Unleash School Success: Developing Executive Functioning Skills in Students

executive functioning skills for lifelong success

As parents, we often marvel at the incredible growth and development we witness in our children. From their first steps to their early attempts at expressing their thoughts, every milestone is a testament to their growing minds. However, there’s a crucial aspect that might not be as visible but holds the key to their future success: Developing executive functioning skills. These skills set the stage for success in all aspects of life.  

What Are Executive Functioning Skills?

Imagine the executive of a company – the person who plans, organizes and makes important decisions to keep everything running smoothly. Executive functioning skills are like the CEOs of your child’s brain. They are a set of mental skills that help your child manage their thoughts, actions, and emotions to achieve goals and navigate daily life effectively.

Why Are Executive Functioning Skills Important?

Academic Success: EF skills are the backbone of academic achievement. They help your child stay organized, manage their time effectively, and complete tasks efficiently. With strong EF skills, they can tackle complex assignments, follow instructions, and excel in subjects that require critical thinking.

Life Skills: As your child grows, they’ll face various challenges in their personal and professional lives. EF skills prepare them to handle responsibilities, make informed decisions, and adapt to changing circumstances.

Social Relationships: Communication, empathy, and emotional regulation are crucial for healthy relationships. By honing their EF skills, your child can better understand others’ perspectives, manage conflicts, and build meaningful connections.

Problem-Solving: Life is full of puzzles to solve. EF skills equip your child with the ability to analyze situations, brainstorm creative solutions, and implement effective strategies to overcome challenges.

Resilience: Flexibility and adaptability are at the core of resilience. Children with well-developed EF skills are more resilient, bouncing back from setbacks and setbacks and learning from their experiences.

Developing the Core Executive Functioning Skills

Cognitive Flexibility

Life rarely goes exactly as planned. Flexibility skills enable your child to adapt to changes, switch between tasks, and handle unexpected situations with grace. Imagine your child as a skilled juggler, effortlessly switching between different tasks, adapting to new situations, and embrace challenges.

To develop cognitive flexibility, encourage your child to engage in activities that require shifting their focus. Playing strategy games, learning a new instrument, or even trying out a new hobby can enhance cognitive flexibility. Engage children in activities that challenge them to think in new ways or consider multiple viewpoints. Encourage them to think creatively and come up with alternative solutions when things don’t go as planned. 

Working Memory

Just like a computer’s RAM, working memory helps your child process and hold information while performing tasks. This skill is vital for following instructions, problem-solving, and making decisions.

To promote working memory, play memory games, encourage storytelling, or engage in puzzles that challenge your child’s memory capacity. As they practice, their working memory will improve.


Imagine your child faced with a tempting distraction while doing homework. In a world full of distractions, inhibition skills enable your child to control impulses and stay focused, promoting self-discipline and improved concentration.

To help your child manage impulsivity, teach them the “stop and think” method. When faced with a decision, encourage them to pause, think about the consequences, and then make a choice. Practice activities that require delaying gratification, following rules, and resisting distractions.  READ HERE for additional ideas. 

Task Initiation

Getting started can often be the hardest part of a task. Task initiation skills provide your child with the ability to begin tasks independently and overcome procrastination and foster a sense of accomplishment.

Help your child develop this skill by breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps. Create a checklist or a visual chart with the steps required to complete a task, making it easier for your child to start. Provide strategies for overcoming procrastination, such as setting a timer for short bursts of focused work or using a “just start” approach.

Planning & Organization

Just like a well-constructed puzzle, planning skills help your child arrange information and tasks in a logical sequence. These skills empower your child to break down tasks, create a plan, and arrange things in a logical order. Whether it’s preparing for a school project or keeping their room tidy, planning and organization skills set the stage for success.

Teach planning skills by encouraging your child to use tools like planners, calendars, and to-do lists. Encourage children to set short-term and long-term goals. Teach them how to break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps, and guide them in creating action plans to achieve their objectives. Help them set priorities, allocate time for tasks, and create a routine that supports effective planning. 

For organization, teach kids how to organize their belongings, school materials, and living spaces. Emphasize the importance of keeping things in designated places to reduce clutter and make it easier to find items when needed.

To help them organize their thoughts and ideas, teach kids how to outline and structure their thoughts when writing, speaking, or organizing information. This skill helps with clear communication and effective expression.

Time Management

Time is a limited resource, and time management skills help your child make the most of it. These skills include setting goals, estimating time, and understanding the sequence of events. Just as we manage our schedules, your child’s brain needs to learn to allocate time efficiently. Time management skills enable them to set priorities, meet deadlines, and strike a balance between activities.

Introduce the concept of time to your child using visual aids like analog and digital clocks. Create a daily schedule together, allocating time slots for different activities.


Just as a pilot monitors the plane’s instruments, your child learns to monitor their progress and adjust their actions accordingly. Self-monitoring skills foster self-awareness and the ability to make continuous improvements.

Emotional Regulation

Emotions are a natural part of life, and emotional regulation skills help your child manage their feelings, cope with stress, and make constructive choices even when emotions run high. Understanding and managing emotions is a vital skill for healthy relationships and overall well-being.

Teach your child how to identify, accept, and tolerate their emotions. Defusion techniques are helpful in creating space so they can observe emotions objectively as they arise. Encourage them to express their feelings through creative outlets like drawing or journaling.

Be sure to model emotion regulation as well. Children learn by example. Demonstrate healthy emotional regulation techniques, such as talking about your feelings and going for a walk when stressed.

Additional Practical Strategies to Foster EF Skills

Model and Demonstrate. Children learn best by observing. Model the EF skills you want your child to develop. Let them see how you plan, stay organized, manage your time, and handle emotions.

Play Brain-Boosting Games: Engage in activities that naturally enhance EF skills. Board games, puzzles, memory games, and even physical activities like yoga or dancing can stimulate cognitive flexibility and working memory.

Use Visual Aids: Calendars, to-do lists, and visual schedules are great tools for teaching time management, organization, and task initiation.

Create a Supportive Environment: Designate organized spaces for studying, playing, and relaxing. A clutter-free environment minimizes distractions and supports cognitive focus.

Encourage Self-Monitoring: Foster self-awareness by encouraging your child to evaluate their progress. After completing a task, have a conversation about what went well and what could be improved.  

Establish Routines: Consistency is key to EF skill development. Create daily routines that allocate time for different activities, helping your child internalize time management and task initiation. Read more about cultivating healthy habits and routines and the essential routines our children should learn to establish.    

Offer Choices: Allow your child to make decisions within limits. Offering choices nurtures cognitive flexibility and decision-making skills.

As parents, our ultimate goal is to equip our children with the skills they need to thrive in a complex and dynamic world. Executive functioning skills are the secret ingredients that empower our children to navigate life’s challenges with confidence, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. By nurturing these skills from an early age and providing guidance and support, we empower our children to become confident, capable individuals who can navigate challenges with resilience and grace. So, embrace the role of a supportive coach as your child develops these essential skills and watch them flourish into resourceful, well-rounded adults.

Remember, each child develops at their own pace, and building EF skills takes time and patience. Celebrate their progress, encourage their efforts, and provide a nurturing space where they can hone these skills. As you embark on this journey together, you’re not just building cognitive skills; you’re nurturing the architects of their own success.

Not sure where to start? Reach out to one of our experts at Koru Family Psychology and we can help you and your child start developing these essential executive functioning skills today.