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The new buzz word, EF skills, what's all the talk about?

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Everyone’s talking about EF skills, executive function skills. It’s the new hip word ubiquitous on social media, parenting discussions, and schools. To break it down simply, executive function skills are the mental skills that help you get from point A to point B and the internal dialogue to help you get there. Most researchers identify five to eight executive function skills, that include response inhibition, working memory, emotional control, sustained attention, task initiation, planning/prioritization, organization, time-management, goal-directed persistence, flexibility, and metacognition.

At birth, infants are stimulus bound- they are drawn to whatever excites them, thus they are sparked by impulsivity. At such a young age, they do not have the mental skills to direct their control. Gradually, through life experiences, children begin to learn from their past experiences and develop the capacity to govern their attention and inhibit some… okay a few responses! As they grow, they begin to learn that their response elicits reactions from others. If they smile, the other person smiles back, or, if they’re dishonest, they learn dishonesty disappoints the other person. These are examples of emerging executive function skills.

We learn to take control of our lives by exercising these skills, like a muscle; however, EF skills reside in the frontal lobes (behind our forehead) of our brain. Our brain develops from back to front, thus the frontal lobes are the last part of the brain to develop! This is why EF skills do not fully mature until our mid to late twenties, yet with students with AD/HD it’s not until their late 20’s or early 30’s. Students with AD/HD may be 15 years old chronologically, yet, their executive age is about 3-5 years behind typical peers their age.

Be patient with your child. EF skills develop gradually overtime in the first two to three decades of life. If your child is struggling to complete homework in a timely manner, seems to put everything off until the last minute, does not seem to pay attention, or is easily emotionally dysregulated- be patient and shift your expectations! Arm your “calming strategies toolbox” with an array of tools and be patient. Just because your child “should” be doing something, does not mean they “can.” If they could do it, they would!


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