The latest research in the area of neurobiology and cognitive sciences points to the fundamental role of executive functions in the development of human intelligence. It is said that executive functions – coordinated in the prefrontal cortex – constitute a uniquw CEO for the entire brain.
Executive functions are a conglomerate of such skills as:
- Time and attention management skills
- Decision-making, planning, and analytical skills
- Ability to self-reflect and understand oneself
- Ability to set goals
- Ability to cope with emotions
- Ability to control impulsive behavior
- Ability to empathize
These skills allow us to consistently and persistently strive to achieve the goals we set. It is thanks to them that we can cope with a variety of complex tasks posed by life itself.
Developing executive functions constitutes the foundation of parental care for the child’s correct intellectual development. Highly developed executive functions enable the child to achieve the fullest potential and satisfaction in adulthood.
How can we help our child develop strong executive functions?
Develop the skill of concentration and focusing attention
Nowadays a lot is being said about problems with concentration, yet precious little is said about methods of learning how to focus our attention. The better we are able to concentrate, the faster we learn.
One of the simplest methods of teaching children to focus attention is concentration on breathing. It is so simple that some people find it difficult to believe it may actually be effective (until they try it themselves). Already a two years old toddler can be taught how to focus attention on breathing in and breathing out. E.g. the parent can place a teddy-bear on the child’s belly and teach him or her how to observe the rising and falling of the bear. This way the child becomes accustomed with directing attention to the breath, relaxing at the same time.
Older children (starting from school age) can be taught to consciously direct their attention to breathing.
Short 2-3 minutes regular exercises repeated everyday decrease the child’s impulsiveness, reduce ADHD symptoms, improve the quality of sleep, and help them learn better.
Teach your children how to cope with emotions and impulsive behavior
It is important for the parent to set an example of being able to calmly express negative emotions and not react impulsively. This is something we can learn and it is really worth it.
Telling the child: “Calm down!”, more than often in an angry tone, not only does precious little to help the child calm down, on the contrary – it only contributes to the deepening of his or her frustration. Instead of shouting or punishing children when they throw tantrums, we should help them quiet down.
Take care to make sure that your child associates learning with joy and enthusiasm.
Try to inspire curiosity of the world in your child as well as create atmosphere where learning is a joyful and fascinating process of discovering new information and acquiring new skills.
A bored child needs new ideas and stimulation.
On the other hand, we should beware of overstimulation, which is so easy nowadays. Children require frequent breaks in the learning process – breaks filled with carefree fun, art or sport activities.
Encourage reflection, analysis, and ability to predict events
It is of utmost importance to make your conversations with the child engaging. Avoid delivering lofty speeches, pontificating, patronizing, and refrain from adopting a judgmental attitude. Allow your child to independently draw their own conclusions. And when asked a question, do not hasten to provide a ready-made answer, rather try and reverse the question, for example, by saying “This is an interesting question! And what do you think of this?”
Encourage reflection in your child, inspire him or her to predict events. Ask helpful prompting questions, e.g. “And you, how would you behave in such a situation? What would you do?”, “Why do you think it is the best solution in this situation?”, “What would happen if you behaved this way?”, “What do you think you’d do if you saw your best friend shoplifting?”, “Why do you think people shouldn’t act like that?”.
Encourage your child to make effort and reward perseverance. Assist him or her in choosing goals and striving to achieve them. Avoid instantaneous gratification. When the child wants something „straight away”, it is best to divert their attention from the object of their desire or show compassion to help your son or daughter deal with frustration, rather than fulfill their irrational whims and wishes.