Executive Functioning Skills by Age: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents

Welcome to Part 3 of our Executive Function blog series. In this installment, we address a key question many parents have: “When does executive function develop?” We take a closer look at how Executive Functioning skills unfold from infancy through young adulthood, providing a timeline and understanding of this crucial development at each age stage. This knowledge not only enlightens us about our children’s growing minds but also arms us with the tools to support them effectively.

From the delightful discovery of working memory in babies to the sophisticated critical thinking skills in teenagers, this guide is your companion through the fascinating journey of cognitive and emotional growth associated with executive function development. Whether you’re marveling at your infant’s first recognition of faces or navigating the complexities of your teenager’s time management, this guide is designed to offer insights and strategies tailored for every age, helping you understand and support the evolving executive functions in your child’s life.

EF Skills for Babies (6-12 Months)

If you have been on the receiving end of walking into a room and being greeted with the squeals and gummy smile from a baby, you not only are experiencing a rush of pure joy, you are also witnessing the development of a child’s working memory. Babies from a very early age are utilizing their working memory to choose a familiar adult and toy. Playing Peek-a-Boo captures and develops the attention of your little one and observing a child soothe in the arms of their parents is the materialization of emotional control.

EF Skills for Toddlers (1-2 Years)

If you have spent any time at all in the presence of a toddler, you know that emotional control and flexible thinking are skills that are definitely not mastered. You will however also notice that a toddler’s curiosity leads them to initiating tasks, problem-solving different solutions when their original plan isn’t working (flexible thinking) and even advocate appropriately (inhibition) by wanting to do things on their own, without the assistance of others. We read earlier that executive skills can be categorized as either thinking skills or doing skills. The infamous terrible twos may have possibly been confused for the emergence of these behavior-based executive functions.

EF Skills for Preschoolers (3-5 Years)

During the preschool years, social emotional learning and the development of executive function in preschoolers take center stage. At this pivotal age, you may notice your child’s increased ability to attend to longer stories and a growing interest in learning about rules – key indicators of their expanding executive functions.

As they continue to express their opinions and desires, you’ll likely observe enhanced emotional control and a newfound ability to transition between preferred and non-preferred activities. This shift is a crucial aspect of the development of executive function in preschoolers. Additionally, their emerging organizational skills, a core component of executive functioning, become apparent in everyday activities. Whether it’s methodically putting away toys in their designated spots or eagerly assisting with sorting laundry, like placing their socks in the appropriate drawer, these actions reflect their growing capabilities in managing and organizing their environment.

EF Skills for Elementary Age (Approximately 6-11 Years)

Executive functions are developing, but the rate of development varies from child to child. The range of development becomes more apparent as these skills are not being utilized through academic tasks. Initiation of tasks is needed to start any task, sustained attention is used to focus on the lecture part of a non preferred subject and organization helps to get all homework from school to their desk within their bedroom. The development of emotional control and inhibition is important for peer relationships and successful social interactions.

EF Skills for Middle School Through High School (Approximately 12-18 Years)

Critical thinking and time management are rapidly developing during this age group. Middle school students are expected to show inhibition and follow the expectations in any given situation. Organization and planning become increasingly important as assignments turn into week-long projects. In high school, students are expected to use goal-setting as the reinforcement needed to initiate the steps needed to build their future.

As you have probably heard before, our brains are not fully developed until 25 years of age; therefore, if your now adult child does something that leaves you confused and scratching your head, rest assured that it’s okay. The brain is still developing with the most growth happening in the frontal lobe, which houses what else, but our executive functions!

Final Thoughts on Executive Function Skills Across Ages

In conclusion, this comprehensive guide has walked you through the executive functioning development by age, detailing the developmental stages of Executive Functioning skills from infancy to young adulthood. It’s evident that these skills are not just academic necessities; they are essential life skills that evolve and mature as your child grows. Understanding these stages of executive functioning development by age helps us appreciate the unique challenges and triumphs each age brings.

Remember, the journey of developing Executive Functioning skills is as individual as your child, with each stage laying the foundation for the next. As parents and educators, our role is to nurture and support these skills with patience and understanding. So, whether you’re playing Peek-a-Boo with your infant or discussing time management with your teenager, you’re contributing to the growth of a well-rounded, emotionally intelligent, and cognitively capable individual. Let’s continue to guide our children with love and knowledge, knowing that every stage of executive functioning development by age is a step towards their full potential.

Read: Executive Function: The Silent Force Behind Every Child’s Development

Read: Navigating Day-to-Day: How Executive Function Influences Every Choice

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