Image of Light Bulb inside a head
Cindy Goldrich

Cindy Goldrich

Woot Tutor Coach

What is Executive Function, and Why Should Every Parent Care?

As parents, we want nothing more than for our children to reach their potential and thrive in the world.

Fortunately, science now helps us understand what gets in the way of some people being able to achieve their goals, large and small. You may have heard the term “Executive Function.” It is part of the brain located in the prefrontal cortex, and it is the last part of the brain to develop. Executive Functions are the cognitive skills that give us the ability to focus, plan, and act in a goal-directed manner — and current research shows that these functions are responsible for how effective we are at managing ourselves.

Diagram of Executive Functions

While children are young – it is generally the parents and teachers who act as the CEO of the brain. Our goal is that as our children develop and mature, they gradually become their own CEO’s.

I like to think of each of the Executive Functions as being a manager, and the overall manager is the CEO, Chief Executive Officer, of the brain captured in table below. I am going to describe what our Executive Functions are briefly, and you will see why being weak in a particular area can impact performance, regardless of how intelligent and motivated, we are.

MANAGERS – SKILLS THAT HELPS YOU DO WANT YOU DECIDE TO DO

Initiation/
Activation

These are the skills needed to get started on a task without undue procrastination. For example: get ready for school, start homework, begin a project.

Working Memory

Working memory is the “mental workspace” where we temporarily store, retain, and manipulate information. It requires the ability to use the brain’s “search engine” to hold on to and manipulate new information, while the brain figures out if it can connect this information to more long-term storage.

Self-Monitoring

Self-monitoring involves being able to use self-talk to monitor and regulate one's behavior, as well as to direct future actions. Using self-talk is a vital component involved in planning and problem-solving.

Effort

This is the ability to stay alert, engaged, and respond to a stimulus in a timely manner. Impairments in processing speed can affect a student’s ability to read, complete math problems, listen and take notes, make decisions, and participate in group discussions.

Attention

These are the skills related to controlling who and what you are paying attention to, staying on topic, filtering out other thoughts and ideas, and moving on from one activity to another as is appropriate.

Planning and Organization

These are the skills that involve setting a goal and creating a strategy to meet that goal. Planning for a future event requires forethought, estimation, and problem-solving

Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation is the ability to understand and accept your emotional experience, to manage your emotions, and to respond with behavior that is appropriate in that moment. In the school environment, students must engage in emotion regulation on a daily basis. For example, they need to manage how they react to disappointing grades, struggles with their peers, and expectations that they may find frustrating, boring, or too challenging.

When we think about each of these Executive Functions as skills, then we realize that some kids need more direct instruction and support to develop confidence and proficiency. Understanding what Executive Functions are and how they impact learning, motivation, and behavior are the first step parents need to take knowing how to best support their child’s development.

At Woot Tutor, we believe it is essential that all children learn about their brains so that they can become their own best managers.

Note: If you have a child who seems to be struggling in many of these areas more than would seem expected for their age, you may want to seek an evaluation from a professional to see if ADHD or learning challenges are impacting their ability to perform

Share this post