Executive Functioning Skills: What Are They & Why Are They Important?

Executive functioning skills are now seen as more important to your child’s learning and academic success than their IQ. That’s because these skills allow kids to formulate and pursue goals, focus their attention as well as plan and get things done. However, executive functioning skills are still a new concept for many, meaning they aren’t always taught at school and home. Understanding what they are and why they are so important is crucial, especially as kids with poor executive functioning skills will be struggling more than they need to at school and in everyday life. Here’s everything you need to know.

What are Executive Functioning Skills?

Executive functioning is a term psychologists use to describe the many tasks our brains perform that are necessary to think, act, and solve problems. In other words, it isn’t what we get done, but how we get it done. When narrowing down the specific skills that make up executive functioning it includes organisation, time management, planning and attention to detail. Our executive functioning skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, juggle multiple tasks successfully, anticipate obstacles and control impulses.

Harvard University believes executive functioning consists of three types of mental processes:

Working Memory: Storing and processing information over short periods of time.

Inhibitory control: Resisting impulses and thinking before acting.

Cognitive flexibility: Focusing and shifting attention in response to different situations.

Why Are Executive Functioning Skills So Important?

Students that have developed executive functioning skills will often experience lifelong benefits. This is because they possess the skills that are crucial for learning and development as well as enable positive behaviour to help them make informed, smart choices.

It Can Affect Behaviour

Executive functioning skills usually develop quickly during early childhood and into adolescence. Without strong executive functioning skills, children can struggle much more than necessary at school and in their everyday life. In some cases, kids lacking these skills can experience issues with ADHD, develop learning difficulties or experience the following issues with their behaviour and attention span.

  • Difficulties focusing attention.
  • Trouble controlling behaviour.
  • Unable to plan or prioritise.
  • Find it hard to hold information in their working memory.

It Can Affect Learning

Children with weak executive functioning skills often struggle more than they should with learning. Here are just a few ways their academic performance may be affected.

  • Difficulty planning and completing projects.
  • Problems understanding how long a project will take to complete.
  • Struggling with telling a story in the right sequence with important details.
  • Trouble communicating details in an organised, sequential manner.
  • Problems generating ideas independently.
  • Difficulty retaining information while doing something.

Listen To The Tutor Doctor ‘Learning @ Home’ Podcast

For more information about executive functioning skills, listen to our recent podcast episode. Bob Rosedale joins host, Gil Cadiz, and co-host, Ryzwana Hafiz, to discuss why executive functioning skills are so important for students. The episode dives deep into how underdeveloped executive functioning skills can impact students from primary school all the way to university, and provides parents with useful tips and advice on how to help their kids develop these vital skills.