What Are Executive Functioning Skills: All You Need To Know

Executive functioning skills are essential skills needed by every individual for life and learning. They are basically skills regulated by the brain for making healthy choices, planning, remembering information, carrying out tasks, and focusing on a task.

Therefore, a child’s success in class is dependent on his or her executive functioning skills. Also, it affects a child’s behavior and ability to organize, complete task, adapt quickly to change, and control emotions.

Furthermore, employees in organizations need this set of skills to perform their jobs effectively. Employees need to be able to plan, manage time, organize, retain information, and evaluate their activities to stay productive.

In this article, you will learn what executive functioning skills are, their examples, how to help your child develop these skills, and ways through which you can support children with executive dysfunction. Kindly read along.

Definition of Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functioning skills are the cognitive process that helps us to plan, organize, and perform tasks successfully. It is also the ability to stay focused on a task and remember instructions and control your emotions.

It entails the emotional and cognitive process of the brain that influences an individual’s behavior and way of doing things and it varies in individuals.

Children with proficient executive functioning skills tend to be organized and strategic. Furthermore, they are able to stay focused on tasks and complete them on time.

In contrast, children or individuals with executive dysfunction have difficulty completing a task. Such a child barely remembers to do assignments and may find it hard to cope with schoolwork.

They tend to be disorganized and easily distracted while undertaking a task. Examples of children with executive dysfunction include children with learning disabilities like ADHD or dyslexia.

That said, let us take a closer look at the different examples of executive functioning skills.

Examples of Executive Functioning Skills

1. Working memory

Working memory refers to short-term memory. It involves how much a person can retain or store information in order to complete a cognitive or physical task. It is the working memory that helps students remember and replicate what they learned in class during examinations.

Furthermore, it helps every individual to remember instructions. For instance, remembering to do school assignments as a student or the ability to remember patterns such as how to solve a mathematical problem or remember the way back home.

Hence, a child’s success in the classroom is dependent on his working memory. Adults equally need stable and healthy working memory to perform well at work and to carry out their daily activities.

2. Planning and Sequencing

This is the ability to create actionable steps toward achieving a task. Not only that, but it also means being able to think of all the steps of a task and arrange them in the mind to see how to get there from start to finish successfully.

Through this skill, a child can think logically to play a game or carry out a science practical successfully.

3. Flexibility

This executive conditioning skill involves being able to strategically come up with alternative solutions to an unexpected or unplanned event. It is also the stay emotionally intact in the face of new challenges, or setbacks while carrying out a task.

This is a particularly useful skill to navigate through life as the only constant thing is change. Your plans will not always go the way you expect. It is therefore important to be circumspect and develop tough skin so as to adapt quickly when the need arises.

A good example is a child who is able to maneuver his way through a roadblock and seek an alternative passage to his destination.

Also, adults, employees, and entrepreneurs need this skill to thrive in the fast-paced business world. For instance, a change in workplace technology, procedures, or a change in job role would require that you quickly adapt.

4. Self-control

This involves being able to recognize, identify, and work through impulses to stay on a task without distraction or overwhelming.

Emotional control is also an integral aspect of self-control. It means not allowing your anxiety to get the better of you. In other words, it is being able to stay calm in the face of alarming or stressful situations.

5. Response inhibition

Response inhibition is the ability to refrain from acting based on emotions rather than objective reasoning.

It also involves evaluating the risk level of your actions. That is carefully considering the impact or consequences of your decisions before taking them. This skill is useful in avoiding fights, tolerating others, and making healthy decisions.

6. Organization

This refers to the ability to arrange or set things up in the right order.

It also influences a child’s ability to communicate his thoughts orderly whether orally or through writing. This skill helps a child to avoid losing or misplacing possessions like notebooks, pencils, etc. easily.

Furthermore, adults who are organized are able to keep their workplace tidy and juggle multiple tasks together.

7. Time management

Time management is the ability to meet up with the time scheduled or allocated for a task.

This is highly sought after in employees because it is essential for organizational productivity and for meeting up with goals. More so, children need the skill to complete classwork or complete their chores on time.

8. Self-monitoring

This is the ability to check and access how well you’re doing on a task. It is important to evaluate the progress are making through our actions toward a goal. This helps to know what or where we need to adjust so that our goals can be achieved.

How To Facilitate Executive Functioning Skills In Children

It is important to note that children are not born with executive functioning skills, they only have the potential to develop them. Hence, as a parent, it is best that you seek ways to train your child to become proficient in these skills early.

