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Why Does Executive Function Matter for your Child?

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

Executive Functions skills make up the components of a well-rounded learning system in the brain that allows a student to succeed in the classroom, in the home, and with friends. The area of the brain that controls the development and use of these skills is called the frontal lobe.

Executive function skills help you:

  • Manage time

  • Pay attention

  • Switch attention/focus

  • Plan and organize

  • Remember details

  • Avoid saying or doing the wrong thing

  • Do things based on your experience

When these skills are not built up, a child’s behavior can be less controlled. This may impact their ability to:

  • Complete tasks at school or work

  • Complete tasks independently

  • Maintain relationships

Types of Executive Function

Executive function can be divided into two groups:

  • Organization: Taking in information and evaluating that information

  • Regulation: Taking the information gathered from the surroundings and modifying or maintaining your behavior in response to it

I am the mother of two young boys, ages 2 and 4. I know that their executive function skills are not fully functional.

A top example:

Just yesterday, my oldest son brought out a toy from the playroom. Seeing this toy I his hand, my youngest son decided without pause the toy should be his. Mind you, there is another toy exactly like this one in the playroom. (Moms of multiple children understand the need to buy identical toys from time to time.) What ensues from this point is a battle of strength and will between two very stubborn children. Both children end up crying and both children end up without the toy they want.

As a young adult in a similar type situation, the organizational part of executive function reminds you that taking an item directly out of someone’s hands when they don’t want you to is not socially acceptable in most circles. Regulation tells you that this may cause hurt feelings and a decrease in your ability to socially interact with this person and/or the people surrounding them.

Children and Executive Function

Problems with executive function can run in families. If you felt like you struggled with any areas of executive function skills you should keep an eye on the skills of your children.

It is common to begin noticing more concerns when your child begins school. This can hinder the ability to start and finish schoolwork, as well as make social situations more difficult.

Warning signs that a child may be having problems with executive function include trouble in:

  • Planning projects

  • Time estimation for tasks

  • Telling stories (verbally or in writing)

  • Memorizing

  • Beginning activities or tasks

  • Memory of daily tasks – school or home

There is no single test to identify all the problems that can be associated with Executive Function Disorders. Instead, speech-language pathologists and other professionals rely on different tests to measure specific skills.

As with many areas of speech and language development, early intervention is key. If you are concerned about your child’s executive function skills, gaining immediate evaluation and treatment for your child is paramount. The brain continues to develop well into adulthood. New experiences, strategies, and techniques can help to shape these executive function skills as the brain grows.

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