What Is Executive Functioning?

  1. The executive functions are developed and controlled by the frontal lobe in the brain

  2. They are the set of skills that allows a person to focus, control their behavior, organize information and then carry out a plan

  3. Poor executive functioning skills can cause functional limitations that impact a child’s ability to achieve developmental milestones

Types of Executive Functioning Skills:

1) Initiation: A child’s ability to independently begin a task by generating ideas and problem-solving strategies for initiation.

How to work on this skill:

  • Eliminate/limit distraction in environment

  • Verbalize instructions with simple and concrete wording

  • Use a countdown timer to signify the start of an activity

  • Allow child to take turns with you to complete sections of the task to limit demands

  • Use a checklist to show task expectations

  • Encourage child to verbalize the steps of the task prior to beginning

  • Begin with the least challenging task and slowly increase difficulty

  • Provide visual and physical demonstration on how to begin the task


2) Sustaining Attention: Maintaining attention to a task despite internal or external distractions.

How to work on this skill:

  • Clear and concise directions

  • Limit/eliminate distraction in environment

  • Begin with small time intervals for task completion and slowly increase time demands

  • Break up tasks into small increments

  • Transition between preferred and non-preferred tasks

  • Allow child to take movement breaks prior to and during series of activities

  • Play games such as eye-spy, "Simon Says", puzzles, freeze dance, memory matching games

Examples of movement breaks: running in place, wall pushups, hopping like a bunny, bouncing on a therapy ball, dance parties, jumping jacks, jump on a trampoline


3) Organization of Materials: The ability to keep personal items tidy and easy to access.

How to work on this skill:

  • Label all materials

  • Take pictures of how objects should be organized as a visual cue

  • Physically demonstrate to child how to organize items

  • Provide visual reminders or a checklist of required items for the task

  • Demonstrate how to clean up as the task progresses

  • Allow the child an extra few minutes to clean up and organize items at the end of the activity

Organizing toys

4) Shifting Attention: Voluntarily moving attention from one task to the next with ease.

How to work on this skill:

  • Provide verbal countdowns or timers to signify the end of an activity

  • Use a “first this, then that" approach

  • Provide a visual schedule to show what tasks are coming next

  • Prepare the child for the transition with verbal and visual reminders

  • Work on activities that have a clear start and finish

  • Model how to perform the tasks

An example of a visual schedule

5) Planning: Taking the time to manage the steps needed to accomplish future goals and tasks.

How to work on this skill:

  • Discuss the important steps of familiar activities such as making an ice cream cone or snowman

  • Have the child talk over the most important details of what needs to be accomplished within the task

  • Provide child with a calendar to visualize when events or activities are taking place

  • Create a checklist of steps or to-do lists

  • Practice performing multi-step crafts or obstacle courses

  • Allow child to help take part in setting up activities

6) Time Management: The ability to estimate and prioritize the amount of time needed to complete a task.

How to work on this skill:

  • Utilize an hourglass or analog clock as a visual to signify time passing

  • Use planners and calendars

  • Keep to a consistent routine and schedule

  • Try to avoid over-scheduling or extremely busy schedules

  • Set priorities of the most important events or tasks in their day to accomplish

  • Practice estimating how long certain tasks take with your child

7) Emotional Control: The ability to notice and appropriately respond to emotional circumstances.

How you can work on this skill:


  • Singing lullabies

  • Physical contact from rocking, hugging and kissing


  • Naming emotions in daily life as they occur such as “I wonder why that boy was sad?” or “ Did that make you feel angry?”

  • Learning by watching others and their reactions to situations

  • Give choices to allow for independent decision making


  • Acknowledge when the child is making good decisions and give positive affirmations

  • Talk openly about feelings and emotions

  • Provide opportunities for children to name the feeling such as asking open ended questions like “How does playing with friends make you feel?"

  • Teach emotions through books and real-life situations

  • Help the child problem-solve through high emotion situations

  • Use coping strategies such as providing child with quiet time throughout the day by deep breathing, listening to music, reading a book, hugging a stuffed animal, yoga poses etc.

Yoga Poses Reading a book


The content in this blog should not be used in place of medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes. All activities/exercises posted in this blog should be performed with adult supervision, caution, and at your own risk. Big Leaps, LLC is not responsible for any injury while performing an activity/exercise that has been posted on this blog. If you have any information on the content of our blog, feel free to contact us at info@bigleapsct.com.

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