18 Jul Developing Executive Skills in Children: What to Expect at Each Age
DEVELOPING EXECUTIVE SKILLS IN CHILDREN
Developing Executive Skills in Children: What to Expect at Each Age
You know your child is smart and has so much potential. However, you may have noticed some challenges with skills like time management, planning, and organization. These are known as executive function skills and take time to develop.
The good news is that there are age-appropriate milestones you can expect as your child grows to help foster these important abilities. Knowing what is typical at each stage can help you provide the right support and set the proper expectations.
Whether your child is in elementary, middle, or high school, read more about the key executive skills emerging during these formative years and how you can help strengthen them at home. Your child will build a solid foundation to thrive in and out of the classroom with patience and practice.
Executive Skills in Elementary School Kids (Ages 6-10)
Kids between 6 and 10 years old start developing key executive skills that serve them well. Their frontal lobes are developing rapidly at this age, improving their ability to focus, manage emotions, solve problems logically, and plan ahead.
- Attention and concentration are blossoming. Kids this age can do 30-60 minutes of homework or focused activity. Help them build this skill by limiting distractions when doing homework or chores.
- Organization and planning skills take off around 2nd or 3rd grade. Help your child tidy their space and materials, and make schedules and to-do lists together. Teach them how to break big tasks into smaller steps. These skills will help reduce frustration and set them up for success.
- Logical reasoning and problem-solving improve dramatically. Kids this age can understand cause and effect, weigh pros and cons, and solve problems independently. Encourage them to make informed choices and think through the consequences. Praise their efforts at problem-solving, even if they do not get the right answer.
- Their emotional control gets better, but they still need support. Kids will have fewer tantrums but may struggle with disappointment or anger. Help them identify emotions and express them appropriately. Model emotional regulation yourself and be available to talk them through challenging feelings.
With patience and practice, 6 to 10-year-olds can master foundational executive skills to set them up for greater independence and success in their pre-and teen years. Provide opportunities for them to make decisions, work through challenges, and gain confidence in their abilities. The reward will be watching your child blossom into a responsible, thoughtful, self-directed individual.
Middle School Executive Functioning Development (Ages 11-13)
The middle school years are a time of major growth in executive functioning for kids. As their brains develop, 11 to 13-year-olds gain skills that will serve them well in high school and beyond.
- Planning and prioritizing become easier. Kids this age can think through the steps required to achieve short- and long-term goals. They can better determine what is most important to focus on and schedule their time accordingly.
- Task initiation improves. It is easier for middle schoolers to get started on assignments or chores without excessive prompting. Their growing independence and sense of responsibility motivate them to take action.
- Emotional regulation develops. The preteen brain is developing the ability to manage emotions and control impulses. While mood swings are still common, kids are learning strategies better to handle frustration, anger, and other strong feelings.
- Problem-solving skills strengthen. 11 to 13-year-olds can have more complex reasoning and critical thinking. They can analyze situations thoroughly, evaluate options, and implement solutions with less supervision.
The middle school years are exciting as kids gain skills and knowledge that will prepare and help them in high school and beyond. With patience and support, preteens navigate huge leaps in emotional, social, and cognitive development, allowing their blossoming independence and sense of responsibility to motivate them toward success.
High School Executive Skills (Ages 14-18)
Planning and Prioritizing
Teenagers start developing more advanced planning and prioritizing skills during high school. They can:
- Create schedules and timelines for long-term projects with many steps.
- Balance social activities, extracurriculars, chores, and homework demands.
- Start to think about future goals and how to achieve them.
High schoolers may struggle with starting tasks, especially unpleasant or difficult ones. Some tips to help improve task initiation:
- Break big assignments into smaller, more manageable chunks to make them feel less overwhelming. This can make it easier to dive in.
- Set deadlines for yourself and start working ahead of time. Do not wait until the last minute.
- Remove distractions like phones and limit interruptions. A quiet, dedicated workspace can help you focus and get started.
During high school, teenagers can keep more details in their minds at once and mentally manipulate that information. Some signs of improved working memory are:
- The ability to take more advanced math classes that require holding lots of numbers and steps in your head.
- Learning to drive a car by keeping track of multiple parts like the steering wheel, mirrors, pedals, gear shift, traffic rules, navigation, etc.
- Recalling extended conversations, lectures, or explanations without forgetting important details.
Teenage hormones and life stresses can intensify emotions during high school. Emotional regulation skills take time and practice to develop. Some tips to help:
- Recognize emotional triggers and warning signs of distress. Take a timeout to prevent reacting impulsively.
- Learn coping strategies like deep breathing, meditation, journaling, or exercise. Find what works for you.
- Talk to others. Speaking with trusted sources of support can help gain perspective and ease distressing emotions.
So there you have it, a roadmap for what executive skills to anticipate developing in your kids at different ages. The key is not to expect too much too soon; every child develops at their own pace. Focus on encouraging and reinforcing emerging skills for their age while gently pushing them outside their comfort zone.
With patience, practice, and persistence, these lifelong skills will strengthen over time. Before you know it, you will have an organized, independent thinker on your hands, ready to thrive in school and beyond. Though the days may feel long, the years are short. Enjoy this journey of growth and discovery with your child. The skills you help shape now will serve them well into adulthood.
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