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Building for the Future: Understanding Executive Functioning and the Value of Coaching

Updated: May 10, 2023

A Comprehensive Guide to Executive Function

Have you ever wondered what executive function skills are and why they matter? These skills are essential for success in school, work, and life in general, but they may not be fully understood by everyone. In simple terms, executive function skills refer to a set of mental processes that help us plan, organize, manage time, pay attention, switch focus, and regulate our emotions and behavior. They're like the conductor of an orchestra, ensuring that everything runs smoothly and efficiently. In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at what executive function skills really are, how they grow, and why they're so important for children to develop. So, let's get started and discover the fascinating world of executive function skills!

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Executive Functioning 101: An Overview

Executive functions are cognitive processes that help us regulate, control, and manage our behavior, thoughts, and emotions. They are essential for goal-directed behavior, decision-making, and social interaction.

It is important to note first and foremost that individuals are not born with these skills, but rather born with the potential to develop them. Executive functioning is linked to the part of our brains linked to working memory, the prefrontal cortex. Both the verbal and non-verbal components of working memory are important for the growth of executive functioning.

For example, non-verbal working memory is involved in visual-spatial processing and the manipulation of non-linguistic information, like mental images and movies and this is an essential first step in executive function skills. Verbal working memory helps individuals hold and manipulate linguistic information. This component is where the very important "internal language" and "self-talk" skills come into play. Again, the development of these working memory abilities play a critical role in the development of executive functioning, as they provide the foundational skills necessary for effective planning, decision-making, and self-regulation.

Planning and organizing

involves breaking down a task into smaller steps, prioritizing, and allocating resources effectively. This allows individuals to plan for the future, set goals, and take concrete steps towards achieving them. Planning and organization skills are critical for achieving long-term goals, but they also require working memory skills to keep track of the steps involved.

Managing time

is being able to estimate the time needed for a task, prioritize tasks, and manage deadlines. This helps individuals balance competing demands and distractions and make the most of their time. Individuals must utilize their working memory to evaluate a task's duration based on previous experiences, and then retain the task while maintaining focus within a

designated timeframe to accomplish it successfully.


helps us identify and define a problem, generating and evaluating possible solutions, and choosing the most appropriate course of action. This requires flexible thinking and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Working memory

involves the ability to hold information in mind for short periods of time and use it to guide behavior. This allows individuals to resist distractions, follow directions, remember important information, and carry out complex tasks. When we walk into a room and forget what we went in there for; this is working memory at work. Always remember that for those with ADHD, distractions provoke a response and that response cannot be inhibited. Therefore after a distraction, individuals struggle to reengage in the task at hand because their weak working memory may have them forgetting what they were doing in the first place. This is almost never intentional.

Cognitive flexibility

refers to the ability to adapt and shift our thinking and behavior to meet changing demands and situations. It is a crucial component of executive functioning because it allows individuals to switch between tasks, adjust to new environments, and approach problems from different angles. Cognitive flexibility also involves the ability to see multiple perspectives and consider different solutions, which is important for effective problem-solving and decision-making. Overall, cognitive flexibility

plays a vital role in helping individuals navigate

complex and unpredictable situations.

Self regulation, control of emotions and impulses

is otherwise known as regulating emotional responses and inhibiting impulsive behaviors. This helps individuals manage stress, stay focused, and make rational decisions. For those with an ADHD diagnosis, the heart and soul of this lies within self-regulation. Individuals will fail to direct their behavior in time to the future, so the lack of self regulation causes a lack of persistence toward a goal. Self-regulation skills are necessary to stay focused and motivated throughout the process.

Monitoring and learning from past mistakes

allows us the ability to reflect on past experiences, identifying areas for improvement, and making adjustments for the future. This allows individuals to learn from their mistakes and grow from their experiences and use those past experiences to drive their current task at hand.

Situational awareness and perspective-taking

are crucial components of executive functioning as they allow individuals to adapt to their environment and respond appropriately to social situations. As you can imagine, there is a tremendous amount to self-regulation and working memory tied to these skills.

