9 Executive Functions and HOW TO IMPROVE THEM

What is executive functioning?

Executive function has become a common buzzword lately however, neuropsychologists have been studying these skills for many years.  Executive function can be described as the management system of the brain.  The mental skills required for executive function allow us to manage ourselves, plan, set goals, and get things done. Executive function skills are utilized every day at home, work, and school.  Executive function skills start to develop in childhood and continue to develop in the mid-’20s.

  1. Self Control or inhibitory control or impulse control
    1. Self-control addresses a child’s ability to restrain from physical or emotional outbursts.  Self-control or impulse control keeps a child from reacting without thinking.  Emotional regulation and control help a child remain cool, calm, and collected.  By having self-control a child can work through the situation instead of impulsively reacting.
    2. An example of this is when a child works through the homework instead of crinkling it up or throwing a fit.
  2. Emotional Control
    1. Emotional control is the ability to regulate emotional responses by bringing rational and reflective thoughts on feelings.
    2. An example of emotional control is when a child copes with a difficult situation instead of having an outburst.
  3. Task Initiation
    1. Task initiation is the ability to begin a task or activity.  It also relates to a child independently generating ideas, responses in conversation, and problem-solving strategies.  
    2. An example of task initiation is starting the assignment immediately after the teacher finishes the instructions.
  4. Working Memory
    1. Working memory is the child’s ability to retain and store learned information for later recall and use.  This skill is crucial for success within the classroom. 
    2. A child who has a strong working memory successfully remembers instructions that are given and is able to recall knowledge from one day to the next in order to build upon it. 
  5. Self-Monitoring
    1. Self-monitoring is the child’s ability to use self-evaluation of how well s/he is performing a specific task.  This skill allows a child to reflect and track their progress on a task, activity, or assignment.  By utilizing reflection the child is able to make adjustments in order to accomplish the task.
    2. An example of self-monitoring is a child noticing the chocolate chip cookies are very flat or the math equation isn’t working out.
  6. Flexible thinking or cognitive flexibility
    1. Flexible thinking gives a child the ability to problem solve and/or adjust to situations when necessary and overcome unplanned obstacles.  This type of thinking applies to the child’s ability to see situations from a different perspective.  
    2. A child who exhibits flexible thinking isn’t stumped by everyday hurdles or a difference in opinion from a peer or adult.
    3. An example of flexible thinking is when the school lunch menu says pizza on Mondays but instead, the school is serving mac and cheese.  
  7. Organization of materials
    1. Organization skills address the ability to create order in school, storage spaces, work, and play.  
    2. An example of strong organizational skills would be having a designated colored folder for each class; Blue for math, Red for Reading, yellow for science.
  8. Planning 
    1. Planning is the ability of a child to think about the future, create a plan of action and prioritize the different working parts.  Throughout the day it is important to plan how to accomplish tasks and determine which aspects of the task are most important and in what order to complete them.
    2. Examples of this include packing a backpack and giving directions.  
  9. Time management
    1. Time management relates to the child’s ability to properly organize a schedule and complete tasks on time.  Time management is important throughout everyday tasks as it allows the child to jump from task to task, punctuality, and goal setting.
    2. An example of time management is completing a multi-step project prior to the deadline. We view this as not procrastinating.

What is executive functioning responsible for?

  • Paying attention and focus
  • Self-monitoring
  • Analyzing information
  • Understanding different viewpoints
  • Initiating tasks
  • Regulating emotions
  • Managing behavior
  • Staying focused on the task through completion
  • Organizing, planning, and prioritizing
  • Remembering important details

Executive functioning plays a critical role in an individual’s ability to function throughout the day.  When there are problems with these skills individuals may struggle with all areas of life including school, work, play, and relationships.

What are the signs of executive function difficulties?

  • Having trouble starting and/or completing tasks
  • Having difficulty prioritizing tasks
  • Forgetting what they just heard
  • Managing Frustrations
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Panic or worry when rules and routines change
  • Time management difficulties
  • Organizing activities
  • Difficulty keeping track of personal belongings
  • Trouble organizing their thoughts
  • Overly emotional and fixate on things

How can you improve executive function?

