How do I help my kid with executive function skills?

What are Executive Function Skills?

Executive function skills are the primary indicator of success in academic performance, personal relationships, and future career prospects. These skills encompass a wide range of cognitive abilities that help individuals manage tasks, regulate emotions, and achieve their goals. Some key executive function skills include:

  1. Focus and attention: The ability to concentrate on a task and ignore distractions.
  2. Time management and organization: Effectively allocating time and resources to complete tasks efficiently.
  3. Planning and task initiation: Setting goals, breaking them down into manageable steps, and starting tasks without procrastination.
  4. Memory (verbal and nonverbal): The ability to retain and recall information, both in the form of words and visual cues.
  5. Cognitive flexibility and problem-solving: Adapting to new situations, thinking creatively, and finding solutions to challenges.
  6. Self-control and behavioral regulation: Managing impulses, regulating emotions, and behaving appropriately in various situations.
  7. Ability to transition between activities: Shifting focus and attention from one task to another seamlessly.

Developing executive function skills is a lifelong process. These abilities typically emerge and strengthen throughout childhood and adolescence. Like learning to play an instrument or speak a new language, developing executive function skills requires practice and exposure to various experiences, such as school, extracurricular activities, and social interactions.

Populations Who Struggle

Some children may struggle to develop executive function skills at the same pace as their peers. While a formal diagnosis is not always necessary, many individuals who face challenges with executive function fall under one or more of the following categories:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
  • Dyslexia: A learning disorder that affects reading, writing, and spelling skills.
  • Anxiety disorders: Mental health conditions that cause excessive worry, fear, and panic.
  • Twice-exceptional (2E) individuals: Those who are gifted in one or more areas and have a learning or developmental disability.
  • Depression: A mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities.

If you suspect that your child may have difficulties with executive function, it’s essential to seek guidance from a team of medical professionals, which may include psychiatrists, pediatricians, neurologists, psychologists, or school counselors. Together, you can develop a personalized plan to help your child manage their specific challenges and build essential skills. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, advocating for your child and ensuring they receive support across various settings (e.g., school, extracurricular activities, and home) is crucial.


In addition to professional support, parents can play a vital role in helping their children develop executive function skills. Adopting specific cognitive mindsets, such as the “Discipline = Freedom” mindset (understanding that structure and routines lead to greater freedom and flexibility), the “Process Focused” mindset (emphasizing effort and progress over perfection), the “Bottom of the Pyramid” mindset (prioritizing foundational skills and habits), and the “Discipline of the Gift” mindset (recognizing and nurturing a child’s unique strengths), can be particularly effective in fostering these abilities.

Executive Function Coaching

Another valuable resource for children with executive function challenges is an executive function mentor or coach. These trained professionals work one-on-one with children to help them build and apply organizational, time management, and study skills. By providing personalized support and accountability, executive function mentors can help children gain confidence, develop essential skills, and restructure their cognitive pathways. Some specific benefits of working with an executive function mentor include:

  1. Help with planning and breaking down tasks into manageable steps
  2. Teaching time management, task prioritization, and self-assessment skills
  3. Improving study strategies and academic performance
  4. Providing ongoing support and accountability
  5. Helping develop and maintain effective routines

Strategies for Home

As a parent, there are numerous strategies you can implement at home and in collaboration with your child’s school to support their executive function development. Some key areas to focus on include:

  1. Time management: Teaching your child to use schedules, calendars, and timers to manage their time effectively.
  2. Organization: Helping your child develop systems for organizing their belongings, schoolwork, and personal space.
  3. Focused attention: Creating a distraction-free environment and encouraging regular breaks to maintain focus.
  4. Impulse control: Modeling and reinforcing thoughtful decision-making and delayed gratification.
  5. Task initiation: Breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable steps and providing encouragement to get started.
  6. Emotional regulation: Teaching deep breathing, mindfulness, and other coping strategies to manage emotions.
  7. Cognitive flexibility: Exposing your child to new experiences and encouraging them to think creatively and adapt to change.
  8. Planning: Helping your child set goals, prioritize tasks, and develop action plans.
  9. Problem-solving: Encouraging your child to brainstorm solutions and learn from their mistakes.
  10. Verbal and nonverbal memory: Using mnemonic devices, visual aids, and repetition to help your child retain information.

By incorporating targeted interventions and strategies across these domains and involving your child’s entire learning team (e.g., parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors), you can create a supportive environment that fosters the growth of essential executive function skills.

Remember, every child is unique, and their journey to developing strong executive function skills may look different. With patience, understanding, and a commitment to providing the necessary support and resources, you can help your child navigate challenges and reach their full potential. Celebrate your child’s successes, no matter how small, and remain a constant source of encouragement and guidance as they grow and learn.

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