What Is Executive Functioning?

Enrichment Therapies

October 31, 2022

child doing chores

By: Mallory Carr, M.A., CCC-SLP 

While executive functioning sounds very technical words, it’s not as scary as you might think! Your executive function is essentially the boss you have in your brain telling you what to do, how to do it, how long you should do it, and when to start and stop. While the boss in my brain sometimes drives me a little crazy (like when I just settled into bed and then I remember this really important thing I have to do), these executive function skills are responsible for keeping you on track for every task in your life. 

As adults, our executive functioning skills (our boss) is more experienced than a child’s. Their boss is still learning all the ropes of their job and making plenty of mistakes along the way. This is good! However, some children have more difficulties with executive functioning than others. Diagnoses like ADD, ADHD, and Autism can have impacts on a child’s ability to develop and use their executive functioning skills. 

Difficulty with Executive Functioning

A child’s difficulty with executive functioning might look like forgetfulness, difficulties with inhibiting behaviors, organizing thoughts, self-correcting, shifting attention, and regulating emotions. That boss in their head has a LOT to learn and keep track of. Difficulties with these skills can easily lead to frustration in the home and school setting. 

Executive Functioning Practices

Here are a few practical ideas to help build your child’s executive functioning skills: 

1. Give a Rationale 

When working on new skills (or non-preferred skills), explain to your child why the skill is important. They might not always fully understand the importance, but if they can begin to understand why they are working on something, they might feel more empowered to give their best effort 

2. Outline Steps and Create a Checklist

If a child has a task to complete (clean your room, do your homework, put away the dishes), it might be difficult for the child to conceptualize the steps within the task. If they are having difficulties outlining the steps, they might feel as though the task is daunting and take a very long time. 

Work through the steps with them, write them down, and let your child cross off completed tasks. This allows them to see progress, even with only 2 or 3-step tasks! With older kids, outlining the anticipated time to complete tasks might also be helpful! Adding a preferred activity to the end of their list can also help with motivation. 

3. Visualize

Before starting a task, encourage the child to visualize them performing it. This helps with their ability to remember steps independently. Building visualization skills can assist with executive function skills and overall language comprehension skills. For example, if your child is working to unload the dishwasher, we can visualize putting the plates away first, then the cups, then the bowls, then the silverware. As you talk through it with your child, you can point to the cabinets/drawers they go in. Then they can challenge themselves to do it in the order that they visualized! 

If you suspect that your child has difficulties with executive function, we can help! But as a parent, you know what activities or tasks your child has difficulties with or tasks that cause frustration, whether or not executive functioning skills are the culprit. Using some of these strategies can help children with and without executive functioning difficulties. 

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center, our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success. Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.


740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317



5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131


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