mother cradling her baby while working from home

Executive functions – without them our life wouldn’t work…

Another one of those days: While you’re traveling to work, you’re trying to answer 2 emails, meanwhile the people in the train compartment are chatting about their last weekend You remember that you still have to buy ingredients for the birthday cake you wanted to bake for your daughter tonight. In order not to get lost in chaos and get all the tasks in order, we have to plan ahead and prioritize tasks: I quickly write down the ingredients we’re missing at home before I forget what was in the recipe. Then I answer the emails. The first one is short, I answer that first, for the second one I have to look at what was said in the email exchange before. In doing so, I tune out the conversation of the people around me and concentrate on writing, avoiding any distractions. For all this we need: Impuls controlFor all of this, we need impulse control so that we don’t get distracted (was the last Bond movie really as great as the woman next to me says? Is it still playing at the cinema? I’m going to google the Kinopolis program right now) or to devote ourselves to another activity (it would be so much nicer to watch baby monkey videos on YouTube). Our attention must be focused on our tasks and we must work through the tasks step by step. If we are interrupted (because the neighbor asks us for directions or a child suddenly cries out), we need to remember what we just did and refocus. To do all this, we need our executive functions. The main components, which are also alluded to in the example, are:

working memory

It helps us keep information in our head for a short time and process it. We need to do this when we want to remember phone numbers, for example, or when someone spells out their name to us. A classic test is to say a series of numbers and to repeat the numbers in reverse order. I needed this (and other) skills the other day when I was in the corn maze with my son: which way have we gone? Where should we turn next? How many letters did the solution word have? Which letters are we still missing?

Mental flexibility

It helps us stay with one thing or focus our attention on something else, if that’s necessary. To stay with the corn maze, we had to focus our attention on the paths through the maze. When we stopped to look at the different corn cobs and count the bugs on the leaves, we had to turn our focus back on the path so we wouldn’t get lost (what can I say, we got lost several times, but we found our way out again in the end, whew!).


Setting priorities and resisting temptations. Probably the hardest of the executive functions. It was not easy to resist the smell of pretzels and find the complete solution word first. I’m sure each of you can think of several situations right off the bat where your self-control was in demand (who’s squinting at their phone right now because it’s done ding and the next message has flown in? Who couldn’t stop watching their favourite show on Netflix?).

Now you know roughly what is meant by executive functions and why we need them all the time and everywhere. The question now is when do they develop and what can we expect from our children. The answer in a nutshell is: not much in the beginning! Even though the functions start to unfold early (from about age 1), it takes until young adulthood for all of them to mature (and for some people, you get the impression they haven’t made it past age 4… 😊).

Do you want to know how executive functions develop? The click here. And if you want to know how to boost executive functions, check this out.

My impulse control failed with a bag of crisps next to me, but now I’m going to pick up the kids by bike 😉.

Take care,

Yours Blanca

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