What Is Executive Functioning?

Disorganized Child“Executive functioning” is a buzzword right now in the academic and parenting worlds. I often hear teachers use the term loosely at staffing and school meetings. What does it actually mean, though, and why do so few children seem to have executive functioning skills?

Executive Functioning Defined:

The definition of executive functioning is actually implied in the name – it is the CEO of an individual’s daily activities. These skills make up the child’s ability to organize, plan, problem solve, inhibit responses, fluidly transition between tasks, monitor work, and effectively change solutions based upon new information.

Examples Of Executive Functioning Skills:

These skills can be seen throughout a child’s day: does the child have a set plan for a morning routine, or is it chaos on a daily basis? Is the child’s room organized so that anyone walking in knows where items should be? What about his/her backpack or locker? Does the child forget to turn in homework assignments that he/she actually completed? Does the child forget to write down daily assignments or forget to bring home necessary materials? What about the social world – does the child struggle planning activities with friends?

All children demonstrate concern with executive functioning (click  here to download our free Executive Functioning Checklist). The rationale behind this is associated with basic neuroanatomy – the frontal lobe of the brain has the biggest impact on these skills, but it isn’t fully developed until age 20 and beyond. Think of a toddler; at this age the executive skills controlled by the frontal lobe are virtually non-existent (e.g. the child who “wants it now” with no interest in planning for the future). Instead, parents and pre-school teachers have to act as the frontal lobe for these children – they have to ensure that the child is not overly impulsive and can have strategies to organize and plan more effectively.

So, what does this mean? Are we at a loss for these skills until an individual is college-aged? Is there any help out there? Indeed, there are plenty of strategies and accommodations that we can offer to children to help develop these skills and compensate for any that are missing.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting specific strategies and accommodations for the various executive functioning skills, so stay tuned.

Click here to read about Interventions for Executive Functioning

4 replies
  1. Pat
    Pat says:

    Yes, you’re right. Many use this term loosely without really understanding what it means. My son has Tourette’s and ADHD and struggles in this area. I find comfort in your comments about how few children (and in my opinion many adults too) possess these skills, and how the part of the brain that controls these functions (FL) is not fully developed until the age of 20 and beyond. I have educated myself about EF and have learned to relax and be more patient with my son as I help him develop these skills.

  2. Greg Stasi
    Greg Stasi says:

    Thank you so much for your comments. You are so right that many (if not all) adults demonstrate deficits with their executive skills; so, how can we expect children to be fully capable of exhibiting these skills?

    Please let me know if I can help advocate for your and your son.

    Be well


  3. Deborah
    Deborah says:

    Thanks Pat and Greg. I hope many teachers also read this blog. Kids get in trouble too often when they are misunderstood or expectations are too high.


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  1. […] discussed in my previous blog “What is Executive Functioning”, executive functions are the skills that help organize and guide a child through daily life. There […]

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