Executive Functioning Skills in Kids: Types, Importance & more

Executive Functioning Skills in Children – Why They Are Important

Executive functioning skills are more of an umbrella term that is used for describing neurological-based skills that include mental control as well as self-regulation. In simple words, these skills are controlled by the frontal lobe of the brain that helps you do tasks. If these skills are not properly developed, it may hamper a child’s ability to do some basic things such as going or working in a school, maintaining relationships, doing things independently, etc. Let us find out more about executive functioning skills, why are they important and other associated aspects of the topic.

What Is Executive Functioning?

In layman’s terms, executive functioning in a child’s brain refers to the brain’s management system. These skills assist an individual in setting goals, planning, and getting things done. If these skills do not develop properly then kids may find it difficult to perform executive functions and it can impact their life at home as well as in school.

Types of Executive Functioning

Executive functioning can be broadly categorized into the following three types:

1. Working Memory

This skill helps to keep the information in the mind and then use it in some or the other way. For example, a child can use this skill to read a chapter to gain information and later answer the questions based on the retained knowledge.

2. Flexible Thinking Or Cognitive Flexibility

This skill helps in thinking about something with multiple perspectives or more than one way. For example, a child may use a concept learned in math in various other fields.

3. Inhibitory Control

This skill helps the child to exercise control over temptations and ignore various distractions. For example, this skill can help a child to control himself from acting impulsively when he may see a chocolate cake and thus regulate his emotions.

Importance of Executive Functioning for Kids

Here are some benefits of executive functioning in kids:

1. Initiation

This helps the child to start or initiate a task, which means to generate independent ideas, responses, and associated problem-solving strategies.

2. Inhibition

This helps the kid to stop himself at the right time, which includes both thoughts as well as actions. Lack of inhibition can make the child impulsive.

3. Emotional Control

This helps the child in modulating his emotional responses by keeping in mind the rationale of feelings and thoughts in mind.

4. Working Memory

This helps in holding or retaining memory to complete any task or related task.

5. Self-Monitor

This helps in checking or monitoring one’s performance or actions after completing any specific or related task.

6. Shift

This helps the child to effectively move from one situation to another and also to think flexibly as per the demand of the situation.

7. Plan

This helps the child to carry out current and future activities by anticipating any future events, setting targets, and developing strategies beforehand, to carry out a specific activity.

8. Organize

This executive functioning skill for kids helps them in maintaining or establishing order in a place or while doing an activity. In other words, it helps the kids in systematically doing various tasks or activities.

EF Milestones For Kids

Environment and genetics have a significant role to play in terms of how executive functioning skills or higher cognitive skills develop in kids. Apart from these factors, gender and age factor also play an important part. Here’s how these skills start developing in kids:

1. By One Year of Age

Babies around this age start showing signs of selective attention, however, external distractions may not be as predominant at this stage.

2. By Two Years of Age

As kids acquire language skills by this age, their problem solving improves and they start using the language for regulating their behavior. At this stage kids also learn to follow verbal directives, rules, and requests.

3. By Three Years of Age

By this age, kids may no longer respond impulsively but more flexibly and deliberately with a conscious plan in mind.

4. Between Three To Five Years of Age

By this age, kids demonstrate a substantial gain in their working memory and inhibition. They are more capable of developing a more complex set of rules to regulate or guide their actions and behavior. Rather than just responding, kids may start thinking about the intention of doing the act.

5. By Primary School Years

As kids grow, they keep on developing more control over their attention capabilities and inhibitory control. However, during this age, the main changes that happen are their ability to consider variables and then act accordingly.

Reasons for Issues With Executive Function

Here are some reasons that may cause issues with executive function in kids:

1. Heredity or Genes

If you or your partner has issues with executive functions, there are chances that your kid or kids may have it too.

2. Differences in the Way Brain Development Take Place

It has been observed that such issues may occur in people with slow brain development in certain parts of the brain in comparison to other people. These parts are usually responsible for emotional control and working memory. Problems with executive functioning are also seen in children with autism.

