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What is Executive Functioning Skills Training?

A family receiving Executive Functioning Skills Training.
Picture of Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Is this your typical day…

“Hurry, the bus is coming!”

“How did you not know this project was due?”

“Your room is disgusting.”

“I’ve called your name three times, can’t you hear me?”

“For the love of God, stop touching your sister!”

Are you frustrated, confused, and feel like you don’t know what to do to light a fire under your bright but seemingly incapable kid? Then you aren’t alone. 2019 data from the CDC shows that amongst kids ages three to seventeen, almost nine percent of the US population of kids is diagnosed with ADHD.

  • Percent ever diagnosed with ADHD: 8.8% (2019)
  • Percent of boys ever diagnosed with ADHD: 11.7% (2019) 
  • Percent of girls ever diagnosed with ADHD: 5.7% (2019)

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Fact Sheet, CDC, 2019

What is Executive Functioning Skills?

Executive functioning refers to a set of mental processes that enable individuals to manage and regulate their cognitive functions and behaviors to achieve specific goals. This cognitive system is responsible for higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, encompassing a range of abilities such as planning, organization, decision-making, task initiation, self-monitoring, and flexibility in adapting to changing situations. 

Essentially, executive functions act as the “CEO” of the brain, coordinating various cognitive processes to help individuals navigate complex tasks and daily activities successfully. Individuals with well-developed executive functioning skills tend to exhibit better academic and professional performance, as these skills contribute to effective time management, goal-setting, and the ability to prioritize tasks. 

On the other hand, challenges or deficits in executive functioning can manifest in difficulties with attention, impulsivity, disorganization, and a struggle to complete tasks efficiently. Understanding and supporting the development of executive functioning is crucial in education, work, and daily life, as these skills play a pivotal role in achieving success and managing various aspects of one's responsibilities.

Executive Functioning Skills Definition

Experts define executive functioning skills as a set of cognitive processes that enable individuals to manage and regulate their thoughts, actions, and emotions to achieve specific goals. These higher-order mental functions involve the coordination and integration of various cognitive abilities, including working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, planning, organization, and self-monitoring. 

Executive functioning plays a crucial role in goal-directed behavior, problem-solving, and adapting to changing situations. These skills are essential for successful performance in various domains of life, such as academics, work, and daily activities. 

Executive functioning is often associated with the prefrontal cortex of the brain, and deficits in these skills can impact an individual's ability to initiate and complete tasks, control impulses, and navigate complex cognitive processes effectively. 

Assessment and intervention strategies targeting executive functioning are commonly employed in clinical and educational settings to support individuals in improving their ability to plan, organize, and execute tasks.

How to Improve Executive Functioning in Children and Teens

Even though what you are currently doing isn’t working, I promise you that when we use neuroscience to change behavior, any behavior can improve including difficulties listening, keeping their room clean, and getting their tasks done on time. 

Learning how to improve cognitive control through executive function training for adults and kids is central to creating that change that helps kids self-regulate their behavior, thinking, and attention. 

Strategies to Improve Executive Functioning 

It is important to focus on strategies that improve executive functioning skills

Whether you need executive functioning strategies for elementary students or executive functioning skills for high school students, as a parent you want to focus on the same foundational skills. Executive functioning training for teachers is just as essential. 

In my blog, What Skills Do You Need to Have Good Executive Functioning? I go into an in-depth explanation about what skills kids need to develop good executive functioning for school, home, and life. So what are the foundational skills needed for good executive functioning?

Foundational Executive Functioning Skills

  • Response Inhibition
  • Working Memory
  • Emotional Control
  • Flexibility
  • Sustained Attention
  • Task Initiation

Focusing on these foundational skills is the key to helping our smart but often disorganized kids who lack those critical skills that define success in high school, college, and beyond. As you already know, without independent skills, your kids over-rely on you and teachers to cue them to what is next. 

You inadvertently become the organizational part of their brain and at a deeply subconscious level, they have a “learned helplessness,” as their brain forms a habit of allowing someone else to guide them. Aha! moment here!

Please know that your child or teen isn’t doing this on purpose. Instead, their brain has come to rely on adults setting up the environment and providing external scaffolding so to speak for them to get organized. The brain does not need to develop those skills when others constantly provide cues and organization for them.

So now that you understand the neuroscience behind how and why executive function dysfunction happens, what can you as a parent do about it? After helping thousands of parents of kids with executive functioning issues, whether or not they have clinical issues such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, anxiety, OCD, PANS/PANDAS, and Lyme, or other special needs, it is clear that parenting is a powerful tool to build executive functioning skills in our kids.

What is Executive Functioning Skills Training

Executive Functioning Skill Building Parenting Tips

Even though we think medication for ADHD is the only way to improve attention, executive functioning, and cognitive skills, medication is just a band-aid that never gets to the root issue.  In the case of a lack of executive functioning skills, no matter how alert your child’s brain is, you still have to teach them the skills. Yes, executive functioning is a set of cognitive skills that can be directly taught and you as a parent or caregiver have the power to help them. 

