sheets, and crafty pages?  You sure can’t keep it all or your house will become covered in paper, paint, and glitter.  We used a great blue page to make our torn paper art.

Making the torn paper art is very simple. It’s a process art activity that will look different no matter how many times you do the activity.

How to create torn paper art:

  1. Select a variety of paper colors, materials, and textures.
  2. Tear a sheet into long strips.  This will become the sky of our artwork.
  3. Use white paper to create cloud shapes. Tear the paper into shapes.
  4. Use green cardstock or other material to create grass. Tear small strips into the paper but not through to the edge. Create a fringe with the paper.
  5. Glue the torn paper onto the base page in layers.
  6. Use your imagination and have fun!

A few tips for creating torn paper art

Have a variety of paper types, colors, and textures available. Some ideas include using junk mail, recycled artwork, cardstock, construction paper, printer paper, crepe paper, cardboard, cereal boxes, etc.

Use your imagination. You can start with an idea to create or you can go with the flow of the art creation and start without an idea.

If you have trouble coming up with an idea for your torn paper art, try some of these:

  • Create a torn paper landscape
  • Create an object from ripped paper textures
  • Make a torn paper abstract artwork
  • Copy real life objects and make representational art
  • Create a ripped paper still life
  • Use all one color of paper in different textures to make a monochromatic artwork
  • Make abstract portraits
  • Tear the paper into shapes to make geometric artwork
  • Explore art concepts such as size, shape, color, lines, form, space, texture
  • Explore multimedia: Incorporate printed paper, painted paper, glossy paper, cardboard in different textures, crayon colored paper, etc.
Tear paper into strips of ripped paper to work on eye-hand coordination in an occupational therapy activity with recycled materials.
Tearing paper builds fine motor skills and endurance in fine motor precision, making it a fine motor workout!
Ripping paper is a fine motor activity for kids in occupational therapy or working on fine motor skills at home.

 More paper activities

Tear and paste activity with blue paper and green cardstock to create a torn paper collage.

We used one of the long strips of green cardstock to create grass by making small tears.  Be careful not to tear the whole way across the strip!  What a workout this is for those hand muscles.  

Use recycled art like painted paper to create torn art collage while building fine motor skills in kids.

 Next glue the blue strips onto a background piece of paper.  Tear white scrap paper into cloud shapes.  They can be any shape, just like clouds in the sky!

Tear paper to help kids strengthen fine motor skills.

 Grab a piece of yellow cardstock and create a sun.  This is another fabulous fine motor workout.  Tearing a circle-ish shape and creating small tears really works those muscles in the hands.

Tearing paper activity for kids

 Glue the sun onto the sky and enjoy the art.  

More paper activities that build skills:

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Fun Buttoning Activities

Buttoning activities for kids

Using a few fun buttoning activities is powerful when it comes to teaching kids how to button. When you add fun button practice to the functional task of learning to button a shirt or pants, kids can gain independence. Let’s check out some fun buttoning and unbuttoning activities that kids will love. Get ready to fasten a button and build skills!

Buttoning activities for kids

Today, I’ve got a creative way to practice a fine motor task that is often times a tricky for little fumbling fingers: teaching kids how to button…and with a recycled egg carton no less!  

Read more for creative tips and tools to practice buttoning with kids:   As an Occupational Therapist working with kiddos, I often times had children (and adults!) with goals to improve functional skills like buttoning and managing clothing fasteners.  

The best thing (to me) about OT is helping folks to work towards independence in meaningful activities and encouraging self-confidence in function through fun and creative ways.  

Imaging fumbling to fasten buttons in a row on a shirt or jacket.  Trying to push that little button through  the hole of the shirt, but struggling.  But, you have to keep working on it, because it’s something you want to do yourself.  But it’s just so hard.  Still, you keep trying. Over and over again. It’s just not fun.

That’s where fun button practice activities come into play!

This egg carton buttoning activity is definitely fun and works on a task that can get real boring, real quick.  

