Implementation of executive control over thought and action can only be guided by the goals that one desires to reach. Over the last decade, research has pointed out the central role of goal representation in executive control both during childhood and adulthood. The present paper reviews these findings, emphasizing the developmental dynamics observed during childhood. More precisely, it addresses the role of active goal maintenance in working memory, as it has been stressed by developmental and neurocognitive theoretical models. Beyond goal maintenance, the question as to how goal representations are formed in working memory has attracted research efforts lately. With age, children successfully process increasingly subtle environmental cues to infer the current task goal and when task goals need to be updated, as evidenced by the effect of cue transparency on switching and inhibition performance. In addition, the paper addresses how goal representation sheds light on the interplay between executive skills and conceptual knowledge, through the presentation of research in such domains as analogical reasoning, categorical flexibility, and class inclusion quantification. Taken together, these lines of research show that executive control development does not rely exclusively on a growing ability to implement appropriate actions, but it also depends largely on increasingly efficient identification of what such actions should be. (C) 2013 Societe francaise de psychologie. Published by Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.