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Do I need to improve my Executive Functions?

EFs are the core functions needed when you FOCUS, THINK and CONTROL your impulses. There are three core EFs: Inhibition; Working memory; Cognitive flexibility and these helps to form higher order of executive functions such as Reasoning, Problem solving, and Planning.


EFs are the core functions needed when you FOCUS, THINK and CONTROL your impulses. There are three core EFs: Inhibition; Working memory; Cognitive flexibility and these helps to form higher order of executive functions such as Reasoning, Problem solving, and Planning.


Benefit of Improving EFs

While many parents are concerned with children’s Intelligence Quotient (IQ), research has shown that EFs are more important for school readiness and academic success. Executive function is responsible for a few skills such as:

· Paying attention

· Organizing, planning, and prioritizing

· Starting and staying through the completion of a task

· Understanding from different perspectives

· Emotion regulation

· Self-monitoring


The importance of EF stretches into adulthood and throughout life in career, marriage, mental and physical health well-being. EF correlates with:

· Better academic performance

· Success in job

· Maintain relationships

o Friendship

o Marriage

· Betterment for mental and physical health

· Quality of life

Early intervention or training is excellent for levelling the gap for children with weak EFs, enabling them to have a more even level with their peers. If early discrepancies in EFs is reduced, the disparity in school performance, school readiness, mental and physical health outcome should also be narrowed. This would then enable children to perform up to their potential.


Secondly, not just through training programs, EF demands will need to keep increasing to improve a child’s EFs. Parents may try different methods through daily life that challenges a child’s EFs to push them to work harder on their EFs skills. For example, play sorting games with younger toddlers; play card games, board games with kids; higher level of board games, practice writing self-reflection journal is great for teenagers!!!


Practice makes perfect! For whatever training you are doing, gains depend on the amount of time and effort spent trying to improve yourself.


How do you train your child’s Executive Functions (EFs)?

1. Computerized training

  • Computerized working-memory training that uses computer games to increase working-memory demands

  • Computerized and interactive games


2. Exercise and Sports

  • Exercise has been showed to improve prefrontal cortex function and EF.

  • Aerobics

  • Yoga


3. Martial arts

  • Traditional martial arts emphasize on self-control and discipline. It was found that children practicing traditional martial arts such as Tae-Kwon-Do showed greater gains in EFs, less aggressive, less anxious and better self-esteem.

4. Mindfulness practice

  • Mindful training that focuses on the present moment showed EFs improvement.


5. Classroom curricula

  • Classroom programs that encourages the development of EFs, for example the Tools of Mind for preschool and kindergarten that emphasize the importance of social pretend play.


6. Fun games

  • Board games: Emotional control, planning and prioritizing, flexible thinking

  • Jenga: self-monitoring, flexible thinking, impulsive control

  • Memory cards: working memory, flexible thinking

  • Mind trap: flexible thinking

  • Chess: planning and prioritizing, organization, task initiation, impulsive control, flexible thinking


Checklist For Your Child

  •  Have trouble starting and/or completing tasks

  •  Gets frustrated easily, and gives up instead of asking for help

  •  Have difficulty prioritizing tasks

  •  Forgets what they have just heard or read

  •  Have trouble switching focus from one task to another

  •  Frequent tantrums over minor things

  •  Insist of doing things in a certain way

  •  Loses belongings

  •  Poor time management

  •  Loss track of time

  •  Does not cooperate in groups

  •  Messy with work and room


Executive functioning can be improved in children as early as the age of 4 without apparent programs and computers. Focus on early training that addresses both emotional and social development and allowing them with appropriate self-discipline and exercise such as aerobics, martial arts and yoga. A good training not only challenges a child’s EFs but also bring them joy, pride, giving them a sense of social inclusion and belonging, and at the same time helping them build a strong, fit, and healthy body.



Ref:

Diamond, A., & Lee, K. (2011). Interventions shown to aid executive function development in children 4-12 years old. Science, 333 (6045), 959-964. doi:10.1126/science.1204529.

Diamond, A. (2012). Activities and programs that improve children’s executive functions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(5), 335-341. doi:10.1177/0963721412453722.


By: Ms Jolene Yeo - SOL Psychologist