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Executive Functioning Skills in Children

Updated: May 21

Executive functioning skills refer to brain functions that help us regulate our emotions, control our impulses, make decisions, and achieve our goals. Some kids struggle with developing executive functioning skills, especially if they have learning differences or disabilities, including ADHD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some children also have a difficult time with organization in general. For children who have challenges with executive functions, they might feel frustrated and overwhelmed with tasks such as household chores and completing their homework. Managing time and keeping track of their homework items and deadlines can be very hard for kids who don't have strong executive functioning skills.

Fortunately, there are many proven methods and tips to use to help your child tackle challenges, fulfill their responsibilities, and meet their goals. To begin with, teach your child how to manage tasks and projects by breaking them down into smaller steps and creating a checklist to help them stay on track. This can make the process feel less overwhelming and their goals more attainable. If they aren't already using a planner, encourage them to start using one, as that can help them stay on top of their assignments and to-do lists. Kids who lack executive functioning skills often forget things easily, so a planner will definitely come in handy. As they use their planner, advise them to set time limits and outline their schedule so that they know how to fit everything they need to get done into their day and also how much time to allocate to each item on their checklist. 

When kids can break down tasks into small steps, they have a system to follow where they can focus on one step at a time, so that the entire task at hand doesn't seem too much. Creating steps in the process will also give a place for your child to start, which is sometimes the hardest part. Keep in mind that habits take time to build but once they're established, it becomes easier to adhere to them. Encouraging your child to adopt a routine will go a long way to getting them to follow through with their obligations, including school work, chores, and extracurricular activities. 

There are also different ways of learning that can work for your child. For example, some kids learn better visually so they might benefit from following instructions with visuals and using a visual organizer. Try to find the learning methods that work best for your kid as it can vary from child to child. Some children benefit from motivational techniques like rewards. Using a reward system can provide incentives for your child to get their work completed.

When your child is doing something like their homework, finishing a project, or studying for a test, it's important to take their environment into consideration. You'll want to make sure their environment is distraction-free, comfortable, stress-free, and organized. Have them put screen devices away and keep them out of a room where there's a television, unless they need these for their work. A dedicated workspace should also not be cluttered or loud. 

If your child has a learning disability and they are still struggling with executive functions even with the above strategies used, call our office. Our pediatricians can provide guidance on getting the support your child needs. 

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