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What on Earth is Executive Functioning?

Executive functioning is currently a hot topic in developmental psychology, in school, and in parenting... but what exactly is it? Simply put, executive functioning is a collection of brain processes that interact with each other to help us solve problems and achieve goals. They are primarily managed in the frontal lobe of your brain, which is the last part of the brain to develop, usually in very late adolescence (mid-20's). There are 4 major areas of executive functioning, each with two components:


  • Working Memory - holding something in your head long enough to apply it to what you are working on. For example, remembering all of the steps to a long math problem.

  • Processing Speed - how quickly you can focus your attention and absorb information


  • Planning - imagining yourself carrying out tasks from start-to-finish, and having a realistic understanding of what materials you will need and how much time you will need to do to reach your goal

  • Prioritizing - determining the order tasks should be completed in, based on urgency


  • Changing Perspective - changing your mindset or attitudes to fit different situations

  • Shifting Attention - switching between and keeping track of multiple ideas or tasks simultaneously


  • Self-Monitoring - having a realistic idea of your performance; able to perceive emotions and reflect on past behavior or mistakes

  • Self-Regulation - successfully managing emotions, behavior, and attention to solve problems and accomplish goals

Some people say that the executive functioning demands we are putting on our children, youth, and young adults are unreasonable because they are developmentally inappropriate; their brains are literally unable to manage the demands. What you do think? Have any of these areas been a breeze or a struggle for you or your child?

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