Executive functioning is the manager of the brain; it’s in charge of making sure things get done from the planning stages of the job to the final deadline. When children have challenges with executive functioning, any task that requires planning, organization, memory, time management and flexible thinking becomes a challenge. The more you know about the challenges, the better you’ll be able to help your child build executive skills and manage the difficulties.
At this point you may be asking yourself, what are executive functions? How do they impact learning and everyday life? Executive functions consist of several mental skills that help the brain organize and act on information. These skills enable us to plan, organize, remember things, prioritize, pay attention and get started on tasks. They also help us use information and experiences from the past to solve current problems. If your child has executive functioning challenges, any task requiring these skills could be a challenge.
How ‘should’ executive functioning typically work?
- Analyze a task; figure out what needs to be done.
- Plan how to handle the task.
- Get organized; break down the plan into a series of steps.
- Figure out how much time is needed to carry out the plan and set aside the time.
- Adjust the plan as needed.
- Finish the task in the time allotted.
If executive functioning is working well and the task is simple, the brain may go through these steps in a matter of seconds. If your child has challenges with executive functioning skills, performing even a simple task can be challenging. Remembering a specific item may be as big a struggle as planning tomorrow’s schedule.
How can I improve my child’s executive functioning skills?
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and/or applied behavioral analysis (ABA).
- Developing strategies ahead of time.
- Roleplay can help prepare for stressful situations.
- Practicing what to do or say might make it easier for your child to make the decision you hope they’ll make.
- Practice skills by reducing the demands placed so the task is challenging but not too
- Provide situations your child can manage and allow them to practice their skills successfully.
With parental support and guidance, the concepts will help strengthen executive functioning skills which will provide benefits throughout your child’s life.