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Routines and Executive Function

The hustle and bustle of everyday routines may seem like a lot to keep track of. Whether you are shuttling your child from soccer practice to music lesson or coordinating the daily task of getting the family ready for dinner, our lives are filled with routines and activities. Although some research has suggested that too many routines and activities and not enough free play time is associated with less ability to proactively regulate one’s behavior, other research suggests that the absence of routines and regularity could introduce high levels of chaos which is detrimental to the developing mind. As with most things in life, striking a balance between too many and too few daily activities seems to be key in promoting healthy development. A recent line of research in our lab, The Carlson and Zelazo Lab at the University of Minnesota, has looked at how we can use the context of daily routines to introduce high-quality parenting practices in at-risk families in an effort to reduce household chaos and increase parent and child cognitive outcomes.

Reflection Sciences Trainer, Andrei Semenov, and his research team are working on a new study: the “Ready4Routines” project, in collaboration with Harvard Center on the Developing Child, Acelero Learning, Frontiers of Innovation, and the Los Angeles-based Westside Infant Network. The project is designed to introduce and reinforce high-quality daily routines for parents who may find themselves in a chaotic and unpredictable environment. Ready4Routines delivers an 8-week parenting intervention to Early Head Start and Head Start families across the nation. Over the course of the intervention, parents learn about the importance of predictable routines as well as activities that are specifically designed to reinforce the development of self-regulation skills. Parents learn routines around meal preparation, bedtime wind-down and even activities based on mindfulness meditation that aim to reduce tantrums and increase emotional regulation.

Over the past three years, our lab has been working with our collaborators on developing, revising, and implementing this project across the country and measuring its effect on executive function (EF) skills, parent-child relationships and various other outcomes. To date, we have seen associated decreases in parenting-related stress among parents who participated in the program. As measured by the MEFS App, we have also seen substantial improvements in children’s EF skills after their parents participated in this 8-week program. These EF skills are crucial for impulse control in children, as well as school readiness, academic achievement, social functioning, and mental and physical health.

Our next steps in this program are to understand how parent-child relationships may change as a result of these high-quality routines as well as to explore how we can best make Ready4Routines accessible to all families.

 

By Andrei Semenov