There is something a little more happy about these buttons and a recycled egg carton. It’s part of our 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series and it’s been a big hit in our house, lately.

Teach kids how to button with this cute egg carton buttoning activity!  This is fun to make while working on fine motor skills and helping kids with a difficult self-care task.

Skills needed for buttoning

First, let’s talk about why buttoning a shirt is so hard for some kids. When teaching a child to button a shirt or unbutton clothing, sometimes breaking down the task of HOW to button is the hardest part.

You really need a lot of skills in order to button a shirt.  

  • Both hands need to work together in a coordinated manner while doing different movements.
  • Buttons are small in most cases and require a good grasp to hold the edge of the button
  • Hands need intrinsic hand strength and arch development to hold the button and push it through the button hole.  
  • Then there is the other hand working to hold that button hole, with bilateral coordination.  
  • But first, you need to make sure the buttons and holes are lined up correctly.
  • There is a lot of problem solving and sequencing involved in buttoning.  

All of this is done while wearing the shirt and at an awkward position, while looking down.  If any of these areas are a problem area, then buttoning a shirt immediately becomes much more difficult.   

Teach Kids How to Button

There are a few ways that make learning the steps of buttoning a bit easier:  

  • Practice unbuttoning first.  
  • Break down steps of buttoning.  
  • Use consistent verbal and physical cues when helping the child button.  
  • If aligning buttons to the button holes is a difficult task, show them how to take this part a step at a time, by lining up the bottom button to the bottom hole. 
  • Practice buttoning from bottom to top.  The child will have more room to work and a better view of the buttons at the bottom of a vest or shirt.
  • Practice buttoning with shirts/vests that are not visually distracting.  Use a white shirt with colored buttons.  You can also add a dot of paint to buttons to make them stand out.
  • At first, practice buttoning with a shirt laying on the child’s lap or table, and  positioned like it would be on their body.  Practicing with a different shirt on the table gives the child more room to see the buttons and how their hands are working than if they are buttoning on their body. 
  • Then, practice with an over-shirt, with the shirt on their body.
  • Practice with larger buttons.
  • Iron the button and hole edges of the shirt for a stiffer material to work with.
  • Practice with a jacket that is made with a thicker material, like corduroy.
  • For younger kids (age 3) you can snip the button hole just a little to make buttoning easier.

Backward Chaining in Buttoning

Backward chaining is a therapy term that refers to breaking down a task in order to teach specific skills. In learning how to button or unbutton, therapists can use backward chaining to teach kids how to do each step of buttoning in a sequence.

Backward chaining encourages success in buttoning by starting with the last step.

You can teach buttoning skills this way by working on just this last step with your child until they have mastered it. Then, work on the previous step. Gradually, add more steps to the buttoning task until they are able to complete the whole process.

Backward chaining encourages self-confidence and success in learning new skills.

Buttoning Activities

This buttoning activity uses a recycled egg carton to work on the specific skills needed to fasten buttons. These are great buttoning activities for preschoolers and children struggling with the fine motor components of managing buttons on their clothing.

Try these buttoning activities:

  • Work on the fine motor skills needed to button by pushing coins into a piggy bank.
  • Cut a slit in felt and push a coin through the felt.
  • Push buttons through the lid of a recycled container.
  • Try these felt buttons to work on precision and dexterity.
  • Cut slits in paper and push buttons through the slits.
  • Make an egg carton buttoning activity (below)
  • Cut a slit in cardstock or construction paper.  Push buttons through the slits.  Try it with tissue paper, too.
  • Hold coins or buttons on the edge and press them into play dough so they are standing on their edge.
  • Thread beads onto pipe cleaners.

RELATED READ: Teach Kids How to Tie Their Own Shoes

Use buttons and paper to work on buttoning and unbuttoning activities. Use these buttoning occupational therapy tips.

RELATED READ: The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Kids to Dress Themselves

Teach buttoning and fastening buttons with this egg carton button activity.

