Monday, April 14, 2014

Integrating Executive Function Skills as a Lifestyle



The development of your child's executive function skills may happen quite naturally given the right conditions, but if you are not well-versed in the language, it can amount to the blind leading the blind. A parent may actually help strengthen their child's executive function skills at a given point, yet a lack of knowledge on what to tone on a consistent basis will often times render splotchy results. Consider the idea that identifying effective metrics guides parents to hit upon key skills thus catapulting the child's skill strength on a whole. Below are some thoughts and activities on how to begin to approach this. My thoughts first...

I think it use to be easier to raise kids because kids did not have modern day distractions that literally turned off their ability to self-monitor, be able to sustain their attention, or have goal-directed persistence. In fact, I believe that this is more and more an increasingly challenging balancing act for parents and directly chips away at the foundation of what family is if left unchecked. The development of executive function skills goes hand in hand the strengthening of a family. 

For parents, managing work and family life is a constant, yet many of us can always do better in setting important parameters at home, which if enforced can be like benevolent guard rails that help mold our kids away from mind-numbing repetitive actions that make no one ready for the real world. An example of this is unrestricted TV or tech device time. A child is not an adult. They do not understand that while their mind and brain are developing it is not healthy to spend 2, 3, 6 hours on a video game/ tech device/ television day in and day out. It can get to a point where the augmented reality time over-saturates the thought processing and decision-making capabilities. The impact is even far greater if the child has been raised up with a constant dose of it since infant hood. Will putting a baby in front of a television make them smarter? You tell me. I posit that this is a leading factor in the rise of attentional deficits, aside from other environmental factors which have been previously discussed in past posts.

At the same time that families stop exercising key family values, like having dinner together most nights of the week, showing spousal (love) affection in front of the kids, and investing quality time with their kids, the children start changing in subtle, almost imperceptible ways, like growing plants that have not been receiving light from the sun. First, their is a plateau in the maturing process, followed by dips in executive function skills. Just like the actual strengthening of physical muscles and ligaments, the toning and exercising of these frontal lobe skills needs to happen on a smart, consistent basis. If not, kids don't necessarily fall by the way-side straight-away, but they tend to not have the acute wherewithal needed to operate dynamically, be it as they express themselves in written form, orally, or as sovereign citizens. Hence, executive function skills, which are the ability to manipulate, orchestrate, and manage oneself in a goal-directed manner, are like individual muscles that can be bulked up or left to atrophy unevenly. The uneven toning and atrophy of these skills create obstacles and major challenges for kids as they grow up into adults. A child who grows up without the ability to modulate their behavior well, use their foresight actively, or have goal-directed persistence will not be able to reach or exceed their potential, and right now, in America, these are the kind of skills that are in hot, hot demand. These are entrepreneurial, leadership skills needed to operate a family, any business, or even a countries government. 

So what do we do? What  are some concrete actions that can turn this boondoggle around? Do we throw the television out, along with the IPads? No, but we get serious in sending the message to our kids that the tech devices and the TV are not going to be available as they use to be. If you are having issues enforcing tech time, check out an app called Qustodio. I am not plugging this app for them, but I like an app that allows you to remotely lock access to a computer, set time blocks of tech device access, as well as having a function to control actual daily time duration allowed. After the system is up, your child will take 1-2 weeks to acclimate to the new situation at home. Is their a better app out their? Qustodio may have glitches allowing circumvention by kids. I am planning on calling customer service and getting some answers, or maybe I can get a faster response if I tweet them. Apparently, kids can still access internet via separate apps, thus circumventing a main goal of what the app is supposed to do.

Another major action is to consider in getting your children into being in nature. You do not need to climb a mountain each time. Camping is a super-constructive way to be with your family, exercise real life skills, and  strengthen the sense of belonging in each member of the family. Do this enough times and you program way better things into their minds than can ever be learned from playing video games or watching online shows everyday after school. The catch with camping is that it be pleasant for all, especially Mom. No forced marches, unless you want to have a mutiny on your hands. 
Go fishing for dinner, light the camp fire, practice archery in the woods, make meals, have the kids be the hike leaders sometimes, relax without augmented reality devices.

Likewise, kids need to practice initiating and sustaining conversations, take turns speaking, developing thoughts and ideas, and getting acquainted with self-advocating for themselves. This can be done during a car ride, at meal time, on a walk, while playing a board game, or while laying in bed. Parents are advised to keep the experience positive so as to create a series of start to finish memories that create a platform by which greater extended conversations can be had. Making  3-4 index card decks divided into 'topic,' 'make a comment,' and 'add information,' can be used to cue kids as young as five years old to take their talking turn and be part of a conversation. Focus on success and a happy memory of the activity and they will do it again and again. It gives them a sense of accomplishment, they feel like they pleased the parent, and they learn vitally important life skills which can be used in school and in a professional setting later on in their life. Parents need to praise their ability to be patient, practice self-control, focus, or exercise their mental flexibility (shifting and transitioning) during 'talk time.'

Finally, though I feel it is less and less politically correct to say so, I think and feel that prayer, which is how we talk to God, SHOULD be an integral part of the family's daily life, regardless of religion. Aside of the supernatural effects that comes as God answers prayer in God time, prayer is an act of thanksgiving and supplication putting the one praying in a state of gratitude. Gratitude is the cousin of contentment. Happiness and joy are not far beyond that. Prayer puts one in an attitude of gratitude like nothing else can, and practicing putting oneself into a state of thanksgiving on a daily basis itself is an act of strenuous executive function exercise. 

In this sense, the development of executive function skills is integrated as a lifestyle, and with habitual practice has far-reaching positive effects in regards to the molding and training up of your child, and the strengthening of your family.

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