Self Management (Executive Function)
The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals. Includes: -Impulse control -Stress management -Self-discipline -Self-motivation -Goal setting -Organizational skills (CASEL)
INHIBITORY CONTROL is the skill we use to master and filter our thoughts and impulses so we can resist temptations, distractions, and habits and to pause and think before we act. It makes possible selective, focused, and sustained attention, prioritization, and action. This capacity keeps us from acting as completely impulsive creatures who do whatever comes into our minds. It is the skill we call on to push aside daydreams about what we would rather be doing so we can focus on important tasks. It is the skill we rely on to help us “bite our tongue” and say something nice, and to control our emotions at the same time, even when we are angry, rushed, or frustrated. Children rely on this skill to wait until they are called on when they know the answer, to be good at games like “Simon Says” and “Red Light/Green Light,” to stop themselves from yelling at or hitting a child who has inadvertently bumped into them, and to ignore distractions and stay on task in school. (WWW.DEVELOPINGCHILD.HARVARD.EDU) For more information: Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function WORKING
Pro-Tip: These skills only begin to emerge between 3 - 5 years old! So you can do these activities to practice the skills, but don't expect your child to be able to be able to control his/her impulses consistently. They need you to be there to help them save them from themselves.
- Do the marshmallow experiment (or a variation of it) with a variety of desired objects/activities (food, screen time, parent read books, etc.). Give your child a choice to receive an immediate, but small reward (such as one small marshmallow) OR they can wait a pre-determined time and receive a larger reward (such as three marshmallows). You can try this in several ways on different days.
- Practice using strategies for waiting: singing a song, affirmations, counting, deep breaths, refocusing in desire, look for distractions. Then you can repeat the marshmallow experiment again and encourage your child to use the strategy you practiced with him/her.
- How to increase stamina - practice, chart progress, look at others for examples (babies vs. adults, etc)
- Play board games and practice taking turns and not touching the board or others' pieces when it is not his/her turn.
- Other Games:
- Red light green light
- Stop and go: Have the child do an action and when you call "stop" they have to stop and freeze until you say go. Actions: jump, twirl, clap, stomp, run, push a car, etc.
- Blow Bubbles and make your child wait to pop the bubbles. "Wait...1, 2, 3, pop!"
- Slap jack - you can have them slap all facecards or the jacks only
- Mother May I – one child is the leader. The rest of the children ask: “Mother May I take….” a certain amount of steps, hops, jumps or leaps to get to the leader. The leader approves or disapproves.
- Freeze Dance – turn on music. When music stops children have to freeze.
- Follow My Clap – The leader creates a clapping pattern. Children have to listen and repeat.
- Loud or Quiet – Children have to perform an action either loud or quiet. First pick an action i.e. stomping feet. The leader says Loud and the children stomp feet loudly.
- Simon Says – Children have to perform an action only when the leader says “Simon Say do…”. For example, if the leader says “Simon Says touch your toes” and all the children touch their toes. If the leader says “Touch your toes”, no one should touch their toes. Check out the complete Simon Says game here.
- Body Part Mix Up – The leader will call out body parts for the children to touch. For example, the leader calls out “knees” and the children touch their knees. Create one rule to start. Each time the leader says “head” touch your toes instead of your head. This requires the children to stop and think about their actions and to not just react. The leader calls out “knees, head, elbow”. The children should touch their knees, TOES and elbow. Continue practicing and adding other rules to change body parts.
- Follow the Leader – The leader performs different actions and the children have to follow the actions exactly.
- Ready, Set, Wiggle – The leader calls out Ready…Set…Wiggle and everyone wiggles their bodies. The leader calls out Ready…Set…Watermelon. No one should move. The leader calls out Ready…Set…Wigs. No one moves. The leader calls out Ready…Set…Wiggle. Everyone wiggles again. You can change this to whatever wording you want. The purpose is to have the children waiting to move until a certain word is said out loud.
- Color Moves – Explain to the children that they will walk around the room. They are to move based on the color paper you are holding up. Green paper means walk fast, yellow paper means regular pace and blue paper means slow-motion walking. Whenever you hold up a red paper they stop. Try different locomotor skills – running in place, marching, jumping, etc.