Egg Carton Buttoning Activity

This is a fine motor activity to make the buttoning tool, so get the kids involved in the prep-work!  We made a similar egg carton shoe tying tool recently.  

Yes, sure.  You can work on buttoning and shoe tying with a plain old shirt or shoe. But, sometimes it is good to bring new experiences into the learning process.  

Adding a new way to practice makes it less boring and kids will be excited to try working those buttons again and again.  

You’ll need just a few materials to make this egg carton buttoning activity:

Attach buttons to an egg carton to work on buttoning skills with kids. Includes other buttoning activities for kids.

RELATED READ: Teach Kids How to Zipper

  1. Start by poking the corn holder into the bottoms of the egg carton.  You want four holes for each button.  
  2. Then thread the pipe cleaner through one of the holes, and through the button and back down through the egg carton, like this:   
Teach kids how to button with this cute egg carton buttoning activity!  This is fun to make while working on fine motor skills and helping kids with a difficult self-care task.

3. Bend the pipe cleaner back up through the holes and back down to the inside of the egg carton.  

4. Twist the pipe cleaner ends together to secure the button.  You will want the button to have some give and not be completely flat against the egg carton.

Work on buttoning activities with an egg carton and buttons.

5. Then, start practicing the buttons.  

6. Use a long ribbon with slits cut lengthwise.  

7. Practice with the egg carton on your child’s lap or on the tabletop in front of them.  

Teach kids how to button with this cute egg carton buttoning activity!  This is fun to make while working on fine motor skills and helping kids with a difficult self-care task.
Teach kids how to button with this cute egg carton buttoning activity!  This is fun to make while working on fine motor skills and helping kids with a difficult self-care task.

For more buttoning activities for kids, try using paper on the buttons, too. Use tissue paper on the buttons for more refined buttoning practice.  We also used squares of cardstock and cut up cereal boxes.  Make sure the buttons are not flush against the egg carton.

Buttoning activities and tips to teach kids to button and unbutton a shirt.

More Buttoning Activities

Looking for even more ways to practice buttoning?  These are some of my favorite items on the market.  

When a child needs to work on some skills for their independence, toys can be the way to go!  These toys are great for developing independence in dressing skills.  This post contains affiliate links.  

Small World Toys Learning – Before and After is great for kids who need to gain insight into concepts of before and after.  You can not put your shoes on before you put your socks on.  Cognitive concepts can be tricky for children to understand if auditory processing of these ideas are difficult.

This Special Needs Sensory Activity Apron (Children & Adult Sizes) allows the child to manage the clothing fasteners right on their lap.  This is so great for children with motor planning difficulties.  

You could also use a Montessori Buttoning Frame with Large Buttons Dressing Frame and lay it right on the child’s lap.  

Childrens Factory Manual Dexterity Vests – Button-Zipper Combo Vest is a good way to practice buttons and zippers right on the child.  

 Learning to Get Dressed Monkey is a fun toy for clothing fasteners.  

Practice basic clothing fastener skills like buttons, zippers, snaps, and ties with the Melissa & Doug Basic Skills Board.  The bright colors are fun and will get little fingers moving on clothing fasteners.

Teach kids how to button with this cute egg carton buttoning activity!  This is fun to make while working on fine motor skills and helping kids with a difficult self-care task.
How to teach buttoning to kids including tips from occupational therapy for buttoning skills.
Teach buttoning skills to kids with fun buttoning activities.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Friendship Activities

friendship activities

Today, we are covering friendship activities. These are friendship crafts and lessons that support the social emotional skill development of interacting with others by creating close relationships. Friendship activities are great for therapy interventions and as a supplement to social emotional skills. Friendship activities involve learning and using empathy, and activities to support friendship skills are a great way to develop these learned skills.

These friendship activities support the social emotional skill development of interacting with others by creating close relationships. Friendship activities are great for therapy interventions and as a supplement to social emotional skills. Friendship activities involve learning and using empathy, and activities to support friendship skills are a great way to develop these learned skills.

