Help Kids Develop Executive Function Skills

by Jodi Gilray, PT, DPT, c/NDT, Jodi Gilray Pediatric Therapy

No one is born with executive function skills, but it does develop early and over time. When it comes to your kids, you’ll notice them begin to take care of business every day and in their very own way. Executive function skills are likely at work!


Planning ahead, meeting deadlines, prioritizing, ignoring distractions and self-control are all involved with executive function skills. Components include: 

  • Working memory — This involves holding small amounts of information in our brains temporarily. We will probably never need that information again, but we’ll be able to complete a task and stay focused doing so.
  • Cognitive flexibility — This is the ability to adapt based on situational changes; ability to come up with a Plan B.
  • Inhibitory control — This relates to self-control. How are we doing at regulating our automatic emotions, behavior and thoughts in the presence of unpredictable circumstances? 


It’s true that kids are developing executive function skills, but everyone does so a little differently and at their own pace. Problems that arise with executive function skills can easily get in the way, such as: 

  • Being easily distracted.
  • Forgetting details, names, schoolwork and more.
  • Leaving tasks/assignments unfinished before moving on or being unable to begin a new task.
  • Struggling with instructions, transitions and rules.
  • Being challenged with controlling emotions. 
  • Fixating on certain tasks, thoughts or emotions.

Concerns like these are commonly seen in kids with ADHD, autism and several other conditions. When issues are getting in the way of your child’s success at school, home or on the playground, it’s important to take these concerns seriously.


What better way to make use of our executive function skills than to get playing? Big business can wait a bit. Physical exercise for ADHD kids and kids with executive functioning concerns really helps with attention span and working memory.

Any kiddo — tall or small — will reap the benefits of regular physical activity. Other ideas include board games, memory games like I Spy, and much more. If you’re fishing for ideas by age, you’ll want to check out Harvard University’s Activities Guide. As your kiddo gets to taking care of business, repetition, practice, and play are key. Some work and some play is the way to be!