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What Does “Executive Functioning” Mean & Should I Worry About It?

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Children’s Speech Therapy Center

Dear Children’s Speech Therapy Center,

Lately, I’ve been hearing people use the term “executive function,” in relation to their child’s education. What does this mean and should I be worried about it?

— Concerned Parent

Dear Concerned Parent,

Simply put, executive function refers to how we regulate and manage our thoughts and actions. Often, people refer to executive functioning skills when discussing how someone handles everyday life or their ability to self-regulate. They impact our verbal reasoning, ability to attend to tasks, problem-solving and cognitive flexibility, working memory, and our ability to plan and execute long and short-term goals.

Executive functioning skills are critical to your child’s success academically and socially (e.g., attending to conversations, demonstrating expected behaviors during social interactions). They are crucial to your child’s ability to ignore distractions around them, switch focus between tasks, attend to and carry out instructions and to control their impulses and respond appropriately. You can view your child’s executive function skills at work when they take turns with friends while playing a game, maintain a topic during conversations, listen to a story read-aloud, wait in line, engage in negotiation, and express their emotions using language.

There are some activities that you can do at home to encourage your child’s executive function development. Imaginary play and story telling are great ways to address verbal reasoning, planning, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility.

Cooking with your child will also help them learn planning skills, attending to task, working memory, and problem-solving. Many board games will challenge varying aspects of executive function. Look for games that target memory (e.g., Go-Fish, Pictureka™), attention (e.g., red light, green light), strategy (e.g., Jenga™, Trouble™, checkers), and fast responses (Perfection™, Slapjack).

If you think that your child has deficits in their executive function abilities, a speech pathologist may be able to help. As children get older, executive function connects verbal abilities to behavior. Many of our students with specific language impairments, pragmatic language disorders, and attention disorders struggle with many of the aspects of executive function. As a speech pathologist, our role is to help your child by teaching specific functional skills, compensatory strategies, and family education. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call our office for more information.

Alicia McFadden M.A., CCC-SLP, Co-Director


Children’s Speech Therapy Center (CSTC) is a well-known private practice specializing in pediatric speech therapy and conveniently located in Ashburn, VA. When your child needs a speech and language professional, navigating all your options can be time-consuming and frustrating!

Let Children’s Speech Therapy Center help! Their team provides diagnostic and therapeutic services including screenings, evaluations, and therapy for all ages, from infancy to adolescence. From more routine challenges to complex conditions, their team of licensed and accredited speech language pathologists are prepared to help with your child's unique speech and language needs.

Learn more, including what insurances they accept, by connecting: Online | Facebook | Services | FAQs | Contact.

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