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Guest Blog: Strengthening EF Skills at Home

Guest Blogger Spotlight:
Hello, I’m Nicole Rouleau, an Executive Function and Learning Specialist, and owner of Igniting Your Mind. My mission is to empower individuals to overcome challenges, increase their quality of life, and unlock their full potential. Having spent more than 23 years as both a mother and an educator, I’ve come to appreciate the profound impact of my journey, highlighting that executive function skills hold a higher significance than raw academic talent or intelligence. Addressing the crucial issue of executive function skills in the home and at school, I support students, parents, and educators in creating a nurturing and effective learning environment, especially for those with ADHD and other learning differences. Dedicated to spreading awareness and empowering individuals with the resources for life transformation, I provide individualized strategies to develop self-regulation and build working memory, providing the tools to change lives. My ultimate mission is to facilitate resilience and self-regulation; and pave the way for a brighter future for our children.
Meet Nicole Rouleau, an Executive Function and Learning Specialist, and owner of Igniting Your Mind.

What is Executive Function (EF) and Why Should We Care About It?

Executive function skills are the building blocks of success in various aspects of life, from academics to work and everyday tasks. These skills start developing during childhood and continue to grow throughout adulthood. As a parent or caregiver, you hold a key role in nurturing and enhancing these critical abilities in both your children and yourself.


In this blog, we will dive into the essential role of executive function skills and how they can be cultivated at home during a child’s formative years. Many parents may feel unsure about how to teach these skills, but with the right guidance and a bit of training, you can empower your child to develop responsibility and independence.


Join us as we explore practical strategies and evidence-based approaches to help you lay the foundation for a future where your child can confidently navigate life’s challenges. Building executive function skills at home is not only possible, but can also be an enjoyable and rewarding journey. 



Understanding the Three Executive Functions – 


Working Memory: This involves holding and manipulating information in your mind, such as remembering instructions or solving complex problems. 


Inhibitory Control: This is the ability to resist impulsive responses and distractions, allowing for better focus and self-regulation.


Cognitive Flexibility: This enables us to adapt to changing situations, switch between tasks, and think creatively.

Exploring Strategies To Foster These Skills at Home: 

1.Establish Routines

Research from the “Journal of Educational Psychology” (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015) highlights the crucial role of routines in the development of executive function skills. To foster these essential abilities, it’s imperative to craft a well-structured daily schedule for your family, encompassing time for play, chores, and yes, even homework. Consistency in routines not only enhances working memory but also encourages task-switching capabilities, which is often very difficult for many children. Balancing the benefits of consistency in routines with occasional flexibility is essential, as it teaches children the value of adaptability and ensures they don’t become overly rigid in their approach to life.
Empowering your children to have a say in how these routines are structured can foster a sense of ownership and engagement. The predictability of a daily schedule serves as a vital element for achieving success, providing both a stable foundation and a feeling of reassurance. It is important to understand that when we neglect the automation of daily routines and foundational skills, we inadvertently burden students, forcing them to rely heavily on their executive functions for every new task. This overexertion can lead to cognitive fatigue as early as lunchtime, leaving us bewildered as to why children struggle with self-regulation.By actively supporting them in building automaticity in basic tasks and routines, we not only alleviate this cognitive strain but also nurture their overall cognitive well-being.


2. Play Brain-Boosting Games:


Engaging in games like Checkers, Chess, Sudoku, or memory/strategy-enhancing games can stimulate working memory and cognitive flexibility. Research published in “Psychological Science” (Baniqued et al., 2013) supports the idea that these games can positively impact executive function skills. 

Non-verbal working memory and the power of visualization are a dynamic duo when it comes to these kinds of games. Children rely on their non-verbal working memory to hold and manipulate information—be it patterns, sequences, or hidden objects—without the need for spoken or written words. This silent cognitive workspace allows them to mentally juggle game elements, plan their moves, and anticipate outcomes. When they excel in areas like this during a game, the goal is to try to use these strategies in other areas of their lives, like projects and academics as well as responsibilities like cleaning their bedrooms. Together, non-verbal working memory and visualization transform memory and strategy games into cognitive playgrounds where kids can exercise their minds and develop essential problem-solving skills. 


3. Set Goals and Monitor Progress:


Work with  your children to set achievable goals and track progress. The act of goal-setting and self-monitoring builds and promotes planning and organization. By setting and striving to achieve goals, children learn valuable life skills such as perseverance, time management, and prioritization. Goals provide a sense of purpose and direction, helping kids stay motivated and focused. They encourage self-discipline and a growth mindset, as children learn to embrace challenges and view setbacks as opportunities for learning and improvement. Moreover, the accomplishment of goals instills a sense of confidence and self-efficacy, reinforcing the belief that they can overcome obstacles and achieve their aspirations. Overall, goal setting empowers children to become self-driven, resilient individuals who are well-prepared to navigate the complexities of life. It’s important to remember that while goal setting is a powerful tool for child development, its effectiveness hinges on the active involvement of parents. To ensure the success of this journey, it’s imperative for parents to devote time to spend with their children teaching how to set goals as well as reflection and diligent monitoring of overall progress.


