What Are Executive Function Skills in Children?

Executive function skills can affect multiple aspects of a child’s life. Learn more about these skills with Ethos Wellness.

Introduction to Executive Function Skills for Children

Children who display emotional outbursts, can’t stay on task, or never seem to listen are not “bad kids.” Rather, they are often inappropriately blamed for delayed executive function development, which is beyond their control.

Ethos Wellness is committed to children’s mental health, providing a non-judgmental, positive learning environment while equipping families with the tools to help their children grow and thrive.  

What Is Executive Function?

Executive function describes a set of learned skills that help us prioritize tasks, stay focused, and control impulsive thoughts and behaviors. In early childhood, executive functions, like a working memory and impulse control, begin to develop, serving as the scaffolding of more advanced skills. 

By the time children reach their pre-teen years, they generally start benefiting from improved attention and planning skills. This then leads to complex problem-solving, critical thinking, and cognitive flexibility in adulthood.

Understanding Children's Executive Function Skills

Executive function refers to a set of skills that can be broadly grouped into inhibitory control (controlling impulses), working memory (short-term memory that helps us store and recall information), and cognitive flexibility (the ability to switch between different tasks/topics).  

By providing a supportive environment, parents, childcare providers, and other members of society can help children apply and strengthen their executive function skills, including:

  • Working memory
  • Attention
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Ability to sustain and shift attention
  • Organization
  • Self-awareness
  • Goal setting
  • Self-control
  • Time management
  • Perseverance
  • Planning for the future
  • Complex problems solving
  • Perspective-taking


According to some studies, strong executive function skills can be predictive of academic success.

Executive Function Skills

Potential Struggles of Children With Poor Executive Functioning Skills

Children with delays in executive function skills may have difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviors. Additionally, delays may lead to social challenges such as difficulty collaborating, remembering information about peers, engaging in conversations, and outbursts that lead to isolation.  

Other common challenges in children with executive functioning delays may include:

  • Impulse control
  • Hyper-fixation on a single task
  • Conflicts with peers
  • Difficulty moving between tasks
  • Outbursts, such as throwing tantrums
  • Time management challenges, such as being chronically tardy or missing deadlines
  • Daydreaming  
  • Difficulty keeping their room clean or keeping track of personal belongings
  • Trouble staying organized or completing homework
  • Becoming easily distracted


Of course, all children experience behavioral challenges or organizational issues from time to time. However, if you notice that they’re having significant difficulty staying organized or completing assignments, it may be an indicator that they need some extra support.

Reaching out to Ethos Wellness can help ensure your child gets the treatment and care they need.

Approach to Enhancing Children's Executive Function Skills at Ethos Wellness

Disorganization can be a sign of executive function issues, but it can also be a sign of mental health disorders such as:

Learning disabilities




Enhanced and prolonged stress


Importance of Diagnosis and Evaluation

It’s important to have a professional evaluate your child so that they can get the most effective support. 

There are several neuropsychological tests that are used to assess executive dysfunction, such as:

  • Barkley Deficits in Executive Functioning Scale: This test can help assess issues with organization, self-control, motivation, time management, and organization.
  • Conners 3 Parent Assessment Report: This test assesses challenges such as learning difficulties, aggressive behaviors, hyperactivity, relationships with peers, and attention.
  •  Montreal Cognitive Assessment: This assessment may be recommended for your child to assess difficulties with working memory. During the assessment, children may be asked to do things like remember words or copy pictures.
  •  Comprehensive Executive Function Inventory: This is a scale that helps evaluate children’s strongest and weakest executive function skills.


After completing a thorough assessment, tailored interventions are used based on your child’s specific executive function challenge areas.

Strategies to Improve Executive Functioning Skills

In general, the following strategies can be used to improve executive function skills:

  • Write to-do lists with estimated time for each task
  • Keep an organized workspace and minimize clutter
  • Break projects down into steps and set deadlines for each milestone
  • Use tools, such as physical organizers, Google Calendar, and alarms to remember important information
  • Schedule time for things like homework, exercise, and cleaning
  • Routinely check in with parents, teachers, therapists, or tutors to address problems more proactively


Many children with executive function challenges benefit from a collaborative approach, involving their parents/guardians, educators, coaches, and therapists, with the end goal of helping children learn to regulate their own emotions and build resilience in the face of adversity. 

Therapeutic Services Offered at Ethos Wellness

At Ethos Wellness, we can provide curated treatment options for children who need assistance with improving their executive function skills. 

These include:

  • Individual Therapy: These sessions target executive function skills development through structured play, crafts, and other activities.
  • Group Therapy or Workshops: These sessions emphasize the development of specific executive function skills in adolescents through dynamic games, activities, discussions, and other skills-building exercises.
  • Parent Training Sessions: Parents play a large role in supporting executive function development. During training sessions, parents may learn how to help their child establish routines and manage their time in school and at home. 
  • Educator Consultations: Teachers and other school personnel may not know how to approach children who cannot focus, stay on task, or remember material. By providing training to educators, these individuals can utilize strategic interventions to help children develop new skills while promoting a growth mindset.


The Ethos Wellness Experience

A positive learning environment should leave children feeling nurtured, valued, and safe, not with a sense that they are “bad” or “difficult.” With individualized approaches and treatment plans, we can effectively address challenges with working memory, cognitive flexibility, or inhibitory control. 

Evidence-based resources including individual therapy, workshops, group therapy, and educator training can help children with executive function challenges reach cognitive development milestones.

Pave the Way for Your Child’s Growth and Healing

Executive function skills serve an essential role in problem-solving, planning, critical thinking, and more. These skills develop rapidly throughout childhood, where they help children excel in academic pursuits and build the foundation for healthy mental, emotional, and social development.

With professional help and encouragement from the compassionate providers at Ethos Wellness, many children are empowered with the tools and healthy habits needed to reach their full potential. 

Start here. Get in touch with our team today.

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