How to motivate kids

What are executive functioning skills?

You may have heard of ‘executive functioning’ at your child’s school, OT office, or psychiatry appointment. It’s kind of a big deal. At the same time, executive functioning is very basic. You use executive functioning skills every day! So, what is it?

The executive functions are a set of processes that allow you to manage yourself and your resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.

Every person has a set of 12 executive functioning skills. These skills make it possible for us, as adults, to function in our everyday environment, and thrive. They combine the cognitive, communication, sensory, and motor skills we have developed over time to become successful adults. But executive functioning starts in childhood. These skills are essential to a child’s growth and learning ability. Struggling with many executive functions may be a symptom of a learning difference, such as ADHD. The 12 skills include:

  • self-restraint
  • working memory
  • emotional control
  • focus
  • task initiation
  • planning/prioritization
  • organization
  • time management
  • defining and achieving goals
  • flexibility
  • observation
  • stress tolerance

We all have skills we are better at than others. For example, I know I am strong in focus, time management, and task initiation, but I could use work in flexibility and stress tolerance. Maybe you are just the opposite. The idea is not to help our children master each skill perfectly, but to be competent in all while recognizing where our strengths lie.

And of course, kids of different ages and different ability levels will reach these skills at different times. Non-typical and unique learners will go at a different pace than typical learners. That’s okay! If you are unsure if your child is developing executive functioning skills at the appropriate time, talk to your childcare team, your child’s teachers, or bring in a professional who can conduct an assessment.

In general, kids begin to develop executive functioning skills through environmental learning, AKA, in the first two years of life. Next, they learn executive functioning skills within social play activities. As we ask our children to take on more responsibilities at home and at school (let’s say age 5-6), they have the opportunity to hone even better executive functioning skills. We all learn from the adults in our lives, so it’s important to help kids build their skills by providing positive examples of executive functioning.

Learn more about executive functioning by age!

Learn the 12 executive functioning skills your child needs to know!

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