Situational awareness involves being aware of one's surroundings and the events and circumstances that are taking place in the environment. It also involves understanding the context in which those events are occurring and being able to anticipate potential consequences of actions or decisions. Situational awareness is particularly important in dynamic environments where conditions can change quickly.

Perspective-taking, on the other hand, involves the ability to understand and take into consideration the perspectives, feelings, and needs of others. This is important for effective communication, collaboration, and building relationships with others.

Both situational awareness and perspective-taking require a strong foundation in executive functioning skills such as working memory, attention, and cognitive flexibility. By developing these skills, individuals can improve their ability to navigate complex social situations, understand and anticipate potential consequences, and make informed decisions based on the perspectives of others.

Overall, executive functioning skills are critical for success in all areas of life, including school, work, and personal relationships. They allow individuals to plan, prioritize, and organize their thoughts and behavior in a way that helps them achieve their goals and thrive in complex and dynamic environments.

Recognizing the Signs of Weak Executive Functioning

There are many reasons why individuals can have weak executive function skills. Some factors that may contribute to executive function difficulties include learning differences, traumatic brain injury, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and chronic stress or trauma. It's important to identify the underlying cause of executive function challenges in order to provide appropriate support and interventions.

Russell Barkley is a renowned clinical psychologist and leading expert in the field of ADHD, and his research has greatly contributed to our understanding of executive functioning. According to Barkley's research, individuals with ADHD often experience deficits in several key areas of executive functioning, such as inhibition, working memory, emotional control, and planning and organization. These deficits can lead to difficulties in academic, social, and occupational functioning, as well as increased risk for impulsive behavior, accidents, and substance abuse.

As a parent, it can be difficult to recognize when your child is struggling with executive functioning challenges. After all, many of the symptoms of weak executive functioning can be mistaken for laziness, disorganization, or just being forgetful.

However, it's critical to understand that executive functioning difficulties are a real and common issue for many, and recognizing the signs early on can help you provide the right support and resources to help your child thrive.

Here are some common signs that you or your child may be struggling with executive functioning challenges:

  • Difficulty completing tasks on time or following through on commitments.

  • Struggles with planning and organization, including difficulty keeping track of assignments, materials, or schedules.

  • Has trouble starting tasks or initiating action, often becoming overwhelmed or paralyzed by indecision.

  • Struggles with problem-solving and critical thinking, and may struggle to identify multiple solutions or think creatively.

  • Difficulty regulating emotions, especially in response to stress or frustration, and may be prone to outbursts or meltdowns.

  • Has trouble with working memory, which can impact the ability to recall information or follow multi-step instructions.

The EF Ripple Effect

This is a term used in psychology, education, and neuroscience to help understand the idea that weaknesses in executive functioning can have far-reaching consequences beyond just the specific task or situation in which they occur. Because executive functioning skills are essential for everyday tasks and interactions, difficulties in this area can create a 'ripple effect' that impacts many areas of a person's life. For example, someone with weak executive functioning skills may struggle with planning and organizing their time, leading to difficulty meeting deadlines at work or school. This can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and even low self-esteem. In turn, these issues can affect relationships, mental health, and overall quality of life. The EF ripple effect highlights the importance of identifying and addressing executive functioning challenges early on to prevent negative impacts on various areas of a person's life.

How Can Executive Functioning Coaching Help?

Executive function coaching is a collaborative process between a coach and a client that focuses on building internal dialogue, self-talk, goal-directed persistence and resiliency. Coaches work to build skills that focus on emotional regulation, working memory and cognitive flexibility. The coach works with the client to identify specific goals and challenges, and then helps them develop personalized strategies and tools to overcome these challenges. The ultimate goal is to help the client build a strong foundation of executive function skills that will enable them to succeed in all areas of life, from school and work to personal relationships and beyond.

How is Executive Function Coaching Different from a Working with a Therapist or Counselor?

