Executive functioning issues

At a Glance: 8 Key Executive Functions

By Amanda Morin

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Executive functions let people plan, organize and complete tasks. Here’s a closer look at this important set of skills—and how executive functioning issues can affect your child’s everyday life.

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At a Glance: 8 Key Executive Functions

Executive functions are skills everyone uses to organize and act on information. If your child has executive functioning issues, he may struggle with some or all of the following skills.

Skill 1: Impulse Control
What it means: Impulse control helps your child think before acting.
How it looks: Kids with weak impulse control might blurt out inappropriate things. They’re also more likely to engage in risky behavior.

Skill 2: Emotional Control
What it means: Emotional control helps your child keep his feelings in check.
How it looks: Kids with weak emotional control often overreact. They can have trouble dealing with criticism and regrouping when something goes wrong.

Skill 3: Flexible Thinking
What it means: Flexible thinking allows your child to adjust to the unexpected.
How it looks: Kids with “rigid” thinking don’t roll with the punches. They might get frustrated if asked to think about something from a different angle.

Skill 4: Working Memory
What it means: Working memory helps your child keep key information in mind.
How it looks: Kids with weak working memory have trouble remembering directions—even if they’ve taken notes or you’ve repeated them several times.

Skill 5: Self-Monitoring
What it means: Self-monitoring allows your child to evaluate how he’s doing.
How it looks: Kids with weak self-monitoring skills may be surprised by a bad grade or negative feedback.

Skill 6: Planning and Prioritizing
What it means: Planning and prioritizing help your child decide on a goal and a plan to meet it.
How it looks: Kids with weak planning and prioritizing skills may not know which parts of a project are most important.

Skill 7: Task Initiation
What it means: Task initiation helps your child take action and get started.
How it looks: Kids who have weak task initiation skills may freeze up because they have no idea where to begin.

Skill 8: Organization
What it means: Organization lets your child keep track of things physically and mentally.
How it looks: Kids with weak organization skills can lose their train of thought—as well as their cell phone and homework.
Graphic of 8 Key Executive Functions
Graphic of 8 Key Executive Functions

What’s Next

Like all skills, executive functioning can be strengthened. There are strategies you can use at home to improve organization, working memory and flexible thinking. Between your help and outside support, your child can learn ways to manage and work around issues with these skills.

About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

Reviewed by

LPortrait of aura Tagliareni

Laura Tagliareni, Ph.D., is a pediatric neuropsychologist in New York City and a clinical instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center.

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