Physical Activity

Maintaining regular exercise can be especially hard when there’s no school recess time for kids to run around. Make sure to schedule regular physical activities throughout the day, whether in the backyard, the park or at home. Incorporating mindfulness and cognitive reflection with physical activities has been proven be especially effective at promoting executive function skills. Consider activities such as zoo animal yoga and animal freeze dances. Games that require slow and coordinated movement can help children with being mindful and deliberate in their actions. For example: have a child outstretch their hand palm-side down and put a coin on the back of their hand. Now, ask the child to walk to a specific place without dropping the coin. These types of games will slow kids down, but also encourage deliberate movement and attention to the task at-hand.



With the pandemic situation changing daily, it can be difficult for adults and children to decompress at the end of the day. Moments of reflection allow us to notice our thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them, which helps build executive function skills. Consider the use of reflection journals and family reflection conversations to help children make sense of what is going on. Have children talk about what they did during the day, what feelings they felt, what questions came up, what questions were answered and what they want to do tomorrow. Closing the day with this type of reflection can help reduce levels of uncertainty experienced by the family. Consider other mediums for reflection. For example, drawings, songs and crafts projects can all be used to help document and chronicle the experience while also identifying important thoughts and emotions. For more information about mindfulness and activities you can try at home, see our blog post here.



Proper hand-washing habits have always been difficult for kids (and even adults) to maintain. One useful technique to promote hand-washing for the suggested amount of time (20 seconds) is to sing “Happy Birthday,” twice. Make sure children and adults in the family wash hands after coming home from being outside, before and after mealtimes, and after the bathroom. Consider encouraging this behavior through competitions (e.g., who can wash their hands the slowest) and through achievement charts. When out in public, be mindful of surfaces that children touch and when they touch their face. To help with face touching behavior, consider playing games at home that discourage face touching. The key executive function skill involved here is inhibitory control, this skill can be practiced through games like Bear and Dragon. Books like Bill Cotter’s Don’t Push the Button! can also help children practice resisting the urge to touch something (like their face).



Although it might be tempting to limit screen time, remember there are apps that can help promote executive function skills such as our partners, Kiko’s Thinking Time Games and Mind Yeti. This can be a good time to focus on your child’s relationship to screen time as you have more time to monitor their usage. Be deliberate and mindful in how you structure screen time and what programming you choose for your child(ren). For a list of approved educational media selections check out Common Sense Media.


Working with anxiety

Put on your own oxygen mask first. Make sure to process your own anxiety first – panicking around young children might make them confused and distressed. Mindfulness meditation and other contemplative practices can help us process our emotions and center us on the present moment.

Identify and talk about emotions. As you notice fear and worry in your child, do not dismiss it. Rather, identify their feelings, e.g., “I think you might be feeling scared right now, that’s ok, what’s making you scared?” Talk through your own feelings and how to manage them. Focus on present moment strategies for how to get through this passing emotion and then how to come up with strategies to address that fear later.

Manage difficult situations with pretend play. Pretend play is a very powerful tool that can help children get through difficult situations. When children pretend to be someone else, they create psychological distance between themselves and the problem at hand. In the case of a frustrating task, pretending to be Batman can help alleviate the frustration. Try having children pretend to be superheroes and favorite movie characters to help them get through scary and anxious situations, e.g., “What do you think Elsa does when she’s scared?” Consider adding props and costumes to make it easier for children to pretend to be someone else. 

Click here for tips for school-aged children

Click here for tips for teens

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About the Author:

Andrei Semenov

Andrei Semenov is currently earning his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Minnesota, Institute of Child Development. His primary research interests are in how reflection and mindfulness training can help improve executive function skills. Currently, Andrei is working on a parenting program that promotes reflection and collaborative problem solving between parents and their children. Andrei has worked with the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing where he helped develop and evaluate programs that promote mindfulness for teachers and educators. Andrei earned his B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy from the University of Colorado, Boulder where he studied how overscheduling children into extra-curricular activities may be associated with changes in their executive function skills. He has written and presented his work at academic conferences as well as in peer-reviewed academic journals


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Tag: Child Development

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