Q+A: My kids are 8 and 5 years old. How can I teach them executive function skills?

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Posted in: Grade School, Parenting Concerns

Topics: Learning + Attention Issues, Q+A

Question: My kids are 8 and 5 years old. How can I teach them executive function skills?

Dr. Braaten’s Answer:

Younger children aren’t really ready to have strong executive function skills, which include the ability to plan, think ahead, and remember what they are supposed to be doing. These skills don’t fully develop until late adolescence and early adulthood. But you can still encourage the development of these skills by giving them responsibilities that they are able to manage.

Examples of the kinds of responsibilities that could be helpful to a five- or eight-year-old are things like feeding the dog or taking out the garbage. Other things that are helpful at this age include posting weekly schedules on a family calendar, teaching them how to tell time, minimizing clutter, and having them take responsibility for keeping their toys picked up. Games are also a great way to teach these skills — think about card games and board games that require them to strategize teaches them how to plan ahead. Puzzles are another fun way to teach organization skills. Play is one of the best ways for kids this age to develop executive function skills. For example, physical games such as “Duck, Duck, Goose” and “Simon Says” can foster the development of attention skills.

You can also help your children develop their executive functions by giving them free and unstructured time. Research shows that executive functions are often most improved during unstructured periods. Executive function is all about organization, planning ahead, and time management, so rigid schedules don’t give them the opportunity to be flexible, organize, and make decisions. Letting them engage in hobbies and activities of their own choosing can be a great way to help them build their executive function skills.

For answers to more questions about executive function skills and kids, tune in to our “Ask Ellen” Q+A.

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Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD, is executive director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at  Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, and former co-director for the MGH Clay Cente...

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