Executive functioning is the new buzzword in the pediatric therapy world, but what exactly does that mean? Executive functions are the higher level skills located in the frontal lobe of the brain that allow us to organize ourselves, manage our emotions, control our impulses, problem solve, plan, initiate and many other skills. These are skills children develop over time, but some children face more executive functioning challenges than others. Autistic children and children with ADHD are more likely to face executive functioning challenges, but any child or adult can benefit from strategies to make this aspect of daily life easier. Here are some ways to help support kids in executive functioning areas from task initiation and organization to impulse control:
1.Hand the child the item needed to begin a task such as a toy when they need to start cleaning up
Handing your child the items needed for a task can give them the jump start they need to initiate. Try this when it is time to clean up. Hand your child the first toy to put away and watch them continue cleaning!
2.Use a countdown to start the activity. Make it playful like 3,2,1, Blast Off!
Sometimes a kid needs a clear beginning to an activity and a strategy to prevent procrastination. Making it a game like 3,2,1, Blast Off adds a little motivation to initiate the activity.
3.Use a timer
Timers can be used in a variety of ways from starting the activity, setting the duration of the activity, or warning the child when she will have to transition to a new activity. Visual times such as bubble times or a visual timer app help a child to better understand how much time is left.
4. Use visual checklists for routine activities
Visuals can be incredibly helpful for a child to better break down a task. Use pictures to show the steps of a morning or nighttime routine, the steps to cleaning up the bedroom, or the items that need to be packed each night for school. Allow your child to cross off each step so he can see what has been accomplished and what is left to do.
5. Ask your child how long they think an activity will take before starting, time them and compare
Help your child to develop a better understanding of time so she can be good at time management. Often the time it takes to do something is an abstract idea for kids making it harder for them to want to do the activity, when it is something like picking up toys that is not enjoyable and seems to take forever, a child will try to avoid the activity. By asking her to guess how long something takes and then timing her and comparing the times, you are helping your child to develop a better concept of time in a fun way.
6. Plays games such as “Freeze Dance” and “Red Light, Green Light”
To work on impulse control games like “Freeze Dance” or “Red Light, Green Light” require a child to wait and practice being skills before engaging in a fun activity. Another fun way to work on impulse control is to play “Ready, Set, Go” with a twist. With your child ready to run or race cars, or whatever activity he likes to do, tell him “ready, set, go” to start, but instead of saying go every time, replace it with a different word several times before saying go. Tell your child to make sure to only move on “go.” This requires the child to listen and think before responding.
7.Provide warnings for transitions and explanations of what happens next
Transitions are often some of the hardest activities for children. It is often the uncertainty of what is happening next or the difficulty leaving the activity that they are engaged in that make it difficult. To help ease transitions, it can be beneficial to provide a thorough explanation of what is happening next and give plenty of warning when it will happen to allow a child to prepare for the next activity.
We use executive functions throughout our day, every day. These skills help us make decisions, manage our emotions, and organize tasks. By using the strategies above, you may help your child develop these skills and navigate their day more successfully.