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Behavior Newsletter

Parent Resources: Executive functioning and student behavior

A look at how executive functioning skills impact emotions and behaviors.

Updated 1/6/2021

What is executive functioning?

Brain Image
  • A group of mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.
  • The brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.
  • They can be viewed as the “conductor” of all cognitive skills.
  • These skills do not fully develop until your mid-twenties
  • Behaviors linked to EF skills deficits: aggression, overreaction to small

Executive Functioning and Emotional Regulation

Feeling Thermometer

Emotional regulation includes the ability to adjust to changes, handle frustrations, and calm down when upset. Examples of emotional dysregulation may include crying, tantrums, outbursts, and shutting down. Emotional regulation is not an innate skill. Children need to be taught how to handle strong emotions.

Strategies to Support Emotional Regulation:

  • Use a visual to help identify feelings (such as a feelings chart or “feelings thermometer”)
  • Teach mindfulness and relaxation (take advantage of online resources for meditation/yoga)
  • Teach coping skills (plan ahead of time - deep breathing, get a drink of water, go for a walk, draw/color, squeeze a stress ball, listen to music)
  • Refrain from reasoning with or consequencing children when in a highly emotional state - model calming techniques
  • Model positive self-talk and reframing of negative automatic thoughts

Executive Functioning and Self-Control/Impulse Inhibition

Self-control can be thought of as being able to control your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors including inhibiting action on initial impulses or thoughts. It also involves the ability to slow down and think through actions. This is considered a complex skill that develops over time with brain maturation. But maturity alone will not automatically generate good self-control; children must practice self-control/restraint in order to strengthen the skill.

Stop Think Act

Strategies to Support Self-Control:

  • Strategies to Support Self-Control:
  • Reduce distractions in environment
  • Build in breaks
  • Create a plan/set daily goals
  • Encourage children to “Stop and Think” before acting
  • Model self-control
  • Set limits and enforce limits

Additional Information

Millcreek Township School District’s school psychologists created a variety of parent videos on different topics related to executive functioning. These resources can provide additional information on emotional regulation and self-control, as well as, other areas associated with executive functioning.

Parent's Guide to executive functioning