Executive Functioning Skills: The Foundation of Skills for Life

Executive Functioning Skills: The Foundation of Skills for Life

Executive Functioning Skills: The Foundation of Skills for Life 600 400 Dr. Menon

Executive Functioning Skills: The Foundation of Skills for Life

In this article, we’re going to talk about Executive Functioning Skills and why they are considered The Foundation of Skills for Life. Why is my kid always melting down? Why can’t I remember to pack lunches and backpacks the night before school and get out the door on time? Did you know there is a connection between childhood tantrums and our own struggles to stay organized, remember important tasks, and manage our time?

Executive functions are a set of skills that are generally housed in the frontal lobe of our brain. That part of our brain is one of the last to finish developing. Hence, young children don’t have full access to the skills that come with our executive functions. When a child’s brain is not yet fully able to sequence steps or comprehend time, they are more likely to become frustrated and throw a tantrum. As adults, we may develop strengths in some areas of executive functioning but still struggle in other areas. Whether you are parenting young children or working on your own self-regulation and organization, understanding executive functioning skills can help!

Executive functions refer to the cognitive controls that help us to plan, prioritize, and carry out simple or complex tasks in our daily lives. These skills are something we develop beginning early in childhood and can be improved at any stage of life. We use them when playing, socializing, and learning as early as age 2. Once we reach school age, we can organize our activities and thoughts, manage our time, prioritize tasks, and stay focused using these skills. We then learn to adapt quickly to changes, meet deadlines, recall information, control our emotions, and make decisions as we grow into adulthood.

Here are some of the ways we use executive functioning skills in everyday life. The more you know about them, the more you are able to build your own skills or help the kids around you develop theirs.

Adaptable Thinking

Adaptable thinking gives us the ability to adjust to new and different situations. It also helps us come up with different solutions to a problem when we get stuck or have a disagreement. A person who has flexible thinking has no trouble when it comes to adapting to unexpected changes. It is also a critical skill for problem-solving. We also see things from someone else’s perspective because of this skill. This can be helpful when we are making social connections at any age.


Self-control is an individual’s ability to control an outburst and remain calm in difficult situations. When children have self-control, they start to understand that temper tantrums will not lead to a positive outcome. They will not be rewarded with more screen time or another snack if they resort to having meltdowns. Children learn to be calm and wait patiently. This can also be true for adults when they experience frustrating situations. Those who have good emotional control can interact well even with a difficult colleague. They also exhibit resilience when faced with unforeseen challenges at work. Both children and adults can grow from obstacles and criticisms instead of shutting down if they have a well-trained self-control. It is a sign that a person’s frontal lobe is able to do its important work. Even while the emotion centers of the brain are on high alert.

Working Memory

Working memory involves the ability to store learned information and use it for an immediate task. This skill is crucial to help a child hear directions and be able to follow through with them. This can be as simple as a child knowing the phone number of his guardian. It can also be something as complex as remembering the directions from home to school, and vice versa. An adult with strong working memory can retain the details about a person’s address even while being given instructions on how to get there. He can also remember landmarks and traffic signs while traveling. Socially, this can be helpful to remember names and special facts about the people we meet at school and work. Working memory can also help us to finish a task even when we are interrupted or distracted.

Time Management

Time management helps a person estimate how long tasks may take, prioritize them into a schedule, and move from one activity to another. It is also an ability to maintain patience and persistence while working through tasks. To help your child become aware of time, start with simple tasks at home such as cleaning up their play area or finishing their meal before going to school. When doing their homework, teach them to manage their time by prioritizing what needs to be done first, second, and third — depending on the difficulty or due date of each task. This will prevent them from feeling overwhelmed. This skill enhances productivity, punctuality, and goal attainment in life. Hence, it is even more important as we enter adulthood. It is a crucial skill to help us evaluate the urgency of each task, set personal deadlines, and work effectively under pressure.


Planning relates to our ability to identify, manage, and complete a task by the expected time. This skill allows a child to progress from simple steps to more complex instructions and plan out the steps to carry out an activity. An example of effective planning is when a child makes a list of the things he will bring on a vacation. An adult with strong planning skills does proper research on the destination and alternative routes. He is also well prepared for the trip and can troubleshoot possible problems that may arise.


Organization allows us to create and efficiently arrange materials or thoughts, and re-organize them if needed. This skill is vital to a child’s growth and development. For example, a child with good planning skills can tell a story in a coherent manner or keep track of their possessions. They will also have less frustration and create a sense of control. For adults, there are the same benefits of organization but on a larger scale. They may be responsible for a household or a department at work.

Executive functions are important life skills that will help us handle and manage our lives.

Parents or primary caregivers need to provide support for the child to develop these skills early on because they are critical across the lifespan. If children have difficulties with executive functioning, they might have a harder time socializing, getting tasks completed, and controlling impulsive behaviors. They may also experience increased anxiety, poor self-esteem, and a low tolerance for failure. If these problems are interfering with their ability to function normally, therapeutic intervention might help. The earlier these difficulties are addressed, the easier it is to make a change and move towards a successful and purposeful life. Therapeutic intervention and support are also beneficial to adults who may not have had these opportunities in the past.

Thrive Collective is dedicated to helping people overcome learning differences and challenges and grow in confidence and independence.  Reach out if you’re interested in taking the next step and we’ll discuss your options!