2020 has been a different kind of year. In many ways, there has been added stress placed on everyone-parents and kids alike. Many things are being placed on “pause” while the world gets a handle on things, but no matter what, our kids will continue to grow and develop whether we have anything to say about it or not. As there’s an old saying, it’s not about what happens, but rather how you respond to it. With some mindfulness, we can not only help our kids navigate relatively unscathed through the rest of this year, but we can help promote healthy neurological development during this crucial period of growth in their lives.
In listening to a recent podcast highlighting child development, Professor Adele Diamond highlighted the importance of promoting executive function skills in kids during times of compromised education. By saying “compromised education”, she is referring to events out of teachers’ control in last spring’s sudden end to traditional in-class schooling for many kids and the birth of online “virtual” learning. For some, this will continue on through fall or is anticipated to potentially make a resurgence at some point. Whether you homeschool, are choosing to attend school “virtually” from the get-go, or have your kids planning to return to in-person classes in the coming weeks, these concepts can help set your child up for better success no matter what the setting.
As described by the Child Mind Institute, executive functions are cognitive skills we all use to analyze tasks, break them into steps, and keep them in mind until we get things done. These skills allow us to manage our time effectively, memorize facts, understand what we read, solve multi-step problems, and organize our thoughts in writing. Professor Diamond refers to the core executive function as the “mental toolkit for success”. The three core executive functions include:
-inhibitory control (self control, discipline, and selective attention)
-working memory (translating instructions, forming action plans)
-cognitive flexibility (ability to think outside of the box, reframing)
Many children learn these skills in a school setting. In years such as this when this constant is taken away from the majority of kids who are enrolled in a traditional school setting, there are many different ways to get creative and work on developing these skills at home. It’s always been ideal to learn as much as possible at home in addition to school, but even more important when home becomes the sole place of learning for all kids. Here are some simple tasks that you can encourage at home (and may already be doing) to help promote and engage executive function skills.
-Have your kids perform chores around the home if they are not already. This helps develop focus and concentration, among other skills. They can start helping out with age-appropriate chores as a toddler and advance as appropriate.
-Set up a daily schedule. Keep a white board schedule for your family if available. What will the day look like? What needs to be done? What is the menu for meals? In times of less structure, we all can struggle. Giving kids more structure at home can help create a greater sense of stability for them.
-Perform mindfulness exercises. Have your kids take a few moments each day to slow down and take some deep breaths. This will benefit you as well to take a moment to settle down.
-Implement exercise breaks. Every 45 minutes take a 15 minute break to get up and move around.
-Have your child do something they love (as in THEY must be in to it, not necessarily you) that challenges their executive function. This means that it pushes them to get better and challenges them at a higher level. Use your best judgement as to what activities or hobbies this may include. Some examples: playing an instrument, martial arts, sports, art, etc.
Lastly, to the parents: Take the time to address your own needs and stresses. By getting in tune with how you’re feeling, and how this may be affecting those around you, you will benefit your whole family by allowing yourself to be a better parent.
In good health,
Working on building our toddler’s executive function skills at home from an early age with having him help with simple tasks. He loves to be a helper and is learning along the way-win-win!