  • Attend social skills classes
  • Break up large tasks into small steps
  • Practice Mindfulness
  • Use visual aids to help process and understanding information
  • Write down due dates and appointments in a calendar
  • Color coordinate folders and notebooks for classes
  • Create a checklist (written or visual)
  • Allow time for transitioning between activities
  • Make a schedule (visual or written) to help stay on track
  • Decrease stress
  • Get Exercise and move
  • Play Games 
    • Soduku works on working memory
    • Cribbage works on attention and working memory
    • Chess works on planning and flexibility
    • Jenga works on attention and flexibility and self-control
    • Brainteasers work on flexibility
    • Freeze games work attention and self-control
    • Candyland works on attention and flexibility
    • Scrabble works on planning and organization
    • Pictionary work on time management and flexibility
    • Uno works on flexibility and attention


Cooper-Kahn, J. & Dietzel, L. What is Executivwe Functioning?  Retrieved from: http://www.ldonline.org/article/29122/ 

Zelazo, P. D. What is Executive Function? Retrieved from: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/executive-functioning-issues/what-is-executive-function 


Take 5 – For the Month of April

Take 5! 5 Social Skill Activities, 5 Life Skill Activities and 5 Fine Motor Activities


By: Occupational Therapy Family Services, LLC

Social Skill Activities

Feelings Easter Egg Hunt – Print the cards below and place in plastic eggs. Have the child act out the feeling or share when someone might feel the feelings. For younger children use feeling pictures.

  • Read the Good Egg Book – It can be purchased on Rainbow Breathing – You can view a youtube video by go noodle.
  • Egg Races – Each child gets a plastic spoon and a plastic egg and they need to race from one line to another.
  • Read Going on an Easter Egg Hunt Social Story – you can download the story for free from positivelyautism.com

Life Skill Activities

Matching Plastic Easter Eggs – Have your child match up the colors or have them make a pattern.

Dying Easter Eggs

This is one of my favorites for Easter. You can purchase egg dye kits at Walmart, Target, Grocery Stores and Craft Stores. Have your child read the instructors and get it set up or help get it set up (depending on your child’s age).

Practice Cracking an Egg (Might want to try in an empty bowl for the first few times to avoid getting shells into what you are cooking).

  1. Give the egg a firm tap on a flat surface
  2. Press your thumbs into the crack to open the egg
  3. Pull the shell apart to allow the yoke and whites to fall out

Make Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled eggs are a dish made from taking eggs and stirring or whipping them together and cooking them over heat.

First crack the eggs. Then mix together in a bowl. Spray a cooking pan. Add scrambled egg mixture. Turn on medium heat. Stir frequently until eggs are cooked through. Eating raw eggs can cause illness. Supervise your child closely when using the stove.

There are many variations to scrambled eggs such as adding milk or water to help make them more fluffy. To increase the difficulty of scrambled eggs you can always add additional ingredients such as peppers, onions, ham, bacon, mushrooms and cheese.

  • Disclosure: This blog contains affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase, we will earn a commission. Keep in mind that the link is for the product and their quality and relationship to the content not because of the commission that is received from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.

Bag Groceries

Believe it or not there is an art to putting groceries into a bag. This skill can be practiced at home and before long you will have additional help the next time you go to the grocery store.

Supplies: Paper or Plastic bags, Grocery items

Place all grocery items on a counter or table and have the child organize the items so like items are together i.e. canned items, produce items, boxed items. For children age 4-7 maybe choose 5-10 items and for children age 8-11 maybe choose 10-15 items and for children age 12-16 maybe choose 15-20 items. You can grade the activity by increasing or decrease the amount of groceries.

Ask your child what is the same and different about these items: Weight, height, temperature.

Provide education on how to pack a grocery bag. Heavy items go on the bottom and light items such as produce and bakery go on the top.

Discuss which items shouldn’t be packed together like fresh produce and cleaning supplies.