I am excited to share a collection of friendship activities designed to help children establish and build friendships. How do you teach friendship? This can be an abstract concept for kids, but by using friendship skills activities like games to teach social skills, friendship crafts, friendship recipes, and printables about friendship, we can teach children skills like empathy, perseverance, sharing, cooperation, and other essential components of friendship.

Be sure grab these friendship activities for teletherapy:

Writing about Friendship Slide Deck – writing prompts, writing letters to friends, and handwriting activities to develop friendship skills, all on a free interactive Google slide deck.

Personal Space Friendship Skills Slide Deck– Friendship involves allowing personal space, and body awareness and all of this is part of the social skill development that some kids struggle with. Use this free Google slide deck to work on body awareness and personal space.

Friendship activities to help kids develop social skills for friendship skills. Includes friendship recipes, friendship crafts, social stories information, and more.

Friendship Activities

Are you a good friend? Do you make a good friend? Do you have good friends? All of these are such important questions for children who are learning each day the necessary social skills that build lasting friendships. Strong social skills are an important piece of everyday life and the earlier this is recognized, the better social growth and development a child will experience. 

Strong social skills are an important piece of everyday life and the earlier this is recognized, the better social growth and development a child will experience.

Demonstrating and recognizing the friendship qualities that makes a good friend and keeps friendships strong is an important skill to have early on in childhood. Children will develop friendships with others from different backgrounds, cultures, lifestyles, and abilities.

Adults have a responsibility to teach children about kindness and friendship to all. Learning this along with how a good friend acts and behaves and what is the right and wrong way to treat a friend is essential for strong social skill development.

Friendship activities can help children begin to explore the friendship qualities and behaviors that are important to learn how to be a good friend, if they make a good friend, and recognize do they have a good friend.

Read on for some creative ways to engage children in learning friendship skills.

Teaching Friendship Skills to Kids

There are many wonderful activities that can be used to help children develop friendship skills. What are some of the specific skills that are needed for building and maintaining friendships?

  • Empathy
  • Acceptance
  • Sharing
  • Listening
  • Asking questions/being interested
  • Helping others
  • Responding to social situations
  • Communicating
  • Turn-taking
  • Cooperating
  • Solving problems
  • Perseverance
  • Being supportive
  • Trustworthiness

Some of these concepts are very abstract.

Using concrete examples, modeling, social stories, and activities that provide examples of these social skills can be powerful.

One way that I’ve loved to help children with social skill development in hands-on, and memorable ways is through play. To bring real-life visual examples that provide an opportunity for conversation and discussion is to use children’s books to inspire exploration of friendship skill development. Here are children’s books and activities that develop friendship skills.

Use the books to inspire discussion and play-based exploration of concepts such as empathy, acceptance, and differences.

Another way to address abstract concepts is through play. Use everyday toys to explore and develop turn-taking, communication, sharing, and problem solving.

Or, address turn-taking with blocks as kids communicate and practice taking turns.

Explore differences with this friendship sensory bottle.

These other friendship activities will give children the time to play and read to help them build a better understanding of good friendship behaviors and how to demonstrate them. Let’s take a look…

Sensory Friendship Activity

Friendship Countdown Chain

Friendship Ice Cream Cone Throw

Friendship Recipe

Food is always a fun way for children to learn!  Using food is a great way to explore different friendship characteristics while making a tasty friendship treat to eat!

These recipes include food items like cereal, fruit, chocolate, and nuts. Be sure to always check for food allergies and especially peanut or nut allergies, if you include these in your treats. 

Freight Train Activity – This mesmerizing book teaches basic concepts of shapes and colors, but can be expanded to discuss differences, awareness of others.

Friendship Treat Recipe

Friendship Snack Mix

Friendship Snack Mix

Friendship Fruit Salad

Friendship Games

Games are another fun way for children to learn important skills like sharing, empathy, making friends, kindness, differences, and more.  What child doesn’t like games? 

