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Executive Functioning and Why it's Important.

Updated: Jan 11

As children advance in age, they exhibit certain fundamental skills that play a critical role in academic and life success.

These skills, known as executive functions, are central to the ability of the child to integrate what they are being taught, focus on tasks, organize, plan and prioritize.

The brain's prefrontal cortex handles a lot of executive functions which become completely developed around 25years of age. However, it is the job of parents and teachers to help nourish this growth.

Understanding what executive functions are, why they are so important and ways in which parents can assist their children is essential for the holistic growth of every child.

What is executive functioning?

Executive functioning is an umbrella term for a family of neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. It refers to a group of important mental skills that enable us to set goals, plan, and get things done.

There are three main areas of executive function:

  • Working Memory: the part of short-term memory which is concerned with immediate and conscious cognitive tasks.

  • Cognitive flexibility: the ability to transition between different mental processes to produce the right behavioral reactions.

  • Inhibitory control: involves controlling our automatic urges (attention, behavior, thoughts, and emotions) by pausing, then using attention and reasoning to respond appropriately.

Why are executive functioning skills so important?

Executive functions are essential for any intentional, goal-directed action. They make it possible to create strategies, find fixes for issues, or set up frameworks for future action.

Children who lack good executive functioning abilities may struggle academically far more than is necessary, and in some situations, they may also exhibit behavioral and attention-span problems.

Executive function challenges.

Executive function challenges have little to do with intelligence. Kids with challenges could be just as smart as their peers without these issues. Beyond its obvious effects in the classroom, executive function deficiencies have further ramifications such as:

  • mood issues

  • difficulty forming or maintaining relationships

  • low motivation or loss of interest in activities

  • low self-esteem

  • avoidance of difficult tasks

Potential causes of executive function challenges.

Challenges with executive functions can be because by medical conditions such as Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, autism, and traumatic injury to the brain.

However, physiological conditions such as severe pain, stress, exhaustion, and a distracting environment account for a high number of executive function challenges in kids.

Economic hardship, abusive or negligent caretakers, violence in the family or society, an unstable environment, and limited availability of nourishing food are also just a few environmental factors that might affect how well executive functions develop in a child.

Parents and teachers need to create an environment that fosters intellectual growth in children.

How To Improve Your Child’s Executive Functioning Skills.

1. Provide opportunities where executive functions are needed and challenged

Storytelling is an excellent example because, without the benefits of pictures, puppets, or video, the child has to use working memory to hold in mind everything you say.

They also have to remember the character’s identities, and what happened earlier in the story to relate that to what’s happening now. As you tell stories, you’re improving your child's executive functions.

2. Provide Visual Aids.

Use a visual schedule to help with attention, organization and planning, and initiation, and just identify what your child struggles with.

If they’re struggling with their morning routine, create a visual schedule for their morning routine. Visual aids like pictures, signs, and posters can help a child remember what he or she is supposed to do when they wouldn’t be able to remember otherwise.

3. Provide Options

Children love to be in control and be part of decision-making. Providing options on the sequence of things to be done is an excellent way to engage them and improve their executive skills.

For example, "would you like to do your household chores before your assignment?" or " Would you prefer to draw your idea for the science project or write an essay on it?"

With many distractions and competing priorities in today's complex world, executive function skills are increasingly important. At Good Hope Tutoring Services, our goal is to have students who are independent, confident, and have a deep understanding of themselves as learners.

Our tutors are experienced in executive function coaching and can help your child develop the self-management skills they need for school and life.

Go on and book a FREE 15 minutes consultation today to see how we can help you.

This article is part of a series on Emotional Learning. Read part 2: Executive Function Strategies (Tips For Parents), and part 3: Types Of Executive Function Skills.

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