What are Executive Functions?

Executive functioning skills are the mental skills that we use to achieve goals, and they are vital for successful learning. We all use these skills regularly to plan, manage, evaluate, focus, and respond. The eight executive function skills that Lively Minds Institute focuses on are self-control, self-monitor, flexibility, emotional control, task initiation, working memory, planning, and organization. You can read below to find out what each of these skills are and how they affect a student’s ability to learn.


Self-control is the ability to stop and think before acting. Children with the skill of self-control are able to resist the urge to say or do something, so they can take the time to evaluate a situation to determine how their behavior might impact it. They can consider their obligations or commitments and pass up something pleasurable. They are able to wait a short period of time without being disruptive. They can also choose to do schoolwork so that they don’t sacrifice accuracy and completeness.


Self-monitor is the ability to view and evaluate oneself in a situation. Children with the skill of self-monitor can judge their own efforts and adjust what they are doing wrong when given cues or feedback. They can see when they are not following directions or understand when they need help. They are also able to check their work for mistakes, correct mistakes, and try to keep their work neat.


Flexibility, or shift, is the ability to adapt to changing conditions by revising plans or changing strategies. Children with the skill of flexibility are able to revise plans when faced with setbacks, new information, obstacles or mistakes. They can change their plans without major distress, and they can accept an alternate when the first choice is not available. They attempt to solve problems with another solution if the original solution doesn’t work. They are able to see new ways to do a familiar task when necessary.

Emotional Control

Emotional control is the ability to manage feelings to achieve goals and complete tasks. Children with the skill of emotional control can recover from a disappointment in a short period of time. They can accept constructive criticism, and they can keep sight of their goals even when something upsetting happens. They do not often overreact to losing a game or call situations unfair. They are able to stick with schoolwork even when distressed about something else.

Task Initiation

Task initiation is the ability to begin projects and tasks without procrastination. Children with the skill of task initiation are self-starters who are able to begin homework and projects with enough time to finish. They usually have a plan of action for how to break a large project into more manageable pieces. They are able to brainstorm ideas and come up with solutions when stuck. They do not usually need to be told to begin a task.

Working Memory

Working memory is the ability to use information held in memory to complete a task. Children with the skill of working memory can remember and apply crucial information to finish a task. They can follow multi-step directions and utilize strategies to stay on task. They are able to minimize distractions and redirect to their work when interrupted. They are able to use mnemonic devices to remember information, and they use strategies to remember information that cannot be stored in their mind.


Planning is the ability to create steps to reach a goal and to decide which steps need the most focus. Children with the skill of planning have the ability to estimate how long a task will take to complete. They are able to break a large project down into smaller pieces and make a plan with a goal in mind. They can use a system for prioritizing, tracking, and turning in projects. They are also able to organize their ideas and map out their days.


Organization is the ability to develop and use systems to keep track of materials and information. Children with the skill of organization keep track of materials and belongings. They can find what they need because they have a system for storing and retrieving. Their belongings have a designated place, and they can put things in their place. When faced with a consequence for being disorganized, they can use their skills to improve their systems.

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We work with students of all ages across the country, and we would love to talk with you about your executive function needs.