Fine Motor Activities

Salt Painted Easter Eggs – Take a piece of paper and use glue to make your egg design. With the glue still wet pour salt over the wet glue. Shake off the excess salt (we did this over the garbage to prevent a huge mess). Once the glue and salt has dried paint with watercolors.

Egg matching with colored pom poms. For this activity you will need colored pom poms and matching eggs. The child can use tweezers or their fingers to put the pom pom in the egg.

Painted Easter Egg Rocks – For this activity you will need rocks, paint and a paint brush. You and your child can decorate the rocks like colorful Easter Eggs.

Egg Tower Stacking – For this activity you will need plastic eggs and play dough. Encourage your child to build the tallest tower they can.

Peeps Writing Activity – For slightly older children, have them complete a writing activity about the Easter Candy “Peeps.” Have them answer the following questions in their writing:

  1. What do peeps eat?
  2. What are peep names?
  3. Where do peeps live?
  4. What do peeps do?


A Siblings Birthday Celebration and Feelings of Jealousy

Occupational Therapy Family Services, LLC


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Birthday Parties are a time for fun and excitement. But what happens when the sibling is jealous and what you can do about it.

Today was sweet Lexi’s Birthday and her slightly older brother was less than thrilled that all the attention was on her.  Throughout the day when the family said happy birthday, he would chime in reminding everyone his birthday was in a month.  During the opening of presents, he tried to open some as well.  During blowing out of the candle he tried to blow it out before her.

For children, it can be very hard not to be the one at the center of all the attention and it is often shown through negative behaviors such as acting out, temper tantrums, interruptions, and attention-seeking. 

Planning for the party can go a long way in preventing challenging behaviors at the party.  Here are 5 ways to help the non-birthday child

  • Let your child plan a fun surprise for the birthday child – this could be picking out a special birthday gift, making a card, decorating the cake, or helping with decorations
  • Have the non-birthday child invite a friend to play with during the birthday party
  • Ask a relative or special friend to come to the birthday celebration to give the non-birthday child some extra special attention
  • Make an extra goodie bag for the sibling
  • Have something extra special planned for the non-birthday child after the birthday celebration like playing a game, going for walk, or watching a special movie.
  • Disclosure: This blog contains affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase, we will earn a commission. Keep in mind that the link is for the product and their quality and relationship to the content not because of the commission that is received from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.

You can read books in preparation for a birthday.  Here are a few books we recommend:

If you had your birthday party on the moon

Ten Rules for the Birthday Party Wish

Bigfoot does not like Birthday Parties

Unicorn Day

However, even with planning tantrums and crying can occur.  This is a great time to have a discussion with the non-birthday sibling about waiting for their birthday.  Make sure to acknowledge the feelings of sadness, anger, and frustration with having to wait.  

Today during our birthday celebrations our son verbalized how frustrated he was that all the attention was on his sister and that he didn’t get any presents.  After acknowledging the frustration we asked him who else didn’t get presents.  He stated that mom, dad and grandma, and grandpa didn’t get any presents either.  Given his age, this did help him feel slightly better.  We also discussed how his birthday was coming up soon and maybe he could start getting his birthday wish list ready.

However, bending over backward for the non-birthday sibling can backfire.  It is still very important to make the day about the birthday child.  The ultimate goal is to find balance and help the non-birthday siblings learn to enjoy their sibling’s special day.


14 Tips for Filling your Child’s Attention Bucket

14 Tips for Filling your Child’s Attention Bucket

By: Occupational Therapy Family Services, LLC

Do you find that your child’s normal behavior includes whining and tantrums?  Do you find it to be a constant battle through the day?  Children may just be looking for attention.  If we schedule in times during the day when we are attentive to our children, they will be able to regulate their behaviors better.  Children will develop and grow more skills when they have a full bucket.  Here are some ideas that we use as moms to fill our children’s buckets.   

