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  • Dayna Sharp, LCSW

Executive Functioning in Kids: What Caregivers Need to Know



Does your child have frequent meltdowns or emotional outbursts? Does your child act out their feelings, yelling, kicking or alternatively, shutting down? Does your child have trouble transitioning from experience or expectation to another? If so, your child might have trouble with what's referred to as "Executive Functioning Skills".


Kids that have Attention Deficit Disorders, or are on the Autism Spectrum are frequently said to have challenges with Executive Functioning Skills. But these skills are developed in sync with a child's developing brain, particularly with the prefrontal cortex. And all children develop in different ways. For some children, Executive Functioning is a breeze, and for others--even those without specific neurological disorders--these kinds of skills can be very difficult.


What are Executive Functioning Skills?


Skills Affecting Thinking:

  • Time Management

  • Organization

  • Planning and Prioritizing

  • Self Monitoring (Am I able to accurately self-evaluate?)

  • Working Memory (How many things can I hold on my dashboard? Can I keep a few directions in mind at one time?)

Skills Affecting Behavior:

  • Task Initiation (Motivation, Beginning tasks)

  • Self Inhibition (How well can I control my impulses?)

  • Emotion Regulation (How well can I cope with feelings?)

  • Goal-Directedness and Sustained Attention (How well am I able to focus on a goal and persist through completion?)

  • Flexibility (Can I easily shift from one experience, expectation or idea to another?)


How Do I Know If My Child Struggles With Executive Functioning Skills?


It is likely that a child struggles with Executive Functioning Skills if they have trouble throughout their day. You will see a child who has difficulty managing their feelings, they could have behavioral difficulties, they might struggle academically and/or have trouble following directions/completing tasks at home.


Here's a story that illustrates what a child who has Executive Functioning difficulty might experience throughout their day--you'll find it on page 7 of the link.


What Can I Do To Support My Child's Executive Functioning Skill Development?


The first--and most important thing to do is to stay patient, calm, strong and understanding. When caregivers stay strong and calm, kids will (eventually) follow your lead and in the short term, emotional and behavioral outbursts at the very least aren't as likely to escalate.


Remember that just because you can't see the Frontal Cortex of the brain--the evidence of Executive Functioning problems doesn't mean they aren't there! Caregivers can often fall into the trap of believing that kids can do something, but just don't want to. This stance can lead to an escalating negative feedback loop. Read my post on that here.


Accommodate. Keep a tight routine. Preview what's happening for the day. Provide a visual calendar. Use checklists. Set timers. Offer rewards.


Find a great therapist! At Creating Space Counseling and Wellness, I offer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help kids build their Executive Functioning Skills. Kids learn about emotions, and healthy ways to express them, how to flexibly take different perspectives on situations, improve their social skills and practice problem solving strategies.


When your child is doing well, your whole family can do well! Call today to schedule a free 15 minute consultation. 856-281-1664

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