Many people, adults, and children alike demonstrate difficulties with making decisions, switching gears from one activity to another, working efficiently, and completing multi-step tasks. These challenges and several others are examples of executive functioning difficulties. Your brain’s executive function is like its CEO. Higher-order reasoning and thinking skills are required to plan and prioritize, organize, remember, get started, and attend to tasks. Even in preschool, challenges with age-appropriate executive function may negatively impact a person’s self-esteem, emotional control, flexibility, and stress tolerance, which all affect their ability to participate safely and effectively in group play/learning.
Young children whose executive functions are developing typically are able to:
– use response inhibition to wait for a short period without being disruptive
– use working memory to remember and follow 1-2 step directions
– use emotional control to recover from disappointment in a short time
– use sustained attention to complete a 5-minute chore with only occasional supervision
– use task initiation to start an assignment or chore right after instructions are given
– use planning/prioritization to think of options to settle a peer conflict, with some coaching (ignore, move away, play with something else)
– use organizational skills to put toys in a designated place, with few reminders
– use time management to complete a short job within a time limit
– use goal-directed-persistence to complete a job for a reward, such as finishing an assignment in order to go to recess.
– use flexibility to adjust to a change in plans without major distress
– use metacognition to change behavior in response to feedback from an adult
– continuously grow their stress tolerance to better cope with uncertainty, change, and performance demands
Everyday games and activities for promoting the development of executive functions in young children include Simon Says, Red Light, Green Light, Memory/Concentration, puzzles, as well as, helping with or having a designated role in household cleaning and laundry, gardening, grocery shopping, caring for pets, etc.