Executive function is like a manager inside our brains.
The skills and processes involved allow us to set goals, plan, adapt, get things done and manage our emotions and impulses.
Executive function skills cover:
attention & focus
inhibition & impulse control
organisation and planning
task initiation and completion
When our little ones struggle with executive function it impacts all areas of life; from school to home.
These skills can be developed and supported at any age, and especially when children are young. As adults, we can teach these skills through our relationships with them; modelling what these skills look like (as we so often instinctually do when we narrate our actions during a task and what we need to do to get it done), through play and through teaching tools and games, by establishing routines, by breaking down big tasks into small chunks and by encouraging imagination and flexible thinking.
Executive function skills develop rapidly between 3–5 years of age and continue to develop throught childhood & adolsence and into adulthood. They take lots of time, practice and patience to develop. All kids are different and develop at different paces.
Some kids struggle with executive function skills. This does not make them a bad kid (there are no bad kids!) although their behaviours may be challenging! Helping kids to develop their executive function skills happens in a safe supportive relationship and environment, through modelling, teaching and nurturing (rather than punishing the tricky behaviours).
In my brand new children's book Let's go, Flo! children delight in an interactive story to help Flo with her day, while parents explore a resource section full of tools and fun ideas to develop executive function skills.
Here are a few fun ideas from 'Let's go, Flo' to
help kids develop executive function skills
🧠 Working Memory: set up a tray with a few different objects then have the child close their eyes. Remove one object from the tray, then the child opens their eyes and tries to remember what objects were there and which one is missing.
👀 Attention & Focus: play ‘what changed here’ — one child stands in the front of a group, then all group close their eyes, adult changes something about the child (i.e. undo a shoelace, put the hat back to front etc.), then see if the kids can pick the difference
🖐🏼 Inhibition/Impulse control: play games where you have to freeze when the music stops
😌 Emotional regulation: practise calming and grounding strategies (like Flo does in the book when she looked for 5 green things around the room or when Flo teaches the reader how to do 5 finger breathing)
📝 Organisation & planning: try ‘1 out, 1 in’ with toys — kids need to put away toys that are out before taking out another one
⏳ Task initiation & completion: play ‘beat the timer’ — start a timer or a song and have kids complete a task by the time it finishes (i.e. packing up their toys, unpacking their school bag)
🧐 Mental flexibility: try new things often and model getting out of your comfort zone (i.e. try new food, walk a new route home from school together, play a new sport, listen to new kinds of music etc)
Let's go, Flo is packed with loads more ideas in the back!
Pick up a copy of Let's go, Flo for your little person right here