Child Executive Functioning Skills

“Is your homework in your backpack?” “Did you remember your backpack?” “Did you forget your lunch again?” As your child runs off to the bus stop, you think, “Oh, I hope he remembered to brush his teeth and grab a bite to eat before he went off to school.”

Perhaps you’ve chalked up your child’s lack of planning to laziness or impulsivity. Disorganization and forgetfulness, after all, are typical obstacles in most everyone’s life.  But, if these sound like daily and chronic questions that you find yourself asking your child, they may be struggling with persistent weaknesses in executive functioning (EF) skills.

Executive functioning skills are a set of cognitive abilities that help us plan, organize, analyze, and manage. Think of EF as the CEO of the brain. Some children excel in certain areas of EF and struggle with others. For example, one student may organize and plan their days very well but have difficulty retaining facts or putting their assignments in order. Other students may be able to function reasonably well academically, but are always forgetting things, and they can’t seem to finish what they start.

Psycho-educational testing can help identify a child’s executive functioning skills. During testing with a psychologist, related diagnostics (e.g., ADHD and learning disabilities) will be assessed as well. While all children with ADHD struggle with some forms of EF, not all children with EF weaknesses have ADHD or a learning disability. Testing can also help identify a child’s areas of strengths and weakness to ultimately develop a plan for success.

Tests that can help identify executive functioning skills include:

  • BRIEF (Behavior Rating Inventory for Executive Function)
  • CVLT-C
  • TEACH-2
  • CMS

There are several types of interventions and supports that can help children develop skills to enhance and develop their executive functioning skills. These interventions can include the school environment. At school, a learning specialist can help your child with memorization, practice organizational writing skills, and/or work on multi-step problems or directions.

For children with executive functioning weaknesses, early identification increases their chances of success for high school and college. The skills they learn today will carry over through the rest of their personal and academic lives.

About Susan Gehrig, PhD

Susan Gehrig, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and founder of Paradox Psychological Services located in Carlsbad. She has a passion for supporting the wellbeing of children and teens. Her expertise is in child mindfulness and self-compassion, cognitive behavioral therapy, and child development. Dr. Gehrig provides psychoeducational testing and therapy services to help build a plan for success. Paradox provides services for families of San Diego North County and greater areas.

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