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

Executive functioning skills are often developed through age and maturity, good teaching, and trial and error. For children with learning disabilities or attention deficits, explicit instruction and extra support is often required to develop the executive functioning skills that are lacking. A student with executive function difficulties may face challenges throughout their day. In the morning, they may struggle with time management and forgetfulness. At school, they may find it hard to work with information in their short-term memory and may have trouble controlling impulses, affecting their relationships with peers.

Below is an example of how a student with Executive function weaknesses may experience in a day.


A student who struggles with executive function begins to feel the weight of this deficit from the start of their day. This can look like the child, who on their way to brush their teeth, sees the Lego on their bedroom floor that they almost finished the night before. After losing track of time, they are startled by the yelling reminder that the bus will be arriving in 5 minutes. As they run out the front door, they realize they left their lunch inside. They make one last trip to retrieve it, only to leave behind their homework sheet that they worked so hard to finish and planned to put into their school folder once they were safely on their way to school.


At school, executive functioning is at work pretty much the entire day. A child who struggles with working memory may become easily overwhelmed when asked to do something with the information held in their short-term memory. A teacher may ask their class to refer to their reading assignment from the night previously to make a connection to the material that is presented. Despite the student taking all precautions to ensure they completed the reading assignment, the student may feel instantly overwhelmed thinking about the steps needed to make this connection.

Impulse control and response inhibition can impact a child’s relationship with their peers. A child looks forward to lunch and recess, as they can interact with others without worrying or stressing over any academic skills. This student can be observed in other’s personal space. They may shout over others and repeatedly interrupt conversations. As you can imagine, this student’s friends may quickly become annoyed that they can never get a word in or they are uncomfortable with the student’s inability to stay out of their personal space.


When parents reach out to La Jolla Learning for a consultation regarding their child and their lack of executive function, this is often where our support is requested. Students who struggle with executive function typically struggle with any of the following: task initiation, planning/prioritization, organization, time management, and goal-directed persistence. Parents often explain that their child often procrastinates and puts things off until the last minute. Many students report not knowing when assignments are due, where to find them, and where to turn them in. In a day and age where we all can be so easily distracted by constant notifications, it is more important than ever that our children learn how to prioritize and manage our time effectively.

The Building Blocks of Executive Function: Key Components and Their Roles

Breaking down the various elements of Executive Function, such as working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control, and explaining their significance in a child’s daily activities and learning processes.

Executive Functioning Skills Definition Significance in a Child’s Daily Activities and Learning Process
Response inhibition Response inhibition, also known as impulse control, is the ability to stop and think before acting. Children who struggle with response inhibition:

  • Often say or do things without using a cushion of time to reflect
  • Do whatever pleasurable thing comes along without considering their obligations or commitments
  • Speed through schoolwork, sacrificing accuracy and completeness along the way
Working memory The ability to hold information in mind and use it to complete a task. Children who struggle with working memory:

  • Are unable to remember and apply crucial information in order to move to the next step of the task at hand
  • Falter when a task requires that they remember a series of directions, generate ideas in response to the directors and then express their ideas
  • Report that information just doesn’t “stick” for them
Emotional control The ability to manage feelings by thinking about goals. Children who struggle with emotional control:

  • Have trouble accepting constructive criticism
  • Cannot keep their eyes on their goal when upsetting or unexpected things happen
  • Are quick to call a situation “unfair”. They overreact to losing a game or being called on in class
  • Have difficulty sticking with schoolwork when they’re distressed about something
Sustained attention The ability to keep paying attention to a situation or task in spite of distractibility, fatigue, or boredom. Children who struggle with sustained attention:

  • May start their chores or homework but do not finish unless someone is on their case
  • Become easily distracted
  • Fail to pay attention to details and/or make careless mistakes
Task initiation The ability to recognize when it is time to get started on something and begin without procrastinating. Children who struggle with task initiation:

  • Have trouble starting homework and put off projects until the last minute
  • Procrastinate because they don’t know how to start and unfortunately because of this are seen as lazy or unmotivated
  • Will most likely also struggle with planning and organization
  • Get so overwhelmed by everything they have to do that they end up doing nothing at all
Planning / prioritization The ability to create steps to reach a goal and make the decisions about what to focus on. Children who struggle with planning/prioritization:

  • Are easily overwhelmed by complicated, multi-part tasks
  • Cannot impose structure and order on ideas
  • Have trouble thinking through the steps required to achieve a goal
  • Tend to underestimate a project’s complexity and time requirements
Organization The ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of information or materials; this is closely tied to planning, setting priorities and task initiation. Children who struggle with organization:

  • Often lose permission sheets, assignment sheets, notebooks and library books
  • Face consequences for being disorganized but do not improve these skills in response to the consequences
  • May understand the value of organization but are unable to learn how to keep track of things without explicitly being taught
Time management The ability to estimate how much time one has, how to allocate it, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines. It also involves a sense that time is important. Children who struggle with time management:

  • Are chronically late
  • Routinely scrambling to make a deadline
  • Always seems to run out of time for the homework they have to do
Goal-directed persistence The ability to have a goal, follow through to the completion of that goal, and not be put off or distracted by competing interests. Children who struggle with goal-directed persistence:

  • Have a hard time setting aside fun stuff to achieve a long-term goal
  • Give up working toward a goal if something blocks them, instead of finding ways around the obstacles
Flexibility The ability to change strategies or revise plans when conditions change. Children who struggle with flexibility:

  • Have trouble when a familiar routine is disrupted or a task becomes complicated
  • Become frustrated when a first attempt to solve a problem isn’t successful
  • Are unable to see new ways to do familiar tasks or to make another choice when the first choice proves unworkable
Metacognition The ability to stand back and take a bird’s-eye view of yourself in a situation, to observe how you problem-solve. This also includes self-monitoring and self-evaluating skills. (Ex: “How am I doing? Or “How did I do?”). Children who struggle with metacognition:

  • May not notice that they are not following directions until someone points it out
  • Tend to misjudge their own efforts and have trouble adjusting what they’re doing based on feedback or cues
  • Are often surprised by a low grade on a test or project


How La Jolla Learning Supports Students Struggling with Executive Functioning

Improving executive functioning can truly change a child’s educational experience and completely alter their trajectory towards success. It is vital to understand the cause of the EF issues so that the most effective course of support can be determined. When EF issues seem to exist without any existing cause (other than already treated ADHD), then seeking support from La Jolla Learning is the next needed step for your child.

At LJL, we believe that with the right tools and strategies, students can bolster their executive functioning skills, while diminishing obstacles. Our approach is to assess what areas of Executive Functioning are a struggle for your student and create lessons that explicitly teach strategies that will strengthen the identified weaknesses. Using a team-based approach that includes LJL, the student, parents and/or staff at the school, your student will create consistent habits. These habits will help your student stay in tune with deadlines, project and test dates, and support them in planning accordingly. Past and current LJL students also gain strategies to study efficiently and effectively in ways that will be engaging and impactful.

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

Read: Executive Functioning Skills by Age: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents

Looking for More Support?

Our programs are designed to complement the student’s classroom curriculum and supplement any necessary instruction through individual attention. Whether it be test prep, learning difficulties, or academic advising, our team of experienced and trained educators will support you and your child every step of the way.

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