Signs of Troubled Executive Functioning

Here are some evident signs or symptoms that may help you in establishing troubled executive functioning in your child:

  • Your child has difficulty in memorizing.
  • Your child finds it difficult to tell stories (in writing or verbally).
  • Your child has issues in planning projects.
  • Your child experiences problems in focusing on a single task.
  • Your child faces problems in starting any task.
  • Your child faces issues in estimating how long a certain task may take to complete.
  • Your child experiences problems if plans shift or situations change.
  • Your kid is unrealistic about his abilities or has low self-esteem.
  • Your child becomes rigid from being impulsive when there may be a sudden increase in anxiety.
  • Your kid lives only in the present moment and does not worry or think about future consequences.
  • Your child needs to be prompted to be considerate towards other’s feelings and emotions.
  • Your kid experiences difficulty in shifting perspective.

Skill Test to Diagnose Executive Functioning Disorder

The executive functioning disorder is not categorized as an illness and thus there are no definitive diagnostic techniques that can help in establishing this condition. However, there are a few tests that can help in establishing how well your child’s executive functioning skills work. Here are some of these tests:

1. BDEFS or Barkley Deficits in Executive Functioning Scale

This test acts as a tool in ascertaining executive functions that include time management, motivation, organization, self-restraint, and emotional control. This test unlike other tests that provide in-the-moment information, provides information on how a child would behave over some time.

2. CEFI or Comprehensive Executive Function Inventory

This test is effective in testing the executive functioning skills in the age group from 5 to 18 years old children. The teachers, parents, and kids, everyone can take this test.

3. Conners 3-Parent Rating Scale

This test that is usually applicable for kids in 6 to 18 years age bracket help in establishing specific learning problems such as issues in learning spellings, reading, math and it also takes into account issues with the memory.

Possible Treatments For Executive Functioning Issues

Here are some treatment options for dealing with executive functioning issues:

1. CBT Or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Or Behavioral Therapy

Sometimes behavioral and cognitive behavioral therapy helps in replacing negative thoughts with the positive ones. This kind of executive functioning therapy is a great way of helping the kids to manage their emotions and feel effective.

2. Services Provided By The School

If the school offers the facility of school psychologists, it will be a good idea to work with the therapist in helping your kid with behavior management and fine-tuning his social skills. The school may also provide special educators that help the child in building better organizational, social, and academic skills.

3. Organizational Coaching

As parents, you can hire professionals who can help build organizational and time management skills or help in teaching executive functioning skills to your child. Though they are not like academic tutors, however, they may also help in building academic skills in your child.

4. Medicines

Unfortunately, there are no medicines available for enhancing or fine-tuning executive functioning skills in kids. However, there are medicines available for treating ADHD, if it is impacting your kid’s executive functions.

Other Strategies and Activities to Manage Executive Functional Problems

Activities to Manage Executive Functional Problems

Here are some activities and strategies that can help in managing executive functioning problems in kids:

1. Games

Make your kids play games that involve planning and problem solving, such as playing Jigsaw puzzles.

2. Building Blocks

Give a set of building blocks and ask your kid to make a structure. You can give your child a picture of a structure than he can copy from.

3. Multi-Tasking

Involve your child in activities that require him to shift his focus from one activity to another at the same time. This is a great way of teaching a child to effectively shift his focus.

4. Memory Or Recall Games

Indulge your child in playing games that make him recall or memorize stuff. Place a few articles on a tray and show it to your child for a few seconds then ask him to pen down or name the articles he saw.

5. Drawing

Draw an object on a paper and then draw half on it on another one. Ask your child to draw the missing part by looking at the picture that is complete.

6. Mind Mapping

Ask your child to strategically pen down his ideas as you also assist him with it.

7. Cut and Paste Activities

A very fruitful activity concerning fine-tuning executive functioning in preschoolers, kids can be involved in cutting and pasting pictures in a sequential manner.

8. Make Use of Calendars

You can ask your kid to use calendars to keep a tab on long-term activities, projects, due dates, etc.

9. Use Aids

Make use of aids such as alarms, watches, computers, etc. to keep a tab of activities.

10. Outline The Steps

Help your child by defining the task or activity ahead of time as it will make the child better prepared and make the task more achievable.

11. Follow a Routine

Make routines for what requires to be done by consolidating memory and skills.

12. Provide More Comprehensive Information

Try and give visual as well as written instructions to the child.

If you feel that your child is exhibiting any signs of executive functioning problems, you should seek the help of a professional in guiding you better and offering you the best-suited treatment option for your child.

Also Read:

Basic Life Skills to Teach Your Children
Communication Skills for Children
Leadership Skills in Children

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Ruchelle has a vast experience working with clients in hospitality, health and wellness, entertainment, real estate, and retail. She aims to utilise her learnings to deliver quality content which will in turn help drive sales and customer engagement.