Build executive functioning


Executive functioning is what goes on in your prefrontal cortex. This brain region helps plan complex cognitive behaviours, personality expression, and decision making. In building and strengthening this region, children get the tools required to manage their own feelings and behaviour and give them the ability to develop coping strategies. 


Some proven, great ways to build executive functioning are: 

Memory games

Get creative. Make up a game with the children. Things like, 

  • removing an item from a group and ask them to say which. 

  • ‘I went to the shops and bought some milk’, next person says, ‘I went to the shop and bought some bread and some milk’. The game continues around the group, naming everything that has come before, until there is only one person left!


Allow them to make their own decisions

There are times where this is impossible, but you’d be surprised how many times you can let this happen. 


Studies have shown that even just exercising and keeping fit has positive effects on the brains executive functioning.

Playing board games

This demonstrates the importance of turn taking, planning and working memory.


Don’t rush to their rescue


Now we aren’t saying that if your child, or the child in your care, is about to get seriously hurt then just leave it – small children bounce anyway, don’t they?

What we are saying, though, is that if you can make a realistic judgement as to whether this is something your child can actually manage on their own, then leave them to it.

Leaving them to dust themselves off after a little fall or to finish that puzzle they seem to be struggling with, is allowing them to train their prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain that tells them, ‘It’s OK, I’ve got this’. 


Nurture a growth mindset


A growth mindset is the belief that qualities like your intelligence and talents can be grown by working at them and learning from mistakes. This is opposed to the fixed-mindset where someone will think that their qualities are pre-determined and can’t be changed. The psychologist Carol Dweck, who coined these terms, conducted some research in which she gave a group of primary school children puzzles she knew they could complete. When they finished she told half of them they must be really clever, and the other half they must have worked hard. In the next round, the majority of children praised for working hard chose a more difficult puzzle, while most of those praised for being clever chose an easy one.



Celebrate mistakes


Everyone, young and old, makes mistakes and will make many more throughout their lives. If an environment is created where every failure or mistake is met with negative language or consequence then the likelihood is that this child will not want to try things they think they might fail at. A little, ‘Oh I tried it this way and didn’t have much luck either. Shall we try another way?’ shows that even grown-ups make mistakes and that there are ways to overcome them. Much like a growth mindset, by praising the effort made, rather than the result, children learn to see failure as a mere stumbling block as they persevere for success.


Model resilience


Arguably the most effective way to influence your child’s resilience is to model it. We know children imitate our behaviours and language, so it is important to show appropriate behaviour and language. While every inch of your being might be telling you to scream profanities at the driver who just cut in front of you, the best approach (for your child’s development, not your catharsis) is to take a few deep breaths, name how you feel and act calmly. Something like, ‘That driver made me really cross, people driving like that can cause accidents’. Then maybe you can give the driver the finger when your child isn’t watching.