Executive Function Skills: What Are They and Why Do They Matter For My Child?

Whether they hope to become a teacher, a chef or the president of the United States, young children tend to have big dreams about what they will be when they grow up. But even they cannot imagine the careers they might have – because 65 percent of the jobs children will have in the future don’t yet exist, according to the World Economic Forum.

But while the future is a mystery, the skills needed to succeed in it may not be. Critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, self-control, adaptability and memory are important abilities often collectively referred to as executive function skills. What does executive function mean, exactly? According to Harvard’s Center on the Development Child, these skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks successfully.

Executive Function Skills for Kids Infographic

This spring, we conducted a national survey that profiled human resources (HR) managers responsible for hiring. The survey revealed that these executive function skills are more highly valued in entry-level candidates than technical abilities, academic background and other factors. Two-thirds of HR managers also agreed that hiring entry-level employees with these skills is a top priority for their company’s long-term success.

The survey also revealed the following:

  • 70 percent of seasoned HR managers surveyed said entry-level employees are rarely proficient in executive function skills.
  • 25 percent of respondents said entry-level employees are becoming less proficient in executive function skills over time.
  • The majority of HR managers agreed that executive function skills are difficult to teach to entry-level employees in the workplace.

These findings may seem a little scary, especially when coupled with research stating 90 percent of employers worldwide believe skills like self-control and teamwork will only become increasingly important in the future.

But there’s good news for parents these executive function skills actually have their roots in early childhood, and parents, grandparents, early education providers and other caregivers have the opportunity to help children develop these skills. By intentionally nurturing executive function skills during children’s first few years (find out how here), parents and caregivers can help set them up for success that will last a lifetime.

To learn more about how these skills are embedded into our Balanced Learning® approach or to find ways to nurture them at home, check out our tips and resources.

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