Executive function encompasses all the skills an individual needs to navigate life successfully: 

Typically, there are seven areas that impact people with Executive Function issues.  Those are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Inhibition
  • Working memory
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Problem solving

Cognitive development programs strengthen working memory, problem solving and often, as a result of intense training, the remaining areas are favorably impacted as well.

Should you want to try to help your child with Executive Function, consider enrolling them in a cognitive development (brain training) program.   However, here are somethings you can try on your own to help foster independence.

  1.  Teach them “coping” skills.  Demonstrate how to use a planner, sticky notes, a digital calendar, etc., to keep track of what they need to do.  “Must dos” can be in one color, “should dos” in another color.  For example, my appointments (must dos) are in blue and the things I could do if I have time (should dos) are in orange.  My digital calendar has the added advantage of quickly moving should dos to the next day if undone. 
  2. Help them to develop a sense of time.  Ask them to estimate how long a task will take, then see if they were close.  With them, look at their to do list and help them prioritize the order to tackle the tasks.  Some kids work better getting the harder, more labor-intensive chores done first, others like to get the quick, easy ones done, spending most of their time on the longer projects.
  3. Encourage breaks.  Individuals with Executive Function struggles should stop often to refuel, engage either in a quiet, restful task, or a high energy activity; you know your child best.  These should be short breaks, depending on the age of your child (3 – 10 minutes), then quickly segue to the next item to be done.
  4. Help them recognize their strengths and weaknesses and to approach each task with that in mind.  If organization is a problem, they can apply the same strategy to tackle multiple math problems as they do to cleaning their room, for instance.  Start with small chunks and do the chunks until done.  Encouraging them to practice “self-talk” to remind them they have been successful in the past and can be on the current task
  5. Fuel their bodies.  Dehydration and eating small meals have been shown to keep the mind functioning in peak condition.
  6. Help them recognize their achievements, no matter how small.  “Last night, this math sheet took you 40 minutes, tonight it took you 25!) 
  7. Whenever possible, talk about age appropriate behavior in a non-accusatory way.  Pointing it out can help them remember what is appropriate and under what circumstances.  If necessary, work on one behavior at a time.  If your child tends to stand too close to others, help them with that behavior first, for example.  Then you can tackle not running in the hall when others are present.  Once they feel like that is under control, you can address not interrupting. 

View this checklist to see if your child may have an executive function issue – it is for ADHD, which often affects executive function and mirrors many of the same symptoms.

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