27 May 2024 How Important is Executive Function

Executive functioning encompasses many skills that combine our ability to integrate the cognitive, communication, sensory, and motor skills we develop over time to become successful adults. Executive function and self-regulation skills depend on three types of brain function: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. These functions are highly interrelated, and the successful application of executive function skills requires them to operate in coordination with each other.

  • Working memory: governs our ability to retain and manipulate amount of information over short periods of time.

  • Mental flexibility: helps us to maintain or change our focus in response to various demands or to apply various rules in various contexts.

  • Self-control: enables us to prioritise tasks and resist impulsive actions or responses.


Starting at a very young age, we learn these skills to conduct daily activities, from playing to socializing and learning. Executive function skills are used in almost every area of our daily life, but as we enter school, they become increasingly important.



The Swaddle. (2017, June 23). How Kids Learn Through Play [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/F9HwIrSnXRk?si=g0IhWxBT4vtducGg


Executive function skills develop as we age, as we continue to acquire more skills throughout our lives. According to the developmental model of executive functioning skills, which many psychologists and experts in child development support, everyone is born with some genetic propensity or natural capacity to develop behaviours related to executive functioning.


Some children may need more support than others to develop these skills. As children grow, they practice executive skill through social play. Parents and teachers can start giving children more responsibilities, depending on their age. Early on, assigning duties to kids can assist develop and exercise their executive functions. Children can practise the skills they need before putting them into practise on their own by being in a setting that supports their development. Adults can help children develop executive skills by establishing routines, modelling social behaviour, and establishing and maintaining supportive and reliable relationships.


We use these skills every day to learn, work, and manage daily life, therefore having trouble with executive function can make you to have difficulties in managing the daily activities which results to underwhelming and unsatisfying work. However, note that not all individuals develop executive functioning milestones in the same approach in their age. Some learners need more intense practice to build independence. Others may require targeted interventions focused on further developing executive function skills. And a small group of unique learners such as children with autism or ADHD may need long-term strategies and support in these areas as they transition to adulthood. 


Through learning opportunities and challenges, children develop skills such as organization, time management, emotional control, and other important executive behaviours. This will prepare them for the future as they have a lot of experience shaping their skills in many of these areas.


Parents often expect the children to continue to use executive functioning skills independently. Children may still have confusion and pitfalls, but if they have mastered the fundamentals of executive functioning, they can live a holistic lifestyle. Parents shouldn't expect their children to be independent all the time and should make sure to be an assistance to them because, as was previously noted, most children start to acquire executive functioning skills during the early forms of play and grow upon those areas throughout time.


Executive function skills are enhanced through exposure. The more exposed your child is to handling various situations, the more abilities or skills they can develop and enhance. Learning through failure also creates opportunity, allowing children not only to discover what doesn't work, but to adapt their solutions for future attempts. Children will get to learn about themselves too in the process. 


An example of executive function is when you observe that your child is able to plan a situation or for a situation. The ability to identify and manage tasks that are future-focused is referred to as planning. Action planning involves identifying future responsibilities and events, setting goals to achieve them, and analysing the steps required to complete tasks in advance. Skills begin to develop in infancy as we learn to focus on objects and make intentional body movements like grabbing and pointing. Up to the age of twelve, when children enter the early learning years, their planning abilities enable them to comprehend increasingly complicated instructions and follow actions to accomplish their goals. They can start to autonomously organise their steps toward bigger objectives by the time. As adults, we can create and maintain several different plans to achieve many different goals at the same time.


Children of age between the ages of 6 and 18, children learn skills such as working memory and impulse control, and then hone these skills through learning during the next 18 to 36 months. Indirectly, young children can develop language skills, which support the development of executive functions such as self-regulation. Through language and communication, young children are able to discern their thoughts and actions, ponder, and plan. Improving language skills also helps young children understand rules and regulate behaviour. For example, children in this age group develop the ability to understand simple information such as how to walk down stairs instead of running. The painting is on paper, not on the wall. As children grow, they develop more executive function skills. They can manage their time, discover when to start tasks, participate in problem solving, and exercise different types of control such as emotions, attention, and self-regulation. But what role do these executive learning skills play in time management and other controls? 


Through time management, they will be able to understand how long tasks will take, and along the time, they’re also able to budget time effectively and complete routines with ease. Task initiation involves how children initiate and independently generate new ideas, solve problems, and respond to tasks. It’s considered one of the core executive function skills and can be difficult for many children such as children with autism or ADHD and other attention-related diagnoses. Task initiation can be developed at an early age through parents reminders and support. As children grow, they can independently start and complete tasks with longer durations without being distracted. For children, parents can start with giving them chores that require their focus, thinking, problem-solving and attention skills such as folding clothes, reading books and solving mathematics questions. Children typically develop problem-solving skills through games such as Lego and jigsaw puzzles. These games require you to understand how things work and come up with solutions to the identified problems. Through problem-solving, children are able to independently identify problems in a variety of situations, whether at home, school, work, or with friends. Children can sort out the conflicts and decide issues but parents must help to provide feedback and support in resolving conflicts or addressing issues. Problem-solving skills also ties in closely with many other executive functioning skills such as attentional control and working memory.


To improve executive function skills in children, parents can start with:

  • Physical games and challenges

Physical games and challenges for children teach them how to concentrate and help them realize that success may not always come immediately, but through practice and the use of strategies, they can succeed. For instance, start with giving children options they can choose from in order to try new skills such as throwing and catching balls or egg and spoon race. Simple rules around each kind of physical games, such as taking turns running to a ‘finish line’ and back or no holding the egg on spoon, will enhance their working memory. You could also include games that require self-control or inhibition, like Red Light Green Light or Simon Says games that require children to stop upon a certain word, hold the pose, then return to moving upon the next signal. And catchy songs such as “Head, Shoulder, Knee and Toes” that have word-specific dance moves to the words exercise children’s bodies as well as their attention, working memory, inhibitory control and self-control by requiring them to wait until certain parts of the song to do the dance.

  • Conversations that involve lots of questions

Regular conversation with your kids is the best approach to support their language development while also encouraging their openness and ease of communication. Your kids will need to recall their experiences to respond, which will improve their working memory as they strive to retain these memories. Talking about feelings will also improve your child's language development and inspire storytelling. Asking a toddler, "Are you happy?" is a perfect example of how important questions are while they are young. "Are you furious?" What outfit do you wish to wear today? Asking them, "How's your day at playschool?" will encourage kids to converse and become aware of their own emotions.

  • Imaginary play

This preschool range of age is also where children strive to mimic adult behaviour and can frequently be observed engaging in pretend play, such as playing restaurants and schools with friends. These behaviours are not only imitations; rather, they are indications of imaginary play plots that have to be supported. For instance, one friend might be the cook while the other might be the diner. Your child may "cook" in the pot, then place it on the table with the diner "pretending" to eat. Adults can ask kids questions about what they are doing, what else they could make, what they are eating, and why they are doing it while they are doing it.


It's important that you cooperate and let the children take the initiative because doing so will enable them to govern their own conduct as well as the behaviour of others. To better understand how kids learn through play, watch the following video below and visit our website at www.agtgenetics.com to find out your child’s executive skills!