Engage children in these fun games that include a version of I Spy with monsters, bean bag activities played in a group while in a line or a circle, tossing of a yarn ball to say why someone makes a good friend, and activity ideas in a cooperation blog post that includes elements of friendship.

What Makes a Friend? Monster Game

Core Strengthening Friendship Activity

Friendship Yarn Game

Cooperation: 12 Group Activities for Kids

Friendship Crafts

Friendship activities such as those that support the development of social emotional skills through crafts are always a hit. In occupational therapy, crafts are a creative way for children develop motor skills, executive functioning, and emotional regulation, but they are also a fantastic way for kids to express themselves, share and create with others, and develop their skills.

These friendship crafts incorporate all of these elements while focusing on friendship to include spreading kindness, sharing, turn taking, and giving.

Empathy Activity– Use beads and a children’s book to explore empathy.

Super Friend Capes made with tee shirts.

Friendship Rocks Fingerprint Hearts made with rocks and fingerprints.

Friendship Flowers made with construction paper.

Foam Heart Friendship Necklaces made with foam hearts, beads, and yarn.

Beaded Friendship Bracelets made with beads and stretchy cords.

Friendship High Fives made with handprints and construction paper.

Secret Friendship Messages made with white crayons and revealed with watercolor paints.

Friendship Printables

In the classroom, therapy room, and hallway are great places to display friendship posters that show the importance of friendship and help create a positive classroom and school community. They show how to be a good friend and how not to be a good friend as well as help children to gain an understanding of good friendship qualities.

Friendship Posters

How to Be a Friend Posters

Friends Play Dough Printable

Friendship social stories

Social stories, or printable, hand-held stories that describe situations can give kids a concrete plan for everyday tasks. Using social stories to explain social situations is a great way to help kids with abstract concepts.

There are many nice templates out there that cover aspects of friendship, but for the most part, a social story should be individualized for each child.

This article on Autism and Friendship Skills includes important research on this topic to explore, but when it comes to using online social stories, they may not always be appropriate. Writing a social story for your child will be far more effective when you use the images, vocabulary, and terms that make sense to YOUR child or client, and the specific situations that are appropriate to your individual child or client.

Friendship Activities with Books

Mentioned briefly above, using books to help kids explore friendship is an incredibly rewarding way to pair friendship activities with the world of books.

Parents can cozy up with a child under a cozy blanket, for a calming and regulating experience of reading books togeter. Then, there is the oppourtunity to communicate about the characters, their friendships, and their conflicts, and their social situations that they had to navigate.

Through books, families can look at the pictures and come back to specific concepts again and again. And, adding hands-on, multi-sensory play experiences brings those concepts home.

In the resource, Exploring Books Through Play, you’ll do just that.

This digital, E-BOOK is an amazing resource for anyone helping kids learn about acceptance, empathy, compassion, and friendship. In Exploring Books through Play, you’ll find therapist-approved resources, activities, crafts, projects, and play ideas based on 10 popular children’s books. Each book covered contains activities designed to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory exploration, handwriting, and more. Help kids understand complex topics of social/emotional skills, empathy, compassion, and friendship through books and hands-on play.

Click here to get your copy of Exploring Books Through Play.

social emotional activities for kids
Regina Allen

Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

Adults With Executive Function Disorder

Resources for adults with executive function disorder

Here, you will find tools and information for adults with executive function disorder and executive functioning issues that impact day to day tasks in adulthood. For adults, executive functioning skills are a part of everything we do. They impact the way we pay attention, focus, plan, and prioritize. Here, you’ll find strategies that can impact executive functioning needs so that organization, impulse control, planning, time management, and other executive functioning skills are improved and regulated in daily life tasks.

