Kids Safety 101
distracted child

How to Spot Executive Function Problems in Kids Early

Executive function has nothing to do with CEOs–or at least not directly. Instead, you can think of these functions as the CEO of your brain. They help you make decisions, plan and organize your day, manage long-term projects and goals, and other important tasks.

If your child is struggling with executive functions, it might not be clear immediately. In fact, since children are still developing these functions well into their teens, it’s often difficult for parents, teachers, and pediatricians to realize that something is awry.

So how can you tell if your child might be struggling? There are a few common signs.

If you notice a pattern of behavior that seems to disrupt your child’s life or impact their ability to succeed at school, it might be time to talk with your pediatrician. The symptoms of executive function disorder can mimic those of ADHD, and the two conditions are often linked, so it’s worth getting answers if you’re concerned.

Managing Time

Kids with executive function disorder struggle with time management. They wildly overestimate how quickly they can complete tasks. They may also spend far too much time on a simple step of a larger task. Planning for long-term projects rarely happens.

Staying Organized

If your child is constantly losing things and struggles to maintain a tidy, organized space, it might not be that they’re simply forgetful or messy. Executive function disorder makes it more difficult to recall where things are and put items away consistently.

Following Instructions

Children with executive function issues may have trouble listening to or following instructions. They might seem to “space out,” or they may¬†appear to understand the task at hand and then utterly fail to follow the directions. Kids may show improvement in completing assignments or chores if someone is there to help them.

Finishing Tasks

Failing to complete homework or chores may be a constant problem if your child has an executive function disorder. Kids may start projects with a lot of enthusiasm and then fail to complete them, either because they get distracted or hit a roadblock that makes them too frustrated to continue.

Paying Attention

Executive functions tell our brains when to focus. If those functions aren’t working correctly, it’s much harder to pay attention or even notice that it’s time to sit quietly and listen. Your child may talk out of turn, interrupt people, and say inappropriate things more than other kids.

Regulating Emotions

Any of the situations described above can lead to a meltdown. Kids with impaired executive functions often lack the “brakes” to control their emotions. Their reactions may seem overly dramatic or inappropriate.

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Erin Long