Executive function is a set of mental skills that act as a command center in the brain. They help us plan, manage time, control emotions, and get tasks done. They’re also important for staying focused and solving problems. So struggling with executive function can have a big impact on kids.
Trouble with executive skills is common in kids who learn and think differently. And all kids with ADHD struggle with it.
Executive functioning skills develop over time, and at different rates. So it can be hard to tell if what you’re seeing is something to be concerned about or if it’s common for a child’s age group.
For example, lots of middle-schoolers are overdramatic. And lots of high-schoolers have trouble managing time when there’s so much on their plate.
It really depends on if the things you’re seeing keep causing problems. This list can help you spot trouble with executive function in kids.
Trouble With Executive Function in Preschool
Gets frustrated easily, might throw things instead of asking for help
Has trouble following directions and often forgets what to do
Has lots of tantrums over things that seem minor
Acts out instead of expressing feelings
Struggles with basic classroom tasks like finding things in a cubby or packing up at the end of the day
Raises hand but doesn’t remember the answer when called on
Is very stubborn about doing things a certain way
Answers questions in a way that’s off-topic
Trouble With Executive Function in Grade School
Starts a task and gets distracted, then doesn’t finish
Can solve a math problem one way but gets stuck when asked to solve it a different way.
Focuses on the least important thing you said
Mixes up assignments and doesn’t bring home the right books and handouts needed for homework
Has a messy desk and backpack
Panics when rules or routines change, like going out to dinner instead of ordering in because it’s Friday and that’s pizza night
Sticks with a plan even when it’s clear that the plan isn’t working
Trouble With Executive Function in Middle School
Wants to invite kids over but never gets around to scheduling it
Hesitates to make afterschool plans and instead just follows what the other kids are doing
Is still arranging materials in science lab while the other kids are halfway through the experiment
Has a hard time starting a big assignment and focuses on the less important details first
Gets very upset about seemingly small things, like running out of a favorite snack at home
Often thinks the teacher is being “unfair,” like when told to do work at home that other kids finished in class
Trouble With Executive Function in High School
Has trouble finishing short-answer tests on time
Loses track of time and is often still “in the middle of something”
Hasn’t filled out any of the job applications that have been sitting around for a month
Tries to convince you to extend curfew but can’t give any good reasons why
Has trouble working in groups and complains about the other kids
Has a hard time taking and acting on feedback
Is impulsive and takes lots of risks
There are lots of ways to help with executive function at home, too. Here are strategies you can try.