Adults with Executive Function Disorder

Now you might be thinking, “Executive function disorder?! I don’t have a disorder!” And that is probably the case in most instances for those reading this article. However, there are many of us who struggle on a day to day basis with things like getting started on chores or problems (task initiation), staying focused (attention), losing things constantly (organization), getting out of the house on time on a regular basis (task completion), and a variety of other challenges that impact our lives and generally stress us out. These are not the components that define a disorder, but they are executive functioning challenges that impact day to day life. It’s my hope that this resource offers tools to make the overall wellbeing better, and to offer tools for adults with executive function challenges easier!

Let’s break down executive functioning skills in adults and take a look at how things like focus, attention, organization impact life skills in adulthood.

My daughter has battled Executive Function Disorder all of her life, but right now, it is really preventing her from moving forward with her life. Things like completing a task, making decisions, time management, and projecting ahead are SO HARD. Is there anything that can help my adult daughter struggling with executive functioning disorder?

Does this sound at all familiar? So often, executive functioning challenges are present in adults but we don’t stop and think, this isn’t how things have to be. In fact, there are everyday challenges that are very difficult for adults with executive functioning needs. Things like organization, planning, and flexible thinking can be a real struggle that impacts family life, work life, personal relationships, and the things we need to do every day.

As kids with these challenges move into adulthood, some areas that we might expect to develop just never seem to change. It’s not uncommon; the fact is that executive functioning skills are a very broad set of skills. Forgetting things, difficulty with inhibiting behaviors or actions, trouble with planning big projects, or staying organized in the daily life of an adult…everyone deals with these challenges at one time or another.

The challenges become a problem when  social, emotional, intellectual, or organizational aspects are disrupted.  A person’s career/job/family life/etc. can be devastated by difficulties with executive functioning skills. 

Difficulties with the higher-level cognitive skills that make up executive function can impact adults by limiting one’s ability to “connect the dots” and can impact other areas of executive functioning as well. 

For the adult with executive function disorder, challenges can present in many different ways. There may be no trouble with impulsivity or attention struggles, however other mental skills can be quite difficulty. Sometimes, seeing the “big picture” is the problem. For others, it’s just making decisions. Still others lack time management and have difficulty with multi-tasking.   

Adults with executive function disorder can struggle with organization, trouble with planning, prioritization, etc.Here are tools and strategies to help the adult with executive function problems.i

Executive Function in Adults

Here’s the thing: There is a lot of information out there for kids who are struggling with these areas. However, for most of us, executive functioning skills are still developing well into the adult years.

Executive function in adults is developmental. In fact, executive function skills don’t typically develop until the early 20s. Development of executive functioning skills occurs up through the college years (and beyond), making that transition from the home setting of high-school into a college dorm very difficult for many. 

So, for some adults who are challenged in these areas, there can be simply a few accommodations or strategies put into place. Simply using a few set of tools designed to address these needs can allow for improved skills like organization and time management which are then carried over to other areas.   

Making changes to executive function in adults can mean looking at the big picture.

Adults need to do adult things, right? Areas of life skills where executive functioning skills impact “getting things done” include:

  • Obtaining a job
  • Maintaining a job
  • Creating personal relationships
  • Maintaining personal relationships
  • Sustaining a clean and safe home
  • Completing large home projects (inside the home and outside the home)
  • Shopping
  • Paying bills
  • Transporting oneself to work, the community
  • Making healthy choices
  • Cooking and cleaning up food
  • Taking medications
  • Contributing to the community
  • Caring for children

When you think about the life changes that happen between high school graduation to accomplishing all of these high-level executive functioning skills, you can see how there is a developmental change that occurs between the ages of 18-25.

Executive Functioning Skill Components

In order to complete high-level thinking and planning tasks, adults require development of several executive functioning areas:

  • Planning
  • Prioritization
  • Attention
  • Organization
  • Task Completion
  • Task Initiation
  • Problem Solving
  • Working Memory
  • Self-control
  • Flexibility
  • Self-awareness

For other adults who may have always struggled with seeing the big picture, planning tasks, or staying focused on a task, this is the typical development for that individual. In other words, some adults may be gaining improvements and strengthening the skills they’ve got, just at a lower level than another adult. In these cases, strategies and tools can make a difference here, too. 