  1. Be fully attentive during meal times

Mealtimes are one of few routines that are repeated daily. Slow down and make the meal meaningful by adding conversation and story time. Be present and take time to listen to what you child is saying. Take time during dinner or supper to discuss your child’s day — the positive and challenging aspects. By doing this you can help build your child’s self-esteem and fill their bucket.

Disclosure: This blog contains affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase, we will earn a commission. Keep in mind that the link is for the product and their quality and relationship to the content not because of the commission that is received from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.

2. Make bath-time fun

For small children, bath time is often their favorite part of their day. Take time to sing songs, play games and blow bubbles. Bath time is a great way to practice fine motor skills and manipulation tasks by dumping and pouring of water and playing with toys.

Here are some perfect toys for bathtime fun.

Toddler bath time toys

Fishing bath time toys

For older children, help them get into a routine of gathering the items needs for the shower/bath and help them pick out their favorite scents for shampoo and body wash. Check out the paradise fruit bath salts below for your teenager.

Paradise Fruits Bath Salts

3. Read books together

Reading books will help establish a connection and bond with your child. Often times as parents reading books gets pushed to the end of the day right before bedtime. However, try reading books in the morning before starting the day or after dinner before the start of the bedtime routine.

4. Watch your child play

This is one of the most important bucket fillers for children. Sit and watch your child play and participate if invited. Listen to what they are saying and pay attention to their imagination. Sit free of distractions – no cell phone, no laptop, no books or magazines.

5 & 6. Have mommy and me time and daddy and me time each week

This is my favorite time each week. Take 45-60 minutes and focus only on your child. A good child-date is child led as much as possible and engaging. Here are some great date ideas.

Getting Ice Cream

A trip to the park

Grocery Shopping with the child assisting

Reading books at the library

Eating at a resturant

Going for a walk

Going for a bike ride

Painting a Picture

A trip to the bakery for a special treat

Have a picnic in the park

Children really look forward to this special time. Throughout the week you can remind your child how you are looking forward to this special time. Once again be free of outside distractions such as work, cellphone and the computer.

7. Go on nature walk around the neighborhood

Fresh air is good for everyone and can be refreshing. Take a walk around the neighborhood while chatting about the trees, the colors, the stones that can be seen. 20-30 minutes of outdoor time has tremendous benefits for the body and mind.

8. Have a family game night

Having a weekly game night gives everyone something to look forward to as well developing a connection while working on social and fine motor skills.

Here are some of my favorite games for younger children—-

Animal memory game

Hoot Hoot Owl




Hungry Hungry Hippos

Here are some of my favorite games for older children—





Phase 10


9. Take Five

Take 5 minutes to check in with your child. I love this time and so do my children. I take this time to be free from the worlds distractions and ask them questions. What was their favorite part of the day? or How did you overcame a challenge? or What are you looking forward to today or this week? By devoting 5 minutes to listening to your child you can help fill their attention bucket.

10. Together in the kitchen

Cooking together builds connection, self-esteem and is engaging. Have your child help measure, pour and stir. A few easy beginner recieps for cooking with your child include muffins, pancakes and chocolate chip cookies. Maybe your child can even lick the spoon if you are making chocolate chip cookies.

11. Your child the teacher

What hobbies or activities does your child participate in? Do they like to build with legos or do they participate in karate? Ask your child to teach about their interests. Pay attention as your child explains and demonstrates. Then try it with the help of your child. This activity helps create confidence in their personal skills.

12. Crafting Together

Making art together is a great way work on confidence and connection. Creating works of art through imagination and supplies is a great way to fill your child’s attention bucket. Don’t forget to display their creation.

13. Take them on a special errand

Are you running to the store for milk or maybe just running to the bank. Invite your child along for some one-on-one time in the car. Use the travel time to have a conversation and connect to your child. This car time can be used to play a game like I-spy or to sing songs.

14. Have a “YES” day

Have you heard about this? A Yes Day is exactly how it sounds. You say yes to your child. As parents we spend a lot of time saying NO. By spending the day saying YES you will create a deeper connection with your child and will probably find out that you automatically say NO a lot. Before diving into a whole day maybe start with a Yes morning or afternoon. It is important to lay boundaries with your child prior to initiating a YES session. A YES Day empowers your child to make decisions, problem solve and figure out creative solutions. This day or half day is sure to create life long memories while filling your child’s attention bucket.