COGNITIVE OR MENTAL FLEXIBILITY is the capacity to nimbly switch gears and adjust to changed demands, priorities, or perspectives. It is what enables us to apply different rules in different settings. We might say one thing to a co-worker privately, but something quite different in the public context of a staff meeting. If a friend asks if we like her new haircut and we don’t, we are able to flexibly shift to the social convention that governs not hurting people’s feelings. Likewise, we teach our children about “outside voices” and “inside voices” and the different situations in which they should use each. As the author of The Executive Brain, Elkhonon Goldberg, notes, “The ability to stay on track is an asset, but being ‘dead in the track’ is not.”4 Stated differently, self-control and persistence are assets, rigidity is not. Cognitive flexibility enables us to catch mistakes and fix them, to revise ways of doing things in light of new information, to consider something from a fresh perspective, and to “think outside the box.” If the “church in two blocks” where we were told to turn right is actually a school, we adjust and turn anyway. If we are missing a recipe ingredient, we call a neighbor or make a substitution. Children deploy this skill to learn exceptions to rules of grammar, to approach a science experiment in different ways until they get it to work, or to try different strategies when they are working out a conflict with another child. (WWW.DEVELOPINGCHILD.HARVARD.EDU) For more information: Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function WORKING
Pro-Tip: This skill may be very difficult for all kids, but most especially for 1. young children who thrive and rely on predicable routines and 2. for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensoy Processing Disorder or with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. So, have fun practicing this skill in playful ways, but remain compassionate and conscientious towards our children who may have a very difficult time with a change in routine.
- Tell silly jokes and make puns
- Play “What’s this?” - use an ordinary object and make it into as many things as you can think of
- Make up new rules to familiar games - start by just changing one simple rule. For example: when playing duck, duck, goose, you have to quack and honk instead of saying "duck" or "goose"
- Sort items by different characteristics. For example, you can take legos and first sort them by color, then put them together again and start over again to sort by shape, length, number of dots, favorite to least favorite, etc.
- Re-arrange the furniture in a room or the food in a pantry or refrigerator
- Make an unexpected and playful change to the routine: eat breakfast for dinner, wear pajamas in the day time, sleep in the living room in sleeping bags, etc.
WORKING MEMORY is the capacity to hold and manipulate information in our heads over short periods of time. It provides a mental surface on which we can place important information so that it is ready to use in the course of our everyday lives. It enables us to remember a phone number long enough to dial it, to return to our place in a magazine article before a friend interrupted us, and to recall whether we had added the salt to what we were cooking before we had to help our child find a missing shoe. It enables children to remember and connect information from one paragraph to the next, to perform an arithmetic problem with several steps, to keep track of the moves and make a logical next step in a game of checkers, and to follow multiple-step instructions without reminders (“go to your cubbies, put away your storybooks, bring back your arithmetic books, and open them to page 30”). It also helps children with social interactions, such as planning and acting out a skit, taking turns in group activities, or easily rejoining a game after stepping away to get a drink of water. (WWW.DEVELOPINGCHILD.HARVARD.EDU) For more information: Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function
I Spy books
- Physical Games: Hokey Pokey, I'm a Little Teapot, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
- Visualization exercises: describe something familiar that can't be seen immediately and see if your child can tell you what it is.
- Have child teach you a basic skill that they are working on. Role play with them as if you are a younger child or with a puppet. -how to build a block tower, how to blow bubbles, how to make a simple sandwich, etc.
- Games with visual memory: memory match (flip over two cards at a time to find matching pairs), magic cup game (hide a small object under one of three cups, switch them around and choose which has the object), picture copy (make a simple drawing and have your child try to re-create it in detail, puzzles, spot the difference pages - free printables here, what's missing? (have a set of items on the table, cover and sneakily take one away then uncover and have your child guess which is missing)
- Tell Stories about shared experiences. Choose small moments that highlight an emotion and use detail to describe the setting and events.
- Card games: uno, crazy 8s, go fish, war, slap jack
- Active reading: Ask questions about the story and the characters as the book progresses to help your child
- Use mnemonics, acronymns, shortcuts or simple songs/rhymes to help your child remember your directions (for example: if you tell him/her to take his/her basket of laundry to the room, fold the clothes and put them in the dresser and hang them up in the closet, you could have him/her repeat with you in a sing-song voice: do as you're told, take and fold. Not on floor, in the closet and drawer!