Adults and distractibility 

We are distracted by many things, and that level of distractibility is impacted by advances in screens, stimuli around us, faster lifestyles, more options, and increasing availability of information.

Some good resources to check out on adults and distractibility include:

Below, you will find curated information from around the web that will be instrumental in making an effortful improvement in executive functioning needs. Read through this information and use it as best fits the needs you or an adult with executive functioning challenges might be experiencing.  

Remember that everyone is different in their strengths, weaknesses, needs, interests, and experiences. This information is not intended to treat or address specific needs, but rather, as educational material. Seek professional help when needed.   

Adult Executive Functioning Disorder

The is fact that adult executive functioning impacts everything we do as adults. Take a look at this adult executive functioning skill checklist.

Some of these problem areas for adult executive functioning issues may include:

  • Difficulty making plans
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Time management
  • Trouble with organization
  • Difficulty keeping important papers organized
  • Trouble prioritizing 
  • Poor emotional control 
  • Difficulty with flexible thinking
  • Trouble thinking “on the spot”
  • Trouble using a schedule
  • Trouble getting out of the house on time
  • Trouble with impulsive buys
  • Difficulty paying bills on time
  • Difficulty with losing keys or important items
  • Trouble following through with plans
  • Trouble picking the most important tasks
  • Trouble doing the important parts of tasks first
  • Trying to do too much at once
  • Constantly running late
  • Difficulty listening to a person talking without thinking of other things
  • Easily frustrated
  • Forget the last step/steps in a multi-step task

It’s easy to see how the list above can look so different for different people, especially when considering aspects such as job requirements, family obligations, outside situations or other issues that may make a difference in the occupational performance of an individual.   

Executive Functioning Skills and Emotions

Executive functioning kills and emotional regulation are closely related. Playing a role in the ability to function and complete day-to-day tasks is the role of the limbic system when it comes to executive functioning skills. Managing emotions, and emotional regulation can greatly impact the adult with executive function challenges.   

These structures and their hormones control functions such as emotions, behavior, motivation, sleep, appetite, olfaction, stress response. In adults, the role of the limbic system impacts household tasks completed, grocery shopping, paying bills, getting to work on time, caring for children and other daily life tasks.

This is really interesting, because you may connect the dots with this list and see that social emotional skills, executive functioning, inner drives, and sensory processing (including the sense of smell and interoception) all centered in one place in the brain! (This is not to say that these are the only places in the brain that operate these functions as well.)

You can see how the role of emotions and regulating daily stressors impacts attention, organization, task initiation, task completion, and problem solving.

Generally speaking, the limbic system is the emotional brain but this piece of the EF puzzle has a huge role for adults who are expected to act…like adults!

Adults with executive function disorder can struggle with organization, trouble with planning, prioritization, etc.Here are tools and strategies to help the adult with executive function problems.i

Tips for adult executive functioning

Some easy to apply tools can impact executive functioning challenges in adults. These strategies include low-tech or high-tech strategies such as:  

  • Use a paper planner or calendar to keep track of obligations
  • Set up a filing system to keep track of and manage mail and important papers
  • Use highlighters and colorful sticky notes to make a visual organization system
  • Use apps to stay organized. Here are some Alexa Skills that can help with executive functioning skills like organization, etc.
  • Set up calendar reminders on a phone or smartwatch
  • Set up automatic payment plans for bills
  • Brainstorm routines and weekly/daily tasks and strategies to make decision-making less stressful and easier
  • Think through and visualize the day or week ahead and predict any challenge that may arise
  • Create routines and calendars for ongoing tasks
  • Create brain dumping lists for big tasks and set goals with specific dates and timelines
  • Use a daily journal to track each day’s events. The Impulse Control Journal can be used by adults as well as kids. The “look” of the journal is not childish, and has many components that can translate to an adult’s needs in promoting organizational, time management, etc. 

