Executive Functioning Skills… The Secret to Their Success


As a child, I loved playing the arcade game “Whack-a-Mole”. The goal was to hit the heads of moles every time they popped out of holes. The game started slow and then progressed to an impossible speed. I think there are a lot of parents playing “Whack-a-Mole” with their children’s problems. These parents are reactive instead of proactive. Proactive parents anticipate problems and take steps to prevent them. Proactive parents focus on teaching executive functioning skills because these skills are the secret to success.

Flexible Thinking is a person’s ability to adjust well when unexpected changes occur. When the unexpected arrives, comfort your children and help them understand that this is a normal part of life. Teach this skill by playing games with frequent changes (UNO, Bananagrams, Scrabble, Chess, and Sodoku).

Working Memory allows people to keep and use information. This skill is fun to learn through play. For example, “Go knock on the wall three times, run to the kitchen and back, come in here and jump ten times”. Use random steps so that completion requires memory instead of context clues. Once your child can follow through perfectly on one-step directions, teach two steps, three steps, etc. Another thing you can do is say three numbers to your child and ask them to repeat them, tell them to you in reverse order, and tell them to you in order. You can also show your child pictures, set a timer for 10 minutes, and have them rename the items when the timer ends.

Self-Monitoring is when a person is aware of his/her own needs. This is why schedules are so important for younger children. They know they are unhappy but do not accurately know what they need. Parent must be able to anticipate their needs and meet them. As children grow older, help them learn to read their bodies to know when to take a break, eat, use the restroom, sleep, hug, talk to a friend, etc.

Impulse Control requires us to think before we act. My favorite way to teach this is to simply make children ask permission for everything.

Organization is one’s ability to access physical and mental items. We teach children this by requiring them to clean up and complete chores that keep the home organized. As they grow older, we help them learn to use calendars, to-do lists, etc.

Task Initiation is the skill of getting started. When children are young, use “if, then” language by saying, “If you pick up your toys, then we can play a game .”As they grow older, they use this same system to motivate and reward themselves.

Planning and Prioritizing is when a person can determine which task is most important, create a plan, and follow through until completion. You can start teaching this to young children by helping them learn the difference between wants and needs. As they grow older, you can use their “wants” to help them learn to plan.

Emotional Control is when a person truly understands that their emotions cannot dictate life. No one will ever be able to control their thoughts and feelings. The only thing we can control is our actions. Make sure your children know this lesson: “Despite how I feel, I must do the right thing.”

Be a proactive parent by prioritizing executive functioning skills!

Dr. Beth Long received her education in Counseling Psychology from Chapman University. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Beth has worked in six unique clinical environments across the country and currently owns Works of Wonder Therapy in Montgomery. Beth utilizes the knowledge from a variety of different disciplines to give her patients the best care possible. To learn more visit


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Executive Functioning Skills… The Secret to Their Success

by Works of Wonder Therapy LLC time to read: 2 min