Why executive functioning skills are important for children

Why executive functioning skills are important for children

Why executive functioning skills are important for children

Why executive functioning skills are important for children

The pasta water is boiling over, your wet clothes need to go in the dryer, the phone rings, an amazon package just arrived for your child’s class project due tomorrow, and your zoom meeting for work is scheduled to start in two minutes. Don’t forget to remind your partner to pick up your child! In this single snapshot of a busy parent’s day, you can see how your adult brain relies on several executive functioning skills.

Executive functioning skills are often compared to the CEO of your brain. They include starting tasks, planning, organizing, working memory (holding information in your mind for a short time), flexible thinking, impulse control, self-monitoring, problem solving, and self-regulation (controlling one’s behavior and emotions). Executive functioning is critical for learning, working, and completing daily activities. We rely on executive functioning skills for almost everything that we do, and they do not work in isolation.

We often take these skills for granted in our children. Yet, scientists have found that we are not born with executive functioning skills; they develop from infancy into late adolescence when our brains are entirely mature. Both positive and negative life experiences impact the development of executive functioning skills in babies and young children.

Here are some tips on how to exercise your child’s executive functioning skills from an early age

Helping your infant and toddler develop executive functioning skills

Throughout infancy and early childhood, parent-child interactions can positively influence and shape the areas of early regulatory skills and foundational executive functioning skills. For example, these interactions can help build some of the most fundamental executive functioning skills.

Infancy (0-12 months):

  • warm responsiveness

  • uninterrupted play time

  • shared experiences

  • reading together

  • games like copying each other or hiding

  • age-appropriate toys

Toddler years (12-36 months):

  • lots of opportunities for playing with friends

  • breaking tasks down into management steps (e.g., getting dressed)

  • clean up after fun games songs with words and movements (e.g., Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes; Hokey Pokey).

  • imaginary play

Helping your preschooler develop executive functioning skills

Children experience a rapid growth in their executive functioning skills as their brain develops, which means early educators and caregivers have plenty of opportunities to teach them ways to strengthen their abilities that can have long-lasting impact. During these formative years, children’s brains are easily influenced by their environment. With that in mind, below are some suggestions for how you can help you children at home or in their classroom:

Preschool years (3-5 years)

  • Play skills are such an important part of child development at all ages. Imaginary play can help with flexible thinking, emotional regulation, inhibition, and working memory. Games like freeze dance, Simon says, and red light/green, building with Legos, playing with puzzles, and memory games help build similar cognitive skills.

  • Consistency and routines are so important for children. Having morning routines and bedtime routines allow children to internalize the steps needed to complete the activities and ultimately foster independence. At Clay, we love visual aids for teaching such routines.

  • Reading with your child daily is another easy way to work on building their capacity to hold onto details in their mind and start making predictions about what might happen (problem solving and flexibility). Books with repetitive themes and words are designed that way because repetition helps strengthen neural pathways in the brain that help your little ones learn. Of course, you are building literacy skills at the same time, so it’s a win-win!

  • Some of our personal preschool favorites:
    Pete the Cat
    The Napping House
    We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
    If You Give a Mouse a CookieVisual timers – beginning to help with time management skills and self-monitoring

  • Hand-on activities with an end goal: Baking and arts and crafts are great ways to help with following directions, learning to organize, and sequence steps. Let children fix their mistakes and they will be learning how to self-monitor for future projects!

  • Cozy or Calm-down corners. Dedicate a special area in your child’s bedroom or playroom. Personalize it – a favorite stuffy, squeeze balls, sound machine, glitter bottle.

  • Take it outside! One of our mottos at Clay is to get outside! Nature is one of the easiest ways to grow executive functioning skills and help calm one’s mind- which will help them regulate.

What is the payoff for all of this effort with your child?

All children benefit from learning and improving executive functioning skills which are important for kindergarten readiness and future academic and social success. Providing preventative strategies and techniques to strengthen foundational skills can result in successful moments in learning and socialization.

If you have concerns about your child’s executive functioning skills, talk to your pediatrician and consider getting referred to a trained professional who can work on these skills.

Help your teachers be more successful today

Help your teachers be more successful today

Help your teachers be more successful today