Resources for Adults with Executive Function Disorder

Here are some symptoms of executive function disorder in adults. Some of the symptoms include time blindness, self-motivation, and an inability to keep future events in mind. Do these symptoms sound familiar?

One symptom that is mentioned is the regulation of one’s non-verbal working memory, or our inner critic. This is an area that can be detrimental to some, especially when self-conscious of weaknesses that impact life choices or struggles.  Here is one simple strategy for self-talk in kids, but can be morphed into an age-appropriate version for adults. 

If an adult or someone who is trying to help an adult with executive function needs would like to look into testing, here is a self-test that may help with self-awareness of the problems that can easily be addressed through strategies and tools. Use this information to move forward with professional help if necessary. 

Another article that can “bring to light” some of the concerns with executive functioning needs is this article about the day in the life of an adult with EFD. It really highlights the challenge of managing other people’s schedules, the workplace juggling act, and managing relationships.

Time management tools, including simple planners and time management apps can be helpful. Here are more tools for addressing time management and other tools such as motivation, scheduling, prioritization, and other challenges. 

This article discusses ADHD, but a lot of the tips and strategies can carryover to any need with planning ahead.

Finally, remember that many of the executive functioning strategies that are out there and presented in books can be used just as easily and seamlessly by adults. The same strategies that work for keeping track of homework tasks by a child can be used by an adult who needs to manage bills and important papers. 

How to plan and prioritize tasks

The Impulse Control Journal is your guide to addressing the underlying skills that play into trouble with planning and prioritization. 

The journal is an 80 page collection of worksheets and prompts to discover what’s really going on behind executive functioning skills like planning, organization, prioritization, working memory, and of course, impulse control. 

While the guide was developed for students of all ages, this printable workbook is perfect for adults, too. It can help you discover strategies that make a real impact for all of the skills needed to get things done. 

Here’s the thing; Everyone is SO different when it comes to struggles related to executive functioning and everyone’s interests, needs, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses are different too. All of these areas play into the challenges we see on the surface. And, this is where the Impulse Control Journal really hits those strengths, weaknesses, and challenges where it matters…in creating a plan that really works for kids of all ages (and adults, too!)

Check out the Impulse Control Journal, and grab it before the end of February, because you’ll get a bonus packet of Coping Cards while the journal is at it’s lowest price. 

Read more about The Impulse Control Journal HERE
The Impulse Control Journal has been totally revamped to include 79 pages of tools to address the habits, mindset, routines, and strategies to address impulse control in kids.    More about the Impulse Control Journal:

  • 30 Drawing Journal Pages to reflect and pinpoint individual strategies 
  • 28 Journal Lists so kids can write quick checklists regarding strengths, qualities, supports, areas of need, and insights 
  • 8 Journaling worksheets to pinpoint coping skills, feelings, emotions, and strategies that work for the individual 
  • Daily and Weekly tracking sheets for keeping track of tasks and goals 
  • Mindset,Vision, and Habit pages for helping kids make an impact 
  • Self-evaluation sheets to self-reflect and identify when inhibition is hard and what choices look like 
  • Daily tracker pages so your child can keep track of their day 
  • Task lists to monitor chores and daily tasks so it gets done everyday  
  • Journal pages to help improve new habits  
  • Charts and guides for monitoring impulse control so your child can improve their self confidence
  • Strategy journal pages to help kids use self-reflection and self-regulation so they can succeed at home and in the classroom  
  • Goal sheets for setting goals and working to meet those goals while improving persistence  
  • Tools for improving mindset to help kids create a set of coping strategies that work for their needs  

This is a HUGE digital resource that you can print to use over and over again.

These tips and strategies to help with executive functioning skills can be used by adults who are challenged with difficulty in planning, prioritization, organization and other cognitive skills.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.