No, we’re not talking about cashing in stock options and three martini lunches! Executive functioning skills are those skills that allow your student to be successful. Here we break down 8 executive functioning skills what they are, why they are important, and how to foster their development.
- Organizational Skills – This comes first! Getting organized means both physical and mental. If you can’t find the homework assignment, you can’t arrange your time to complete the work. Mental organization means staying focused on the task at hand, completing it and moving on the the next one.
Develop organizational skills by:
- PACE – Set your pace for organizing yourself by; hydrating, doing brain buttons, cross crawl and hook ups….from the brain gym menu.
- Set Goals – First prioritize the tasks then order them based on due dates.
- Make a List! – We are big believers in lists, nothing is more satisfying than checking them off as completed.
- Start Small – Eating the elephant one bite at a time helps you to get into those big projects and keep moving forward. Which leads us into the next skill…
- Initiating Tasks – You’ve gotta start somewhere! Being able to take initiative and get something started is a crucial skill in any situation. Task initiation is the ability to take action and buckle down and get to work when needed. Children that struggle with this skill can freeze up because the simply have no idea where to begin.
Ways to improve task initiation include:
- Wake up your brain! – When settling down to accomplish any task, it can be extremely helpful to start with some warm ups, puzzles, or brain gyms. This will help heighten your senses and get those creative juices flowing!
- Take a look at your surroundings – Is the environment in which you plan on working appropriate for the task at hand? If so, then great! If not, then try to determine if there is anything that is preventing you from getting your work done, such as too many distractions or a lack of proper supplies and equipment.
- Make time for the important things – In other words, clear your plate before trying to start a new task. It is important to devote your attention to one project at a time, as attempting to accomplish multiple things at once typically leads to nothing getting done at all.
- Working Memory – Memory matters! This next skill is crucial for developing strong mathematical capabilities, as well as for fostering a a healthy social life. Kids with poor working memory may suffer from various inabilities, such as remembering simple directions or carrying on a conversation without forgetting what they want to say.
Develop a strong working memory by:
- Strengthen visualization skills – Start by picturing the task or project that needs to be accomplished. Envision how, when, where, and by whom the work will get done.
- Play memory games – Those that make use of visual elements will be especially helpful for developing a stronger working memory. Card games of all sorts are great for this type of thing, with matching games, Uno, crazy eights, and war being some of the best options.
- Build connections – Making connections between ideas, thoughts, and emotions can help improve memory skills by engaging the brain in multiple ways, making it easier to remember things.
- Flexible Thinking – Welcome to the flex-zone! Flexible thinking is essentially being able to roll with the punches. This skill enables a person to look at a problem from multiple angles in order to find a solution. Kids who struggle with flexible thinking might get frustrated and shut down if asked to look at something in a different light.
Learn to be flexible by:
- Find activities that encourage out-of-the-box thinking – There are numerous games and books out there that can help you and your child develop flexible thinking skills. Some of the most popular include the Amelia Bedelia series, the game Fannee Doolee, and the game “What’s this?”
- Try multiple approaches – Come up with new ways to accomplish mundane tasks and chores. This not only make things more fun but also helps illustrate how one problem may have an endless number of solutions.
- Learn self taught skills – Teaching oneself a new skill can be extremely rewarding and helps improve flexible thinking skills by forcing your mind to find its own solutions.
- Self Control – Also called impulse control, this skill is the ability to think before you act. For some people this can be much harder than it sounds. Being able to sensor one’s self is an essential skill for success in both academia and life in general. Children with low impulse control often blurt out inappropriate things, and are more likely to engage in risky behavior.
Improve self control by:
- Playing certain games – While the thought of an impulse control game might seem a little strange, there are actually several well known games that can help develop this skill early on in life. Some common ones include Simon says, red light green light, and follow the leader.
- Encourage physical activity – Kids who are more active tend to be better at managing their impulses due to a greater need for control over one’s own body and fine motor skills when doing things like playing sports.
- Practice delayed gratification – Rewarding a child immediately upon completion of a task is appropriate in most cases. However, making them wait for a surprise of reward can actually greatly increase skills related to self-control.
- Emotional Control – Life is an emotional roller-coaster! This skill is essentially the ability to keep one’s emotions in check. It is important to show or not show certain emotions when appropriate, and learning these subtle distinctions can be very difficult for some people. Kids who struggle with poor emotional control often overact, have trouble dealing with criticism, and regrouping after something goes wrong.
Learn to control emotions by:
- Respecting others – When someone else is speaking it is polite and respectful to give them your full attention, and not interrupt. Teaching children this early on can help make them more aware of their emotions.
- Teaching empathy – Being able to empathize with another person’s situation is a crucial social skill, and one that will help a person reign in their own emotions.
- Keep a journal – Writing thoughts and emotions in a daily journal can be therapeutic and meditative, and can greatly improve one’s awareness about their own feelings.
- Self Monitoring – Progress Report! Self monitoring is the ability to evaluate one’s self and determine how they are doing. Whether it be one’s emotional state, or an ongoing project, it is imperative that progress be measured in some way. For kids with weak self monitoring skills receiving constructive criticism, negative feedback, or a bad grade can surprise and frustrate them to the point where they are unable to continue working.
Improve upon self monitoring by:
- Setting reasonable expectations – When working either alone or in a team, it is important to set manageable goals that neither over or under shoot the plausible scope of the project.
- Learn how to take criticism – The comments, opinions, and reactions of other can be sometimes harsh or undeserved, however, the can also be one of the most important ways in which ideas can evolve and grow to their full potential.
- Understand your limitations – This is similar to setting reasonable expectations, but distinct from it in the sense that here it is important to recognize the areas in which you may struggle, rather than on the goal you wish to accomplish.
- Power Lunch – As we said, not the three martini type, but eating and staying hydrated will help your student stay focused on the task at hand. While technically not an executive functioning skill, lots of water and a healthy, nutritious diet will help with improving all the other skills required for high level executive functioning.