Executive Functioning Skills: Important Child Development Skills

You may have heard of Executive Functioning Skills. Well here is a piece that explains what they are, why they matter and how you can support your child’s development of these important skills. The original article can be downloaded here https://iraparenting.com/school-ready/executive-functioning-skills-child-development/


Executive Functioning Skills: Important Child Development Skills

Many parents might have heard about a child development related problem that afflicts about 5% of children called ADHD. ADHD stands for Attention Defici t Hyperactivity Disorder[1]. Symptoms of this problem include the inability of the child to maintain focus on the task at hand, miss details, being forgetful, become bored easily, struggle to follow instructions, fail to complete homework etc. Doctors and Neuropsychologists consider ADHD symptoms as arising out of a deficiency of Executive Function Skills[2].

What are these Executive Function Skills?

Executive Function skills are the mental/cognitive skills required to get things done[3].  These are mental skills that help us plan, focus attention, remember instructions and multi-task[4]. Poor executive function skills can affect your ability to work, day to day activities and healthy relationships with other people. Executive skills depend on 3 types of brain functions: Working Memory, Mental Flexibility and Self Control.

Why are they Important for Child Development?

Executive Function Skills are crucial for the healthy development of the child and play an important role even in our adulthood.
For example, imagine that you are responsible for managing a complex project that has a tight deadline and needs a collaborative effort to execute. You are bringing together all your cognitive, social and emotional skills to plan, coordinate, prioritise, manage and execute the project. You pay attention to details, manage things in a time-bound manner, use your memory and experience to make judgement calls, multitask to increase productivity and establish good working relationships with your subordinates, co-workers and even third-party vendors, to get things done! You as an adult would not be able to perform such activities effectively if your Executive Function Skills are impaired. Therefore, it is important that we focus on providing the right environment for children to develop these skills effectively.

Development of Executive Function Skills in Children: 5 Things you should know

  1. Children are not born with Executive Function Skills! These are skills that the child acquires over time by interacting with the adults in its life and by observing and interacting the environment and world at large.
  2. Stressful home environments, harsh/violent conditions and abusive adult relationships have been shown to impact the development of executive functions negatively[5]. Conversely, positive parenting, stable relationships, encouraging and nurturing home environment have shown a positive correlation between IQ and executive function skills. This is an important reason why Experts consistently advise us not to fight in front of our children. Children grow up much better when their Home is a fun, lively, talkative and positive place where they can rely on stable relationships.
  3. Over-exposure to electronic gadgets and digital media, pre-mature and early exposure to digital media as well as exposure to poor quality content have also been shown to adversely affect the development of Executive Function Skills in children[6]. Kindly read our earlier article on Media Exposure.
  4. Encouraging your child to engage in fantasy and imaginative ‘pretend-play’ activities has been shown to have a positive correlation with the development of Executive Function Skills in children[7]. Toddlers and pre-schoolers naturally start engaging in fantasy pretend play kind of activities which some parents consider as childish or not appropriate. But research has shown that they play an important role in child development over time.
    5. Responsive parent-child interactions have been shown to positively impact the development of these skills[8]. This implies that you need to constantly engage with the child, in preferably two-way conversations. Active participation in activities with the child and jointly performing them is also an excellent option.


  • Executive Functioning Skills are mental skills that help us plan, focus attention, remember instructions and multi-task.
  • These skills are crucial for the healthy child development.
  • In this article, we have highlighted 5 important factors that are crucial to the development of Executive Functioning Skills in your child.


Research References













[7] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022096516000023





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