Did you know the brain doesn’t fully develop until age 28? Your child’s brain goes through a lot of growth and development from late childhood into teen years, especially their frontal lobe, the executive functioning center of the brain. You can think of the frontal lobe as the “air-traffic controller” for the brain, and we will discuss some ways to help strengthen the connections in the brain and build up executive functioning skills at home.
Why is this important? Strong executive functioning skills can set up your child for success in life, but these skills aren’t always taught in school. Skills like time management, attention to detail, organization, and planning don’t come naturally to most and must be practiced to become stronger, especially in the fast-paced world children face today.
We know as a parent you’ve probably heard, “I forgot it at school,” when they have reading to do or are familiar with finding out your child has a test the next morning and needs help studying at 8:00 p.m. As frustrating as these times can be, it is important to use them as “teachable moments” to show your child ways to develop executive functioning skills such as planning and prioritizing.
Helping your child strengthen executive functioning can be simple when you create a weekly routine. For example, you can encourage your child to plan out each week in advance. A great time is for this is on Sunday evenings, taking the time to sit together and plan your week out as well–children often model our behavior, so it is important to show, not just tell them about good habits! Keeping visual reminders around the house, such as a family whiteboard, calendar, and checklists are great ways for your child to track assignments, events, and extra-curricular activities. The brain is extremely visual and loves brightly colored reminders!
Planning and tracking goals can be extremely helpful in showing the importance of executive functioning to your child, as well as helping them see the importance of long-term planning. Work together to set a goal they can achieve in 3-6 months, and help your child create an outline of the steps needed to successfully complete the goal. Make sure the goal is attainable and the steps are small enough to complete at one time to ensure you are setting them up for success.
How we talk to ourselves is just as important as the actions we take. Sticking with a goal becomes extremely tough when we get down on ourselves, not to mention, challenges and roadblocks are bound to pop up for any goal. Teaching your child positive self-talk and having them visualize completing the goal will help them with the process.
There are also fun activities to help with frontal lobe development! Yoga is a great activity to help promote mindfulness and may help teens develop sustained attention, reduce stress, and promote less reactive, more reflective decision-making and behavior. A good-old fashioned card game such as Hearts, Rummy, or Spit can exercise working memory, cognitive flexibility, and sustained attention. Brain Teasers such as Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and Rubik’s Cubes are fun for long trips or a waiting room and can help increase mental flexibility!
Neurofeedback training can also help improve attention skills and concentration. Neurofeedback is direct training of brain function that teaches the brain to function more efficiently. In neurofeedback, the practitioner observes a child’s brain in action from moment to moment through monitoring their brain waves. They show that information back to the child, through a video or game, and reward the brain for changing its activity to more appropriate patterns. This is a gradual learning process. It teaches self-regulation to the brain, which is a necessary part of good brain function. Neurofeedback can help the brain learn better brain wave patterns, and the results are long-lasting!
If you would like additional support for your child through these years where executive functioning development is crucial, La Jolla LearningWorks offers a unique Executive Functioning Program, that teaches a new skill weekly, starting by helping your child to identify their unique learning style, and giving them tools and lessons to learn how to best manage their time, organization, and goals independently. Don’t hesitate in taking time to harness these skills — your child, their brain, and their future successes will thank you!
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