6 Ways to Help Kids Develop Executive Functioning Skills

Executive function refers to cognitive functions related to making plans and decisions and regulating behavior. These skills are required for numerous tasks that can be completed every day, such as driving or walking to a destination, keeping a living space organized, making plans with loved ones, and managing time and tasks in order to maintain good performance at work or in school.

Executive functioning skills begin to develop very early in life. When raising or taking care of children, there are many ways to help them develop these skills. Whether caring for a toddler or a teen, the following tips can help develop kids executive functioning skills.

Clear routines

Having a structured day and predictable routines can help to set kids up for success in the short term and long term. Enforcing an evening routine, such as tidying up their room, bathing, brushing their teeth, and going to bed at a consistent time can help children to develop these skills.

Provide options

When it comes to necessary tasks like chores and homework, kids can get overwhelmed. To ease the frustration and teach executive functioning skills, ask how they would prefer to handle the situation. Maybe getting the homework for their least favorite school subject out of the way will help them complete the rest more efficiently, or maybe they would prefer to save it for last. Reminding them of their choices can help to develop an important skill that they’ll need in their futures, and teach them how to problem solve.

For young kids, offering a couple of options and allowing them to make the choice will encourage the development of problem-solving skills without offering a choice that’s too complex for their age. A few examples of this could be:

  • Would you like orange juice or apple juice with lunch?
  • Would you like to draw with crayons or markers?
  • Which book should we read before bed?

Clean spaces

Encouraging children to maintain clean spaces is not only good for preventing germs, but can also boost their executive function. Even with very young kids who may not be skilled at cleaning yet can do simple tasks that encourage executive function skills. For example, they could dust low shelves or put their toys away. This gives kids a sense of ownership over the task at hand and starts to build their sense of responsibility.

You can also explain to kids why cleaning is a good thing to start gradually building the habit. A few examples of how to do this:

  • “Once you put your books away, we’ll have room for other activities.”
  • “Now that we wiped the table clean, there aren’t any more germs on it.”
  • “Thank you for putting your toys away, now we won’t step on them and hurt our feet!”

Work together on goals

Goals provide a long-term vision and can teach kids about the importance of completing tasks and sticking to plans. Breaking these goals down into smaller tasks can help them to stay on track.

Setting goals for school, household chores, and activities can help to promote good executive functioning. Examples of goals can look like:

  • Maintaining a good grade point average in school
  • Exercising cognitive skills with HappyNeuron Pro games
  • Participating in class once or twice a day
  • Working on a hobby such as art, music, or a sport twice a week
  • Cleaning their room once a week

Model the behavior

Kids constantly learn from the adults around them. You can model executive functioning skills for them by speaking about goals and problem solving, and getting them involved when appropriate. For example, if you’re hosting a get-together, you can let your child know what you’ll be doing to prepare in addition to letting them know what they’ll need to do to prepare.

Here are a few examples of how modeling executive function could look:

  • “Before we have company over, I’m going to cook and clean up the dining room. You can help by cleaning up your toys from the living room.”
  • “I’m almost done making dinner, can you set the table?”
  • “I’m going to set my alarm for 7am – make sure you set yours too!”

Get moving!

Physical activity, such as participating in a sport or a martial arts class, has been shown to help kids develop their executive functioning skills.  These activities promote planning and problem-solving, as they require kids to think through how they’re going to act and react in a situation.

Playing in an unstructured way is also an integral growing up, and teaches kids valuable life skills. According to Jill Vialet, kids who take part in recess are more likely to participate in class. Playing with friends also teaches leadership and conflict-resolution skills.

Of course, parents, caregivers, and teachers don’t need to focus every day on developing kids’ executive functioning skills – kids should also be given ample opportunities to simply have fun. However, building these skills into their day-to-day lives will serve them well in the long run and help to set them up for a successful future.

Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

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