Executive Functions and Essential Life Skills

Executive Functions and Essential Life Skills

Did you know that our brain’s executive functions are what help us with accomplishing our everyday tasks? Our prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that manages our executive functions, and they begin as early as infancy!

Today’s Brain Snacks is based on the seven Essential Life Skills, as discussed by Ellen Galinsky in her book “Mind in the Making”. Every person needs these life skills in order to accomplish their goals and to perform daily, menial tasks. 

Practicing these life skills are easier than you think! You can integrate them into yours and your child’s daily activities, such as chores and play time. Keep in mind that these Essential Life Skills are not limited to the child only! Grown ups can practice these skills too. 💛

  • What are executive functions?
    • Governed by the prefrontal cortex of the brain
    • These are brain functions that humans need in order to practice and master everyday skills–from physical skills like walking to socioemotional skills like calming down after feeling rageful or angry.
  • Aspects of executive functions (Galinsky, 2010):
    • ALWAYS driven by goals
    • Involves using our working memory to multitask
    • Manages our feelings and thoughts so that we can reflect, analyze, plan, and evaluate
  • Our brain’s three major executive functions (from Harvard.edu)
    • Working Memory: retaining information over short periods of time
    • Mental flexibility: being able to adjust or adapt easily to different contexts or situations
    • Self-control: resisting impulsion
  • The Seven essential life skills and our executive functions (Galinsky, 2010)
    • Focus and self control
    • Perspective taking
    • Communicating
    • Making connections
    • Critical thinking
    • Taking on challenges
    • Self-directed and engaged learning
  • How can I practice this at home? These skills may sound very complex, but we actually practice them as we do our daily tasks! Here are some examples:
    • Focus and self control
      • Cooking activities or science experiments are a great opportunity for your child to practice their focus and self-control in performing each step of the activity/experiment
      • Check out our playdough recipe or pepper experiment
    • Perspective taking
      • Reading stories about understanding one’s emotions or the emotions of others will help your child practice the skill of perspective taking 
      • Books about emotions and understanding empathy: “The Feelings Book” by Todd Parr, “Fill a Bucket” by Carol McCloud, “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates” by Ryan T. Higgins
    • Communicating
      • Believe it or not, communication and language development begin even before your child can babble or say their first word! A great way to enhance your child’s language development during early childhood is to constantly speak to them in a higher pitch, with much emotion and gestures. Doing this allows your child to be immersed in the ways we communicate (speaking, making eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures). The constant exposure and immersion during their early years will make it easier for them to express themselves with speech and language when they are old enough to do so. 
      • A simple task to immerse your child in communication skills is to include them in the dinner table. Oftentimes, it is difficult for parents of young children to have a meal together because it is extra difficult to watch over and feed your child at the same time. However, including them in the dinner table is a way for your child to see first-hand how the grownups communicate, which they can utilize and apply when they communicate. 
    • Making connections
      • Making connections means understanding that one thing can represent another. It is a basic skill that is applied in subjects like math and science. It is also the basis for creativity. 
      • Letting your child help with chores, like packing away toys to their designated bins/locations or setting the table during dinner time (for older preschool children) are great ways to practice sorting or grouping objects according to their similarities. 
    • Critical thinking
      • Asking “why” questions allows us to practice critical thinking. It involves “developing, testing, and refining theories about ‘what causes what’ to happen (Galinsky, 2010).”
      • “Why do you think ice melts when it’s not in the freezer anymore?”
    • Taking on challenges
      • Your child is capable of more things than you think; allowing them to take on challenges, like letting them ride the swing or go down the big slide independently at the playground are ways they can take on challenges and build confidence in their abilities.
    • Self-directed and engaged learning
      • Giving your child time to play freely with no rules or direction for 30-60 minutes a day will allow them to practice self-directed and engaged learning
      • Check out our guide to toy rotation!

References:

Galinsky, E. 2010. Mind in the making: Seven essential life skills every child needs. HarperCollins e-books. 

Executive function & self-regulation. (2020, March 24). Retrieved from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/

Image by Tania Dimas from Pixabay

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