Here is a list of ways to help your child develop executive functioning skills:

1. Establish routines

Setting up a layout of activities for your child to follow every day is an excellent way to build their executive functioning skills. To start out, make each task as specific as possible, start out with a few rules and add more as time progresses.

Furthermore, the task should fit into your child’s age and development. For instance, a six-year-old should be able to brush his teeth every morning while a fourteen-year-old should be able to do the laundry.

In addition, apportion time to each task to help them with time management. And don’t forget to make it fun by rewarding your child for a job well done.

2. Help them model appropriate social behavior

One of the ways through which children learn best is by observation. As a parent, it is important that you display the right behavior, particularly while you’re with your kids.

You need to watch the way you seek, react, and talk to people as children naturally feel that whatever you do is right. Furthermore, your composure in handling tough situations would also go a long way in determining how your child would deal with unpleasant circumstances.

3. Teach them coping skills

Activities like exercising, meditation, reading, etc., are often underrated. These activities can be really helpful in helping a child learn to focus, doggedness, and tolerance.

Playing a game like chess for instance improves an individual’s cognitive skills such as critical thinking, decision-making, pattern recognition, geometric thinking, concentration, Problem-solving, and so on.

4. Provide opportunities for them to make decisions

Instead of being overprotective and careful, allow your children some space to try out things on their own. Allow them to make decisions while you follow through with minimal supervision.

In addition, teach them to take responsibility for their decisions. Through this, you’re building their confidence and self-reliance. Over time, they’d gain proficiency in executive functioning skills such as planning, task initiation, time management, etc.

How To Provide Support For Children With Executive Dysfunction

Oftentimes, we misjudge children with executive dysfunction as inconsiderate, careless, lazy, or reactive. Whereas that is not the case.

Due to chemical and structural differences in the brain and the distribution of neutrons and chemicals such as adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, etc., each child differs in executive functioning skills.

As such, some children find it difficult to arrange steps in mind to be able to make an informed choice or predict outcomes for big decisions. They cannot hold enough information in their working memory to feel sure of anything.

Hence, they need emotional support to get through the task. And they can definitely improve with time. Understanding some of these would help you cope with them:

1. Never take things personally with them

Children with executive dysfunction may be adamant to perform a task when you ask them to. This is not because they are trying to argue or ruin the mood.

If they are bringing up a million and one reason for not doing something that they are looking for is help with the processing. It may feel like they are giving excuses, but what they are really doing is trying to force their brain to plan.

They feel broken, negative, and insecure because no one else is struggling except them. Hence, the first step to successfully becoming their support system is understanding how their feelings and fears.

2. Be reassuring

Children with executive dysfunction always see tasks as insurmountable with no way to scale. Therefore, what you should do is let them know that if they get stuck, forget something, or get in an awkward social situation, you have their backs. This way they can gain a little confidence to perform tasks.

3. Narrate the steps in carrying out a task

Since these children cannot arrange steps in their minds to perform a task, the best way to help them is to provide them with a structure they can use.

Talk about each step that they will need to go through. For instance, you can write how they can get to a location and find their way back home.

4. Give them a checklist

Children with executive dysfunction may not remember that they have something to do or they may procrastinate till it’s late.

Hence, using a checklist to schedule their activities for the day goes a long way in helping them remember to do what they have to do.

Also, you can encourage them to mark each task as they complete them and promise them gifts for successfully completing their daily task to motivate them.

5. Help them plan for disaster

Anxiety may set in when they face unplanned situations. So what’s best is to help them plan for it by telling them what you will do when they get into a messy situation like forgetting a wallet, locking the key in a car, etc.

This way they can easily manage the situation rather than getting worked up or losing their control emotionally.

6. Calculate the odds

A good way to help children, in this case, is to listen to their fears but help them to know that there is a backup plan.

Afterward, you can help them put their fears into perspective by helping them calculate the odds of their fear happening.


How can you improve executive functioning skills?

By establishing routines, playing games like chess, using checklists, etc.

What are the causes of executive functioning deficits?

They include learning disabilities like ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, etc.

What is the importance of executive functioning skills?

They help you to remember details, control emotions, focus on tasks, and achieve your goals.


As said earlier, executive functioning skills are important skills for children and adults alike. Children need these skills to excel in school and adults need them to be successful in the workplace.

Furthermore, executive functioning skills help in controlling emotions, staying focused on a task, and strategically handling unplanned events.

Additionally, executive functioning skills are variable and present in everyone differently. Hence, some children may have some form of deficit in exhibiting these skills. It is important to seek ways to help them to cope.

Lastly, you should check the article on what are alternative schools to learn about schools that cater to children with special needs such as learning disabilities.

I hope this article helped

Thanks for reading.