Help Your Child Think Before Acting
Executive Functions are the ability to “stop and think,” regulate emotional responses and focus attention. These functions are strengthened as the brain (specifically the frontal cortex) develops.
Executive Functions have three major components:
- Self Control – the ability to resist doing something tempting in order to do the right thing. It also helps children pay attention, act less impulsively and stay focused on work.
- Working Memory – the ability to keep information in mind where it can be used to make connections between ideas, to make mental calculations and to prioritize.
- Cognitive Flexibility – the ability to think creatively and to be flexible to changing requests. It allows us to use imagination and creativity to solve problems and adjust to new situations.
Given the key role Executive Functions play in children’s development and their success in adulthood, it is imperative to provide support for the development of these skills in early learning.
Executive Functions are important because they help develop other abilities. For example, they can help your child to understand how other people might be feeling, or thinking, or to learn a new skill like math or reading.
Children with good executive functions have stronger emotional, social and moral skills, and tend to be healthier later in life.
Executive Functions take many years to fully develop. However, there are two times in life when they develop quickly: during the preschool years and at the beginning of the teenage years.
Under the age of 4 to 5, children’s executive functioning skills are underdeveloped. As a result, most young children find it hard to do things like resist temptation, plan ahead, concentrate, and control their emotions.
You can help your child to improve his Executive Functions as early as 4 to 5 years old using simple everyday exercises or games. For example, you can help your child learn to complete simple tasks before enjoying rewards. You can help your child break up large difficult problems into smaller easier problems, and learn to talk himself through difficult tasks. Learning a musical instrument or a second language may also help your child to develop his executive functioning skills.
Be aware that if you have a positive relationship with your child, she will be better able to deal with stressful situations. This in turn will help build her executive skills. Be warm and responsive to your child’s needs and demands. Use gentle discipline such as reasoning with your child, politely asking or suggesting when you want her to do or not to do something. Encourage your child to be independent by helping her with activities only as she needs it. Also try to keep your home and routines consistent and organized.
It is important to remain patient when your young child is being stubborn, for example, refusing to put on a hat or coat before going out in the cold. Also, it is important to be realistic about what your child can do at different ages. For example, when your child starts school he won’t be able to plan ahead to complete assignments. As he gets older, he’ll understand why planning homework time is important.
Some of the ways Stepping Stone School encourages our children in the development of their Executive Functions are:
- Engaging children in social pretend play with others, especially play where she needs to take on a role and adopt to the “story” as it changes.
- Providing computer games and cognitive games that help build executive functions.
- Providing dance, music, martial arts and gymnastics programs.
- Providing parents with progress reports on how their child is regulating herself, following directions, controlling her impulses and overall academic success.
All of these activities can be extended and take place at home.
At Stepping Stone School, our curriculum is specially designed to enhance your child’s ability to exercise their Executive Functions, allowing them to develop over the critical early years of their lives.