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.

 

Reflection

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.

 

Hygiene 

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).

 

Media

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

Click here to download a copy of this story

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

 

" />

Tag: Child Development

Parent Newsletters Resources for Parents

Cultivating Cognitive Skills During the Coronavirus Quarantine: Working with Preschoolers

Many of our daily routines have been disrupted by the novel coronavirus pandemic. As we adjust to social distancing and working remotely, we also need to adjust to our kids being home from school. For older children, staying home might mean connecting to classes digitally whereas for younger children, staying home might leave parents scrambling…

Resources for Educators Resources for Parents

Language and Executive Function

Language and executive function skills are both critical to a child’s development. But did you know they are related to each other in important ways? Language development and executive function (EF) skills have a reciprocal relationship, meaning each relies on the other for optimal growth. EF skills represent a set of cognitive processes that underlie…

Children and Teacher in Classroom
Resources for Clinicians Resources for Educators Resources for Researchers

Childhood Brain Rhythm + Executive Function

Research agrees that there are prominent changes in brain rhythm (repeated patterns of brain wave activity across different areas of the scalp) from early to middle childhood. Currently, researchers are investigating if – and how – these changes are related to key developmental outcomes such as executive function (EF). EF is an umbrella term that…

Resources for Clinicians Resources for Educators Resources for Parents Resources for Researchers

Cohort Effects on Delay of Gratification

The Marshmallow Test is conceivably one of the most prominent developmental research studies on delay of gratification. In the late 1960s to early 70s, American Psychologist and Stanford University Professor, Dr. Walter Mischel, and his team sat children down at a table and placed a marshmallow (or other treat chosen by the child) in front of…

Parent Newsletters

Parent Newsletter – June 2018

In our Parent Newsletter June 2018, we’d like to welcome our new contributor, Marie Lister! Marie graduated in 2012 with a Masters of Education and a teaching license in Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education. She has been a classroom teacher for 9 years and currently is a teacher at the Shirley G. Moore…

Resources for Clinicians Resources for Educators Resources for Parents Resources for Researchers

National Effort: Improve Student Outcomes

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) are teaming up in a national effort: improve student outcomes through research and development. Yesterday (May 8, 2018), the two nonprofits announced that they are extending a public Request for Information (RFI) about innovative ways to facilitate, accelerate, and improve the academic and non-academic outcomes that…

Resources for Clinicians Resources for Educators Resources for Parents Resources for Researchers

Imagination and Brain Development

“Executive function refers to the brain skills that allow us to control our thoughts, actions, and emotions. These skills include cognitive flexibility (thinking about something in multiple ways and shifting gears, for example, transitioning smoothly from snack time to center time), working memory (holding information in mind and working with it, such as reminding yourself…

Resources for Clinicians Resources for Educators Resources for Parents Resources for Researchers

Mindfulness, Reflection, and Executive Function

Earlier this week, Frontiers in Psychology published an article on mindfulness, reflection, and executive function. The study, “Mindfulness Plus Reflection Training: Effects on Executive Function in Early Childhood” was conducted by Dr. Phil Zelazo, Dr. Ann Masten, and Dr. Stephanie Carlson of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development and Jessie Forston of Learning Tree Yoga,…