Executive Functioning

Executive functioning is one of the biggest skills kids develop.  The term encompasses the work of the frontal lobe (the part of the brain behind your forehead).  In humans, this is the last part of the brain to develop, continuing into our twenties. Boys tend to develop this part of the brain later than girls. This is an area strongly affected by ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and nonverbal reasoning.

As you’ll see when you review this list, these are skills everyone needs for life–and the sooner kids develop them, the more confident and competent they’ll be as they head into adulthood.

There are 10-12 subcategories normally associated with executive functioning:

Response Inhibition
Working Memory
Emotional Control
Sustained Attention
Task Initiation
Time Management
Goal-Directed Persistence
Stress Tolerance

The first six are generally skills we aim to develop during the elementary years and the latter six during the secondary years. The more opportunities you create to help your child practice these skills in small ways (that are age appropriate), the better they will develop them.  One of the best ways to practice them is simply to talk about them; the more we name skills and discuss how and when our child can work on them, the more intentional our children can be about their goals.  Chores are one of the best ways to practice these skills outside of school.

If one or two of these areas jump out at you as an area your child struggles with, find a calm time when they are ripe for a conversation and bring it up: “I’ve been thinking about emotional control (for example), and I feel like it’s something we could work on.  The next time you’re disappointed, what are some appropriate ways to show it?”  Customize it to your child’s situation so it doesn’t sound so hokey!  Have a discussion about controlling emotions and how hard it can be; talk about why it’s important and how to share our emotions appropriately.  These conversations will help your child think about their own actions (metacognition) and develop a maturity over the years that does not come automatically.

I have lots of resources to help develop these skills. Reach out if you want to talk about any of this in relation to your child. I love brainstorming about how to better support kids!