I just finished reading a great book called “No Mind Left Behind: Understanding and Fostering Executive Control – The Eight Essential Brain Skills Every Child Needs To Thrive” by clinical psychologist Dr. Adam Cox. In this book, Dr. Cox outlines the eight pillars of executive control (or what he calls “The Ex Factor” ) that may have more impact than IQ on our children’s success.

John Hoffman also wrote about this in the August issue of Today’s Parent magazine: “When we think about brainpower, we tend to think about intelligence and knowledge. But what really sets a child up for learning and life skills – even being happy – is a set of abilities that experts call executive function.”

As an educator, my philosophy is that all students can learn, regardless of IQ, (which for a large part may genetically predisposed). The pillars of executive control, however, are very teachable (and in fact, many children need to have them explicitly taught).

Dr. Cox cites research stating IQ accounts for only 4 to 10 percent of career success…which can be very hopeful for parents of students with lower IQ’s! But you’re likely not worried about career success quite yet, especially if you’re like me, and your child hasn’t even started school. I was quite interested in this tidbit, however, where Hoffman quotes a professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience:

“Various studies have shown that executive function skills are more important for school readiness than a child’s IQ or level of reading and math ability as children enter school.” I found this fascinating, and I have since made time to read through the pillars to see how my kids are coming along.

What are these eight essential skills? Here’s a summary, in the words of Dr. Cox:

Initiation: getting started on an activity without having to be asked multiple times

Flexibility: learning to adapt and shift focus

Attention: focusing long enough and accurately enough to learn important information; also the ability to block out distractions (many bright kids have low marks because of difficulty with this skill)

Organization: managing space, and “taking the emotional impact of chaos seriously”. I love that line! In my class, we spent a significant amount of time, especially at the start of the year, working on organizational skills. I absolutely understand the theory about creativity sometimes requiring a bit of chaos, but I truly believe that organization will help students succeed academically.

Planning: managing time

Working Memory: retaining information long enough for it to be stored in long-term memory

Self-awareness: having sufficient self-knowledge and understanding of how one is seen by others

Managing emotions: expressing one’s feelings in proportion to the events that elicited them – being neither a “silent recluse” nor an “erupting volcano”

The book contains a parent-friendly checklist for assessing your own child’s skills, and a chapter on each with tips for helping your child to develop. Now that you’ve read through the descriptors, do you see any areas in need of improvement?

You are probably working on many of these things now (without even thinking about it), and have been since your kids were born. If you can target a couple of areas of weakness to improve, your child could see enormous benefits, and not just at school. Wouldn’t your home life be more positive, for example, if  improved planning skills led to fewer arguments and less nagging and rushing?

Keep in mind, of course, that these skills are not performed in isolation, they all work together. Whether your child is still preschool, or even heading off for post-secondary education, being proficient in these eight pillars can have a huge impact on his or her success. You can check out Dr. Adam Cox’s website for more information.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

1 comment on “Not Just IQ: Executive Functioning in Kids”

  1. I found this blog to be very interesting! I have been learning about the different personality types that exist and how they mesh with eachother! I didn't realize that approx 75% of the population are extroverts and only 25% are introverts! I think this is very important to understand because I am an extrovert and a close family member is an introvert. I am currently reading the book "The Introvert Advantage" which is helping me out a great deal! I wish I had read it sooner because I would have understood his personality much better! I know you love reading and I think you might enjoy this one too!
    Krista S.

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