4. Teach Emotional Regulation


Teaching emotional regulation at home through coregulation and embracing all emotions is a vital cornerstone of nurturing emotionally intelligent children. When we as parents demonstrate the importance of acknowledging and validating all emotions, we create a safe and open environment for our children to express themselves. This acceptance of emotions lays the foundation for better self-awareness and healthier emotional development.By teaching and modeling this skill we help them build essential coping skills. When children see their parents as empathetic role models, they learn to navigate difficult feelings without shame, which is a critical life skill.Emotional regulation empowers children to handle stress, make better decisions, and foster healthier relationships. It’s a lifelong gift that equips them with the tools to thrive in a complex world. So, by embracing all emotions and engaging in coregulation, we provide our children with a solid emotional toolkit to carry through life’s ups and downs. 


5. Encourage Decision-Making:


Involve your children in decision-making processes at home whenever possible. This allows them to practice inhibitory control and weigh the consequences of their choices and actions. 


How Can Parents Implement This At Home:


1.Offer Choices:


Start by offering your child choices within reasonable limits. For example, you can ask, “Would you like broccoli or carrots with dinner?” This empowers them to make decisions and take ownership of their choices.

Encourage Problem-Solving: When your child faces a challenge, engage in a problem-solving discussion. Reflexive questions are also a great way to prompt individuals to think about their feelings, thoughts, actions, or experiences. When you ask questions like, “What do you think we can do about this?”, we encourage them to think critically and come up with solutions.


2.Discuss Consequences:


Help children understand that decisions have consequences. Explain the potential outcomes of different choices, both positive and negative. So often, students see the word consequence as a negative word, but encourage them to see it just means “a result.” Many children simply do not see how their actions impact others nor do they understand how their actions come off to others. It is our responsibility to teach this to our children.


3.Teach Decision-Making Steps:


Introduce a simple decision-making process: identify the problem, brainstorm options, consider the consequences, make a choice, and reflect on the outcome. This structured approach can guide them in making thoughtful decisions.


4.Model Decision-Making:


Children often learn by observing their parents. Share your decision-making process with them, explaining how you reach conclusions. This provides valuable real-life examples.


5.Celebrate Independence:


Celebrate your child’s growing independence in decision-making, even when they make mistakes. Mistakes offer valuable learning opportunities, and it’s essential that they feel supported regardless of the outcome.


6.Promote Responsibility:


Link decision-making with responsibilities. If they decide on a certain bedtime, for instance, they must adhere to it. This helps them understand that decisions come with accountability. 


7.Foster Independence:


Give your children responsibilities appropriate for their age. Allowing them to take ownership of tasks like preparing their school bag the night before school or making their bed nurtures self-reliance and helps to build purpose. A good rule of thumb is that we don’t want to do things for our children that they are capable of doing for themselves. When parents step back, children step up. It’s that simple.


8.Provide Positive Reinforcement:

Recognize and celebrate your children’s efforts when they showcase their developing executive function skills. Offering praise and rewards can be a powerful motivator, encouraging them to further cultivate these abilities. Remember, what we acknowledge tends to flourish. Take note of even the smallest displays of these skills, as these acknowledgments can serve as a powerful catalyst to reinforce and encourage these behaviors. 

Conclusion and References

 In conclusion, it’s vital to remember that executive function skills are not something we’re born with but qualities we develop throughout life. From those precious early years through the challenges of adolescence and into early adulthood, our experiences shape these skills. To nurture them in your child, encourage meaningful social interactions and exciting activities that progressively test their self-regulation abilities. By offering diverse experiences and letting your child step out of their comfort zone, you pave the way for the development of these vital skills in the real world. The journey begins at home and unfolds continuously. Incorporate these strategies into your daily routines, and watch as your child evolves into the best version of themselves, ready to excel in every aspect of life.Remember that executive function skills are qualities that develop throughout life. Your role as a parent or caregiver is pivotal in shaping these skills. By incorporating the strategies mentioned in this blog, you can empower your child to excel in every aspect of life.


Explore the research that informs our approach to nurturing executive function skills.


About Nicole Rouleau and Igniting Your Mind



Thank you for joining us on this journey of nurturing executive function skills in children from the comfort of your own home. Stay tuned for more valuable insights and practical tips in our future newsletters. Together, we can help our children become the best versions of themselves, ready to conquer the challenges of the world.

Want to learn more about executive function skills? Take our free online course.