Common Examples of Thinking Skills Problems at School and at Home

examples of thinking skills image 1Thinking skills are derived from what psychologists call executive functions — the brain-based cognitive skills that manage critical thinking. Think of them as the tools the brain uses to manage tasks, solve problems, and understand all facets of a situation. To simplify the mountains of research on executive functioning, we’ve simplified these brain functions into eight distinct thinking skills — Planning, Time Management, Focus, Organization, Working Memory, Flexibility, Self-Control and Self-Awareness. These represent both individual executive functions, as well as similar, cognitively-linked groups of executive functions.

To help you better understand the operation and importance of each of these skills, we’ve gathered together some simple examples of thinking skills problems that are commonly observed in the classroom and at home.

Examples of Thinking Skills Problems


  • Encounter problems in step-by-step processes.
  • Experience difficulties in setting priorities and goals.
  • Tend to complete their homework at the last minute.
  • Tend to jump into activities without reading the directions.
  • Can be overly absorbed in the present moment. 

Time Management

  • Frequently need to rush through their homework.
  • Often stay up very late to complete assignments.
  • Have difficulty estimating how long it will take to complete a task.
  • Spend more time procrastinating than working.
  • Take too long to get ready for school in the morning.


  • Get up and down frequently while doing their homework.
  • Are easily distracted by noise and activities surrounding them.
  • Frequently complain about being bored.
  • Have difficulty sitting though an entire meal.
  • Procrastinate and have difficulties getting started on tasks.
  • Turn in incomplete or hastily-completed schoolwork. Often don’t finish what they start.


  • Often lose their homework before turning it in.
  • Have extremely messy rooms.
  • Have disorganized backpacks and school lockers.
  • Are unable to find clothing, sporting equipment, or school supplies when they are needed.
  • Start projects, such as homework, recipes, or chores, without having the right materials on hand.

Working Memory

  • Remember only the first or last things in a series of directions.
  • Have difficulty with tasks that entail more than one step.
  • Forget what they are doing in the middle of doing it.
  • Can be absent-minded and often need help from adults to remember directions.
  • Have difficulty retelling a story in their own words.
  • Are confused when attempting to complete multi-step math problems.


  • Experience significant problems with changes, transitions, and new situations.
  • Become inappropriately insistent and indignant in new situations.
  • Become angry when they receive negative feedback.
  • Have difficulty understanding the differing expectations of parents and teachers.
  • Continue to dwell on something that was said to them in the past.
  • Cannot change their plans readily.


  • Display anger or frustration when they need to share or wait their turn.
  • Act out in an inappropriate fashion in situations such as birthday parties or family functions.
  • Become very frustrated with academic tasks that they perceive to be difficult.
  • Have a tendency to blurt out answers to questions without raising their hands.
  • Are overly-aggressive in sports, causing their peers to not want to play with them.
  • Produce sloppy schoolwork.


  • Have difficulty understanding nonverbal cues and body posture.
  • Are unable to understand other people’s perspectives.
  • Are in frequent conflict with others due to misunderstandings.
  • Engage in inappropriate behaviors without recognizing how they impact others.
  • Have difficulty being accurate in their self-assessment, such as in describing their academic or athletic performance.
  • Are unlikely to double check their work and often make simple mistakes, such as adding instead of subtracting. 

If you’d like to learn more about thinking skills and executive functioning, head over to our Thinking Skills page to explore more information on each of these important skills.

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