Executive Functioning

Executive Functioning – what is it? What first comes to mind are business skills used by CEOs. Business executives do use executive skills, but the term comes from the study of the brain. Neuroscientists have developed a theory that describes a set of executive skills based in the brain that are required for “executing” certain tasks.

Executive functioning pertains to the mental processes involved in self-regulation and control. It involves the skills necessary for organization, reasoning, problem solving, and working memory.

One of my favorite books is Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson, EdD and Richard Guare, PhD. They describe what happens when kids have weaknesses in executive skills. Do any of the following behaviors sound like your children?

  • poor planning
  • little control over emotions and behavior
  • can’t pay attention
  • can’t think before acting
  • can’t get started on homework
  • can’t change direction when something doesn’t go as planned

Dawson and Guare’s model suggests that everyone has strengths and weaknesses in the area of executive skills. Once the strengths are identified, strategies can be designed to address the executive skill weaknesses.

The authors have identified 11 skills:

  • Response inhibition
  • Working memory
  • Emotional control
  • Sustained attention
  • Task initiation
  • Planning/prioritization
  • Organization
  • Time management
  • Goal-directed persistence
  • Flexibility
  • Metacognition (Dawson & Guare, p. 15)

Some of the executive skills in this list have to do with thinking and some have to do with behavior. These are the skills that I work on with kids in order to help them become more successful in school, at home, and with their friends. The benefits are increased self-control, less anxiety, and improved self esteem.