Strengthening Executive Functioning Skills in Kids
Strong executive skills are important for kids. Ensuring kids have plenty of practice building their executive functioning skills is one of the most important gifts you could give them. Executive functioning includes life-long skills like working memory, planning, decision-making and regulating emotions just to name a few! Here are a few steps you can take to support this development:
Give kids plenty of opportunities to strengthen their working memory by challenging them with multiple tasks like putting away shoes, hanging up jackets and washing hands. See if they can accomplish them in that order and notice if they can only complete some or just one of the tasks, indicating more practice is required. Another great way to use working memory is to ask them to do a math problem in their head. When you ask them to add 5 plus 10 and subtract 6, can they hold and visualize those numbers? If not, start with simpler problems and work your way up to more difficult ones. Practice is the key to building working memory.
Why not do some mental pushups by flexing those planning, organizing and goal-setting muscles. It’s so important for kids to practice these skills early and often to help with their independence. Kids thrive on structure and grow from opportunities to have a say in their day’s plans. So try to get them involved in creating a daily agenda and write it down. Use a timer or a clock to help them visualize the time and give them options like whether they want to eat a snack before reading time or after. These are simple ways for them to build confidence and autonomy. Doing this leads to more self-sufficient kids.
Evaluating choices, assessing risk, understanding potential outcomes is all part of learning to make solid decisions. It is important for kids to begin practicing their decision-making skills early. Why not first start with either/or types of decisions (Do I want an apple or a piece of candy?) and then on to more complex things (Should I do what my friend is doing even if I know it’s wrong?) Work with them to assess the pro’s and con’s (I get the candy now, but that means no dessert tonight) and remember to verbalize your own decision-making process so that you can help them learn from you.
Even when confidence wavers, having control of emotions is a powerful and necessary skill. We all have times when we feel overwhelmed, angry, frustrated and discouraged. However, practicing resilience, thinking about things in different ways and acknowledging yucky-feeling emotions are all ways kids can feel more empowered to self-sooth and continue trying after a setback. Game play is an awesome way to help kids experience success and defeat and learn to handle the emotions surrounding each of those events in the safe environment of play. Demonstrate what that looks like by playing with your kids and showing what good sportsmanship is all about.
Just like muscles that need exercise, executive functioning skills need practice to be strengthened. This way, they are ready to be used when the time comes. These are the skills we use our whole lives. Get your kids using them early and set them up for independence, resilience and ultimately success along the road of life!
Read more about the benefits of play here.