Executive function (EF) coaching is different from therapy and counseling in several ways. While therapy and counseling focus on addressing emotional and psychological issues, EF coaching focuses on improving specific cognitive skills related to executive functioning executive functioning coaching, these common skills are addressed through a variety of strategies, including monitoring time, organizing materials, controlling impulses through the use of mindfulness techniques, breaking down large projects into manageable parts, initiating small tasks, and more.

EF coaching is also typically more structured and goal-oriented than therapy or counseling. The coach works with the individual to identify specific goals and strategies to improve executive functioning, and then provides ongoing support and feedback to help the individual develop and implement these strategies.

Additionally, EF coaching is often shorter-term than therapy or counseling, with a focus on building skills and strategies that the individual can continue to use independently in the future. Overall, while therapy and counseling may address underlying emotional or psychological issues, EF coaching is designed to provide practical support and tools to help individuals improve their executive functioning skills and achieve their goals.

How is Executive Function Coaching Different from Working with a Tutor and which is best for my learner?

EF coaching aims to teach students strategies and skills that they can use across various contexts, not just for homework or tests. EF coaching helps students become more efficient, effective, and independent learners by developing their problem-solving abilities and self-reflection skills, while tutoring focuses on academic subjects and helping students improve their knowledge and skills in specific academic areas. While tutoring can be helpful in improving academic performance, it may not address underlying executive function deficits that can affect a student's overall academic and personal success.

On the other hand, EF coaching is focused on developing executive function skills, such as time management, organization, and planning. It can benefit children who are struggling with more general issues related to learning and behavior, such as difficulty with completing assignments on time, managing emotions, or staying focused.

The decision of whether to choose tutoring or EF coaching ultimately depends on the specific needs of your child. Tutoring is typically focused on academic subjects and helping students master specific concepts or material. It can be useful for children who are struggling with a particular subject or need help catching up in class.

While both tutoring and EF coaching can be helpful for students, it's important to consider your child's specific needs and goals when deciding which one to pursue. If your child is struggling with executive function skills, EF coaching may be the more appropriate choice to help them build a strong foundation for success in school and beyond.

Embarking on the Executive Functioning Coaching Journey

The first step in pursuing executive function coaching is to find a qualified and experienced coach who can help you or your child develop and strengthen EF skills. This can involve researching coaches online or asking for recommendations from friends, family, or healthcare providers.

Once you have identified a potential coach, it's important to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your goals, concerns, and expectations. During this meeting, the coach can get a better understanding of you or your child's EF skills, and recommend which types of strategies and interventions might be best for your family. A good fit is a critical component of the coaching process, so be sure to have your child meet the coach before agreeing to start services. Many coaches will do an initial assessment within the first few weeks to develop an individualized coaching plan tailored to the specific needs of the client.

Developing a strong relationship with your EF coach is crucial for your coaching journey and can help build trust and a sense of safety. It also allows you to feel comfortable sharing personal challenges and asking for help.

Executive Function Coaching Timeline

While the steps and progressions of coaching may appear alike for some, it is imperative that the process is tailored to the client's unique learning style and requirements. While some people may require EF coaching for only a brief, intensive period of a few months, others may benefit from it on a regular basis for several months or even years. EF coaching may be useful in one season but not in another, and later on, you may find it helpful again. Therefore, each individual's approach to effective coaching varies, and there is no one-size-fits-all plan.

Building a strong relationship with your EF coach can be beneficial in the long run. Even if you don't need coaching services for a period of time, having a trusted EF coach can be a valuable resource if you find yourself needing help again in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions about Executive Function Coaching

Can executive function coaching help with other conditions?

