The Ultimate Guide To Executive Functioning Skills in Children

Having great executive functioning skills are key when it comes to your child’s learning and academic success. Not only are executive functions mental skills we use every day to get things done, they’re an integral part of helping kids realise, pursue and achieve goals, focus their attention, organise their time and get things done in an efficient way. With executive functioning skills still being a fairly new concept, often there’s not enough focus on them in school and home environments. Understanding what they are and why they are so important is crucial, especially as kids with poor executive functioning skills may be struggling more than they need to. Here’s the ultimate guide for parents when it comes to executive functioning skills in children.

Understanding Executive Functioning

Some people describe executive function as ‘the management system of the brain.’ That’s because the skills involved let us filter distractions, prioritise, set and achieve goals, anticipate obstacles and control impulses. Put simply, it isn’t what we get done, but rather 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.

According to Harvard University, 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?

Children that have good executive functioning skills will often experience benefits throughout the rest of their life. This is because they possess the skills that are crucial for learning and development which help them to make informed, smart choices too. Without strong executive functioning skills, children may struggle much more than necessary in school and in some cases can 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
  • Have trouble starting and/or completing tasks
  • Easily forget what they’ve just heard or read
  • Have trouble managing time

How To Spot Weak Executive Functioning

Brain differences can make it hard for kids to focus, set goals, get started, and stay on task. This includes things like doing homework and daily routines. That’s why it’s so important for parents to be able to spot if their child is struggling, so they can get some extra help building up their executive functioning skills. Here are just a few ways their academic performance may be affected and things to look out for.

  • Difficulty planning and completing projects
  • Challenges understanding how long a project will take to complete and planning the steps to complete it
  • 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

How To Help Improve Your Child’s Executive Functioning Skills

Many kids who learn and think differently have trouble with executive function, however, these difficulties don’t mean kids aren’t smart. Often these kinds of struggles are misunderstood and people might think they’re just being lazy or aren’t capable of doing more. Yet with the right support, children who struggle with executive functioning can thrive. In fact, there are lots of strategies and tools that can make everyday life easier for your child.

Establish Routines

Establishing daily routines not only helps to improve your child’s muscle memory but also their organisation skills and the ability to juggle multiple tasks. This can be as simple as having 30-minute homework time as soon as they get home from school, hanging up their uniform each day and packing their school bag the night before. It’s always a good idea to create a chart showing what needs to be done each day so your child can tick it off as they go. After a while, remove the chart and watch them complete their routine without being prompted!

Play Strategy Games

A fun way to enhance executive functioning skills with the whole family is by playing strategy games together. This can include board games like chess, cards or memory activities. These games require your child to focus their attention and make quick decisions, which helps develop their working memory and cognitive flexibility.

Make Use Of External Reminders

If your child is having trouble remembering information, start by removing barriers by making as much information as possible available to them. For example, if your child loses track of big projects or completing homework to deadline, they’ll benefit from having a calendar or electronic alerts sent to them; if they easily lose track of time, a clock or watch can help them improve time management skills or if they’re having issues remembering information from lessons, recording audio may improve their study sessions.

Other Resources With Tools To Help Improve Children’s Executive Functioning Skills

Tutor Doctor also offers an excellent X-Skills programme, specifically designed to focus on mastering executive functioning skills. For more information,click here.