Hopefully you have found some inspiration for filling your child’s attention bucket. What will you do today to fill your child’s bucket?  Please post below some more ideas for all of us to share!


Occupational Therapy Family Services, LLC

Communication, Language and Speaking – The Social Art of Conversation

Communication, Language and Speaking – The Social Skill Art of Conversation – Occupational Therapy Family Services, LLC

Before we dive into this topic, we must define a few key words.

What is communication?

  • The definition according to the oxford dictionary is “the imparting or exchanging of information or news.”

What is language?

  • The definition according to the oxford dictionary is “the principal method of human communication, consisting of words used in a structured and conventional way and conveyed by speech, writing, or gesture”

What is speaking?

  • The definition according to the oxford dictionary “the action of conveying information or expressing one’s thoughts and feelings in spoken language”

These three are essential for human interaction.  How we speak and communicate varies depending on the audience i.e., how we speak to our family differs from how we speak to friends which differs from how we speak to coworkers, colleagues or strangers. Think about this for a second – how differently do you speak to each of these audiences? Think about how you speak to your children?

Do you find communication difficult? Communication is often hard for children with social difficulties such as those children who identify on the spectrum or with ADHD. 

Disclosure: This blog contains affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase, we will earn a commission. Keep in mind that the link is for the product and their quality and relationship to the content not because of the commission that is received from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.

Social skills are the skills we use to communicate and interact with each other each and every day.  Communication isn’t just verbal but also nonverbal through gestures and body language. 

Communication has seven components

  1. To greet individuals
  2. To inform people about things
  3. Make demands
  4. Command
  5. Request or make needs known
  6. Adaptability – adapt the language to meet the needs of the listener or situation
  7. Following the unspoken rules of communication – taking turns, eye contact with the speaker, standing/sitting at an appropriate distance, using appropriate tone and pitch

How can you tell if your child has problems with social communication?

If a child has difficulties with social communication, they might

  • Interrupt others when talking
  • Have poor eye contact
  • Have difficulty understanding another person’s point of view
  • Dominate the conversation
  • Tell stories in a disorganized way
  • Be unaware of personal space and standing too close
  • Have difficulty remaining on topic in conversation
  • Easily distracted with the environment
  • Have difficulty understanding the other person’s point of view

What can be done to improve social communication skills?

  • Social Skill Groups work on building the skill of communication through role-play, engagement with peers and practice
  • Occupational Therapy Family Services, LLC has 4 week social skills class on the topic of communication skills.

4 Week Series on Conversational Skills April 15-May 6

5:30-6:15 Ages 5-8

6:30-7:15 Ages 9-13

4 Week Series on Conversational Skills April 10-May 1

9:00-9:45am on Saturdays Ages 5-8

10-10:45am on Saturdays Ages 9-13

What other activities can help improve social communication?

  • Taking turns through games:  Taking turns through board games is a great way to teach the child about winning and losing. Here are some of our favorites.


Connect Four

Hoot Hoot Owl

Guess Who

  • Facial Expressions: Utilize facial expressions to help convey emotions and feelings
  • Puppets: Puppets can help child children act out various situations and activities


You could also make your own puppets out of paper bags and craft supplies.

  • Social Stories: Social stories can help show child how to behave or respond in certain situations
  • Books: Here are a few of our favorite books about communication

Communication Ninja

My Mouth is a Volcano

Why Should I listen?

Tessie Tames her Tongue

  • Role Play: Engage in role play activities that act out various social activities such as going to the park, visiting grandparents or going to the doctor

Additional Information

Play and Social Skills Development Checklist

Play and Social Development Chart


Kid Sense. (2020). Retrieved from: https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/play-and-social-skills/social-communication-pragmatics/


Occupational Therapy Family Services, LLC