Yes, executive function coaching can be helpful for individuals with ADHD, anxiety, and other conditions that affect their ability to regulate their behavior and emotions. Coaches can also work with clients to develop strategies and techniques to improve their executive functioning skills, such as time management, organization, and task initiation. These skills can be helpful in managing the symptoms of conditions like ADHD and anxiety. However, it is important to note that executive function coaching is not a substitute for medical treatment or therapy. Individuals with these conditions should work with their healthcare provider to determine the best treatment plan for their needs. If your child has a learning difference of any kind, think of EF Coaching as a puzzle piece in the overall picture of treatment and support.

How can I support my child's executive function coaching at home?

Parents can support the development of their child's executive function skills at home by encouraging routines, setting clear expectations, providing opportunities for decision-making and problem-solving, and promoting self-reflection and goal-setting.

At home you can:

Create a structured routine:

Help your child establish a consistent routine for completing homework, studying, and other tasks. This can help them develop good habits and reduce stress.

Encourage self-reflection:

Encourage your child to reflect on their progress and think about what strategies are working well for them. This can help them develop self-awareness and take ownership of their learning.

Provide a supportive environment:

Make sure your child has a quiet and organized space to work in. This can help reduce distractions and create a positive learning environment.

Celebrate progress:

Celebrate your child's progress and successes, no matter how small. This can help build their confidence and motivate them to continue working towards their goals.

Teach and model self regulation:

By exhibiting the tone, language and behavior that you wish to see from your child, you can teach emotional control skills at home. Validate your child's feelings when they are upset or angry and let them know it is okay to have emotions.

How Much Does Executive Functioning Coaching Typically Cost?

In general, costs can range from $75-300 per hour. The length, frequency, duration, and location of the coaching sessions (virtual or in-home) can also determine the costs of EF coaching. Some coaches may offer additional services, such as on-demand accountability and check-ins between sessions, for an additional charge. Generally, larger executive function coaching companies with multiple coaches and staff will have higher costs than smaller companies or solo specialists due to increased overhead and administrative expenses. It's important to ask about costs and services during your initial inquiry call with an EF coach.

Is Executive Functioning Coaching Covered By Insurance?

You may want to explore whether your medical insurance covers EF coaching, as this can vary between providers. Typically, a doctor's prescription may be required for insurance coverage, and some providers offer reimbursement options. Additionally, some coaches sliding-scale fees based on income, which can make coaching more affordable. If seeking EF coaching for work-related reasons, it may be worth checking with your employer to see if they would be willing to contribute to the costs. FSA and 529 Plans: Some of our clients have used their Flexible Spending Account/Health Savings Account (FSA/HSA) benefits to help pay for services.

How Do I Know Measure the Effectiveness of Executive Functioning Coaching?

To determine the effectiveness of executive functioning coaching, it's important to look for improvements in the ability to manage time, stay organized, set goals, prioritize tasks, and stay focused on persisting through those goals. A good coach will help you establish measurable goals and milestones and encourage self-reflection to track progress. However, the effectiveness of coaching ultimately depends on the willingness of the client to take ownership and accountability. For parents of students wondering how they might see progress, you will note progress when you realize you are prompting and reminding your child less than you were previously. As students work to develop EF skills, they create systems to remember tasks and goals and develop responsibility and independence as a result of it.

What Are The Drawbacks Of Executive Functioning Coaching?

As you can see from this full article, we feel strongly about the benefits of EF coaching. That being said, there are a few risks and drawbacks to consider as you evaluate if coaching is the right fit for you. Time and cost are two potential drawbacks, as EF coaching takes time and can be expensive. Additionally, EF coaching may not be effective for everyone, particularly those with underlying mental health conditions or neurological disorders that require more intensive treatment. Finally, finding the right EF coach can be challenging, and it may take some trial and error to find someone who is a good fit for your specific needs and learning style.

In conclusion, executive function coaching is a valuable investment in your child's future. By developing these crucial skills, your child can become more responsible, independent, and confident in all areas of life. The benefits of executive function coaching can be priceless, paving the way for success in academics, career, and personal relationships. So if you want to give your child the tools they need to thrive, consider executive function coaching as a smart and effective choice.


Want to Learn More about Executive Functioning?

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