Parenting Executive Functioning Strategies 

  • Use future language and help them see the end result and then work backward
  • Ask more process questions, do less talking
  • Encourage self-talk (metacognitive strategies) 
  • Implement visuals and kinesthetic tools
  • Praise effort not just the end result
  • Be patient, new habits take time 

Parents need to hold the vision of where they want their children to go but at the same time be present and celebrate those microsteps. It requires a lot of patience and consistent verbiage and reinforcement on your end. It is about working smarter and not harder and breaking that yelling-frustration-shame cycle that you and your kid experience. 

 Thinking about the future, you want to ask yourself…

  •  “What will look different when you feel your child’s executive functioning skills have improved?”
  • Have your attempts to support your kid been successful? Why and why not?
  • Do you understand what executive functioning is?
  • How important is it that your child strengthens their executive functioning skills?
  • Do you think your child will experience less stress and feel better or more self-confident about themselves if their EF skills improve?
  • What can you do to be more consistent to help achieve that vision?
  • What is the ONE GOAL you should focus on?
  • Do I have the resources to support my child’s or teen’s executive functioning? (If you don’t, please watch my FREE webinar on how to improve EF skills!).

Dr. Roseann’s Trademarked Executive Functioning Program For Children and Teens

Over my 30 years in mental health and working with kids and their families, I see very clearly that most people (including school and mental health professionals) don’t understand what executive functioning is and they certainly don’t know how to turn it around in a way that creates lifelong skills. That is what I created, The EF ACTION PLAN™, which is designed to give kids the brain tools they need to develop those mental skills needed to be independent strategic planners, be organized, and self-regulate. 

EF ACTION PLAN™

A – Assess 

C – Connect to the Real World

T – Train New Skills

 I – Identify Micro steps

O – Optimize Performance

N – Navigate Life

Central to my trademarked EF ACTION PLAN™ is neuroscience, which tells us that executive functioning is a complex cognitive process that impacts all of your thinking and that to get kids to internalize and learn a new way to respond, we have to show them the end goal and work backward. By starting backward, we get the brain in an active state and therefore is more able to be more alert, be more engaged in learning, and process more efficiently.

We work with kids and families in our one-to-one premier BrainBehaviorReset™ program at our center that combines neurofeedback to regulate the brain and parent coaching to give you an EF ACTION PLAN™ that breaks families from the nagging cycle and gets kids confidently independent. If you are ready to see your kid be successful, you can apply to work with us

Parent Action Steps

☐ Familiarize yourself with essential executive functioning skills training 
☐ Apply practical strategies such as using future language and encouraging self-talk
☐ Gradually transition from external cues to foster independence
☐ Consider the future impact of improved EF skills
☐ Employ specific parenting techniques like asking process-oriented questions
☐ Take this ADHD Quiz to know if your child has ADHD or something else
☐ Try the Solutions Matcher to get personalized treatment for your child

Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. 

Are you looking for SOLUTIONS for your struggling child or teen? 

Dr. Roseann and her team are all about science-backed solutions, so you are in the right place! 

Grab your complimentary copy of
147 Therapist-Endorsed Self-Regulation Strategies for Children: A Practical Guide for Parents

You can get her books for parents and professionals, including: It’s Gonna Be OK™: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child’s Mental Health, Teletherapy Toolkit™ and Brain Under Attack: A Resource For Parents and Caregivers of Children With PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalopathy.

If you are a business or organization that needs proactive guidance to support employee mental health or an organization looking for a brand representative, check out Dr. Roseann’s professional speaking page to see how we can work together.

Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Licensed Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of media outlets including The Mel Robbins Show, CBS, NBC, PIX11 NYC, Today, FORBES, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, Women’s Day, Healthline, CNET, Parade Magazine and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.

Dr. Roseann - Brain Behavior Reset Parent Toolkit

She coined the terms, “Re-entry panic syndrome” and “eco-anxiety” and is a frequent contributor to media on mental health. 

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge has three decades of experience in working with children, teens and their families with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, concussion, dyslexia and learning disability, anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), depression and mood disorder, Lyme Disease, and PANS/PANDAS using science-backed natural mental health solutions such as supplements, magnesium, nutrition, QEEG Brain maps, neurofeedback, PEMF, psychotherapy and other non-medication approaches. 

She is the author of three bestselling books, It’s Gonna Be OK!: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child's Mental Health, The Teletherapy Toolkit, and Brain Under Attack. Dr. Roseann is known for offering a message of hope through science-endorsed methods that promote a calm brain. 

Her trademarked BrainBehaviorResetⓇ Program and It’s Gonna be OK!Ⓡ Podcast has been a cornerstone for thousands of parents facing mental health, behavioral or neurodevelopmental challenges.

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health, Neurotastic™Brain Formulas and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Mental Health Professional (CIMHP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF).

© Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, LLC 2023

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