I’m just finishing a book about executive functioning. Most people don’t go around using these terms but we all use and need the skill sets that they describe.
Executive functioning is the set of skills that allow a person to plan a task, figure out the steps involved, activate the best strategies for the task, stick to the task, inhibit impulsive behaviour, and change strategies if needed. It is our planning skills and our ability to control ourselves and figure out ways to get something done.
Executive functioning plays a huge role in the life of a student. Much of a child’s executive functioning skills have been inherited. Also important, are the child’s developmental level and environment.
How do you teach your child or student to develop these skills? A great start is by modeling how you organize yourself and speaking aloud the ways in which you plan a task. For example, I might explain aloud that we have to be at a birthday party by 4 p.m. so I work backwards and figure on a half hour driving time, so that is 3:30 p.m., a half hour “getting ready” time so that is 3 p.m. I need to start getting ready at 3 p.m. Explaining the steps you take to execute a task will promote executive functioning. The next time there is a similar task, help your child go through the same steps.
So often we get upset at our children or students for poor planning but this is NOT a strategy for improving these skills. Try the modeling and thinking aloud strategy. Walk your child through it several times before expecting independence.