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How to Develop Your Child's Executive Function Skills

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

Executive function skills are the mental processes we use to remember information, focus on tasks, ignore things that distract us, regulate our emotions, and show self-control. Children are not naturally born with these skills -- they must be developed. Studies show that young children who have strong executive function skills are more likely to do well academically and socially through adolescence, and even into young adulthood. Helping your child grow their executive function skills now increases their chance of long-term success.

There are three commonly recognized areas of executive function. They are working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control.

Working memory is a skill that allows you to:

  • take in new information, and use it to complete a task

  • remember and organize important pieces of information

Mental flexibility is a skill that allows you to:

  • adjust to changing situations

  • consider different points of view

Self-control is a skill that allows you to:

  • think before acting and speaking, and keep your feelings in check

  • manage time by starting and completing activities when needed

When children have the opportunity to develop strong executive function skills, it is not only good for them, it is good for everyone. Healthy people make healthy communities.

Ways to Help Your Child Develop Strong Executive Function Skills:

There are simple things you can do at home to help your child develop executive function skills. You may already be doing these things with your child! However, specifically naming and celebrating your child's ability to do these skills well will set them up for continued success.

Play Games

When playing games your child has to:

  • remember the rules

  • follow directions

  • wait their turn

  • adjust and respond to their opponents

Create Routines

When creating routines your child has to:

  • make a plan (and stick to it!)

  • organize materials

  • manage their time

Practice Mindfulness

When practicing mindfulness your child has to:

  • focus their attention

  • manage their emotions

  • shift their thinking to a calm idea

As a parent, you can create an environment where your child can be more successful using executive function skills. You can remove distractions (like the TV or video games), use visual reminders (like calendars and schedules), and model the behavior you want to see. Your guidance can help your child develop the executive function skills they need for a healthy life.

For more information about executive function skills please check out resources from Harvard Center for the Developing Child and Pathways. If you are concerned about your child's executive function skills, never hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider.


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