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What are Executive Functioning Skills?

Executive functions are a set of cognitive skills that helps people perform goal-directed actions. They allow us to pay attention, set goals, plan, organise, remember information, transition between thoughts and actions, and regulate our behaviour and emotions. Executive functioning skills play a key role in how your child learns and performs daily tasks.

These skills can be categorised into three areas:

  • Working memory – the ability to temporarily store information in your mind and then quickly recall it when needed.
  • Flexible thinking – the ability to view and think about something in multiple ways.
  • Self-control – the capacity to maintain focus and resist distractions and temptations.

Every child has different strengths and challenges when it comes to executive functioning skills. However, children with learning difficulties or other challenges, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), can experience more significant difficulties in these areas and may need additional support to acquire specific skills.

Here are some simple ideas you can try at home to help your child with executive functioning skills.

Eight ways to Improve Executive Functioning Skills

  1. Make a list

Children with working memory challenges may benefit from creating visual reminders of their tasks. This could be as simple as creating a checklist for their daily routine, each step of their chores or a to-do list of their homework tasks. Lists can help your child remember information and keep track of their progress. Every child is unique so find a list format that works best for your child. Your list could include pictures, be written on a whiteboard or use an interactive sensory format like velcro or magnets.

  1. Use a planner

Help your child remember important dates and events with a calendar planner. For long-term projects, be sure to include reminders of goals to help keep your child on track and avoid any last-minute surprises. Set a time in the week to review the calendar with your child to prepare for upcoming activities and deadlines.

  1. Set small, achievable goals

For children who struggle with executive functioning skills, large or long-term projects can feel overwhelming which can lead to difficulties with both initiating and completing tasks. To help your child complete tasks like chores and homework, break them down into smaller steps and set a goal or time for when each step should be completed. Visualising or incentivising their goals can help to make them measurable and achievable. This could be displaying a picture of what a tidy room looks like or using a creative visual to map their progress.

  1. Create a visual organisation system

A visual organisation system such as colour coding or picture labels can help your child more easily identify where things belong and where to find them again later. To keep their room or desk organised, add labels to their shelves and drawers. For homework and study, use a colour coding system to help them find and prioritise information. This could be organising subjects by colour or using a traffic light system to identify what they already know, what they need to understand better and what they don’t know yet.

  1. Simplify instructions and repeat them

Many children find it hard to listen to and follow instructions, and this is even more apparent for children with executive functioning difficulties. Break down multi-step instructions and encourage your child to repeat the task back to you so you can ensure they’ve listened and understand what’s required of them. If they are also having problems with listening and following instructions at childcare or school, speak with their teacher and see if they can use similar strategies during their activities and lesson times.

Click here for more tips to help your child follow instructions.

  1. Minimise clutter

Reducing clutter from your child’s space can prevent them from becoming distracted and help them to stay organised. You can help your child keep clutter at bay by allocating a dedicated space for their items and scheduling time to tidy their area.

Click here for more tips to help your child stay organised for school. 

  1. Make time physical

Children with executive functioning challenges can have difficulty measuring and keeping track of time. This is often referred to as “time blindness”. You can support your child to understand how much time they have to complete a task by using visual and audible time aides. Time aides help make time physical and measurable. This could be a clock, timer or app on their phone. Whatever you choose, make sure it is visible to your child as they complete their activity.

  1. Rewards

If your child experiences challenges with executive functioning skills, initiating a task can be the first of many obstacles to overcome. Small rewards for the effort they make can help to get your child started, keep them motivated and make them feel accomplished. It is important to ensure rewards are achievable and within your child’s capability so they can maintain focus.


While challenges with executive functioning can make learning hard for children, these simple strategies can make a world of difference in helping your child to feel prepared, organised and motivated.

If you think your child needs additional support with homework or staying organised, or for specific challenges like ADHD or ASD, our one-on-one specialist tutoring and psychological therapy programs can help.


More Resources

Kid Sense Child Development: Executive Functioning