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Executive Functioning Skills: Helping Kids Cope, Create & Excel

Updated: May 18, 2023

Keep reading to understand why these typical life skills are imperative for brain development, independence, and problem-solving. Helping children sharpen these important skills early in life and throughout their school years will only benefit them throughout their life in whatever they choose to do!

Ever wish there was a roadmap to help you navigate your child’s development?

Believe it or not, Psychologists and Child Development Experts have known for years what it takes to help all of us, including our children, build healthy relationships and experience academic independence and success. We all depend on a set of skills known as Executive Functioning Skills to help day to day tasks. These skills help us stay organized, display self-control, and develop healthy relationships. We are not born with Executive Functioning Skills, these skills are taught and developed over time. There are eight Executive Functioning Skills critical to be successful in our relationships, jobs, at school ... ultimately in life: impulse control, emotional control, working memory, flexible thinking, planning and prioritizing, task initiation, organization, and self-monitoring.

Unfortunately, we are not born with these skills. Executive Functioning Skills are behaviors we must develop over time. From the beginning of life, as infants, we learn to pay attention and respond to caregivers. These simple yet complex behaviors help develop focus, flexibility, and self-regulation. A simple game of peekaboo can help build memory and focus. At the ages of 3-5, Executive Functioning Skills begin to develop at a rapid rate; this is the time in a child’s life they begin to learn new skills daily like problem-solving, developing friendships, and becoming independent thinkers. We see similar growth patterns in these same areas during adolescence. Throughout all stages of development, it is imperative that adults set up environmental structures and routines for children to learn, practice, and sharpen all of these skills.

Things to know:

Impulse Control:

The ability to think before acting. Impulse control is developed when playing games, learning a new task, making friends, and learning healthy routines in areas like athletics, music, sleeping, diet, and exercise.

Emotional Control:

The ability to keep feelings in check. When children can control their emotions, they are able to make friends, trust their own instincts, make decisions, create, problem solve, and work independently.

Working Memory:

The ability to keep, recall and use key information. As humans, we rely on our working memory for everything. Having a dependable working memory allows children to learn, make decisions, problem solve, and collaborate with others. A strong working memory is strengthened through playing, reading, acting, singing, dancing, writing, and playing sports.

Flexible Thinking:

The ability to adjust one’s own behavior to unexpected challenges. This skill helps us move from one situation to another, responding appropriately to the situation at hand. These skills can mature by playing with Legos, blocks, Play-Doh, and Lincoln Logs. It also develops by telling jokes, taking turns, writing poetry, making silly words, making up new rules to traditional games, or using ordinary objects differently.

Planning & Prioritizing:

The ability to set and meet goals, begin a task or activity and independently generate ideas, or apply problem-solving strategies. Sharpen these skills by playing games, making checklists, managing sleep routines, having and keeping a schedule, setting and keeping healthy boundaries around technology, sleep, and nutrition.


The ability to keep track of items physically and mentally. Activities like art, music, playing games, note taking, writing/journaling, completing tasks, having a chore list, or keeping school supplies together all help develop organizational skills.

Self Monitoring:

The ability to monitor one’s own performance and to measure it against some standard of what is needed or expected. This is also known as metacognition. Journaling, yoga, listening to music, drawing, meditating, reading nonfiction material, and reflecting on its importance in your own life deepens one's ability to self-monitor.

Easy ways to implement these skills at home:

1. Post the family’s daily schedule. Use a family calendar.

2. Assign chores and tasks to each family member. 3. Teach, practice, and keep routines. 4. Help kids set daily, weekly, and long-term goals. Chart and celebrate progress. 5. Let children make decisions, when possible. 6. Ask children to repeat directions and expectations. 7. Play board games as a family. 8. Exercise with your kids every day. Allow them to pick the activity

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