25+ Practical Tips For Improving Executive Functioning Skills Development

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Tips for Helping a Child Who Lacks Executive Functioning Skills

Is your child struggling in school or seem to misbehave intentionally? Are they inattentive, forgetful, disorganized, and easily frustrated? It’s easy for these behaviors to make your child appear lazy, defiant, disrespectful, or careless, but don’t judge them too harshly yet.  Your child may be struggling with the development of their executive functioning skills or executive functioning delinquency. 

What Are Executive Functioning Skills?

Executive functioning skills are the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional skills we need to manage our lives and achieve goals. They are responsible for helping us with impulse control and self-regulation, including things like:

• planning and staying organized 

• concentrating and controlling mental focus 

• analyzing and processing information 

• controlling emotions and behavior 

• remembering details 

• time management 

• multitasking 

• problem-solving and creative thinking 

Identifying Executive Function Impairment

Everyone has lapses in their executive functioning sometimes, whether it’s forgetting the grocery list or forgetting an appointment. When these sorts of mishaps severely impair a person’s everyday life or relationships, they may be said to have an executive functioning disorder (EFD). 

EFD is most commonly associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD), but it can also be found in people with traumatic brain injury, autism, learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s, bipolar disorder, and even depression or anxiety. If you suspect your child has problems with executive functioning, speak to your pediatrician, neurologist, physician, or psychiatrist to have them evaluated. 

Someone with EFD may exhibit behaviors such as:

•  lack of self-awareness and self-monitoring (unaware of their limitations, frustrated with critical feedback, egocentricity) 

•  lack of self-control (impulsive behaviors despite consequences, disruptive behavior) 

•  short-term memory loss (difficulty remembering things or following directions) 

•  rigidity in thinking (inability to think creatively, flexibly, or from other perspectives) 

•  unable to keep focus or unable to multitask (forgetting details, difficulty finishing projects, getting sidetracked, etc.) 

•  no filter (saying inappropriate things or at inappropriate times) 

•  uncontrolled emotional outbursts (excessive frustration, obsessive fixations, shutting down, etc.) 

•  lack of intrinsic motivation (only motivated by external factors like rewards) 

•  notoriously unorganized (misplacing papers and belongings, forgetting appointments, messy rooms, etc.) 

•  difficulty maintaining friendships (loss of friends, tumultuous relationships, failed marriages, job loss, etc.) 

Executive Function Delinquency

Although there is no medication for executive functioning impairments, fortunately, executive functioning skills can be taught and can be strengthened. You can help your child’s development by providing ample opportunities to practice executive functioning skills as they grow up, and the more your child practices executive function skills, the stronger they will get. 

Some ways to ensure the proper development of executive function skills are:

•  providing plenty of social interaction with adults and other children 

•  holding conversations and telling stories 

•  allowing creative play, roleplay, and chances for movement and dance 

•  creating and keeping routines and schedules 

•  gradually release of responsibility for tasks 

•  letting them learn from their mistakes 

•  playing games and providing challenges 

Practical Strategies for Executive Functioning Delinquency: 

So your child lacks executive functioning skills. Now what? You have a vague idea of what you can do to help, but what are some specific things you can do to help them manage their day-to-day lives and be more productive? Here are some practical tips and strategies to help your child practice their organization, attention, memory, and self-regulation. 

Organization and Planning Strategies for Executive Functioning Delinquency

1. create routines and provide advanced notice of changes to the routine, if possible 

2. provide them a planner/calendar and teach them how to use it  

3. make to-do lists and sit down with them to prioritize tasks based on the importance 

4. use chore charts and have them help you cook and clean 

5. create a system to organize their schoolwork in folders or binders 

6. regularly cleaning out binders, lockers, backpacks, bedrooms 

7. set timers or alarms to keep them on-task 

8. organize things visually with color-coding, sticky notes, a filing system, or highlighting 

Memory and Attention Strategies for Executive Functioning Delinquency

1. teach study skills like mnemonic devices, note-taking, and memorization strategies 

2. reduce distractions when they need to concentrate like providing a designated homework area, for example 

3. add visual aids or hang signs to help them remember steps or recall information 

4. scaffold larger processes or tasks into smaller, manageable chunks 

5. have them teach you how to do something or repeat back the steps in a process 

6. have them practice telling stories and jokes 

7. have them write in a daily bullet journal to practice recall and reflection 

8. play games with them that require memory, strategy, or focused attention 

9. use rewards or positive reinforcement for completing tasks  

Executive Function and Emotional Regulation Strategies

 1. teach breathing exercises, mindfulness, or “cool off” strategies to help focus, executive function and emotional regulation 

2. reminding them periodically to control their behavior or identify their emotions 

3. teach them healthy coping behaviors when they are stressed, frustrated, or panicked 

4. encourage positive self-talk and provide positive feedback rather than criticism 

5. provide social support and encouragement and remind them to stay in a growth mindset 

6. get them involved in organized sports, music, or theatre as an outlet and to develop strengths 

7. provide rationales and explain processes 

8. help them set goals and celebrate successes 

There Is Hope…

It’s difficult to see your child struggle with basic day-to-day tasks and behavior expectations. If your child lacks executive functioning skills, they are not doomed for life. There are things you can do and strategies to employ that can assist your child in developing and strengthening their executive function. The most important thing is to understand that your child’s behaviors or attentiveness are not intentional or malicious — they are simply doing the best they can.

Recommended Executive Functioning Books:

Executive Functioning Workbooks for Kids

Executive Functioning Workbooks for Teens

Executive Functioning Skills Printables for Students

Sources

chadd.org/about-adhd/executive-function-skills/

webmd.com/add-adhd/executive-function

understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/executive-functioning-issues/difference-between-executive-functioning-issues-and-adhd

biausa.org/professionals/research/tbi-model-systems/executive-function-and-self-awareness-of-real-world-behavior-and-attention-deficits-following-trauma

scholastic.com/parents/school-success/learning-toolkit-blog/lets-encourage-kids-to-write-lists.html

u-gro.com/blog/2019/09/the-importance-of-executive-functioning-in-early-development/

theottoolbox.com/adults-executive-function-disorder/

childmind.org/article/helping-kids-who-struggle-with-executive-functions/46y5eh11fhgw3ve3ytpwxt9r-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Enhancing-and-Practicing-Executive-Function-Skills-with-Children-from-Infancy-to-Adolescence-1.pdf

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