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Promoting your child’s executive functions for a successful summer

Congratulations for making it through the most restrictive part of lockdown and for becoming a fully-fledged master of the homeschool-work-homelife juggle. The last few months have been extremely challenging for parents and we anticipate that the summer holidays will be a much-needed break for the whole family. We now know that children, especially if they have developmental, emotional and/or executive function challenges (including those with ADHD and ADD), benefit from consistent routine and structure even throughout the summer holidays1. Research has indicated that during the summer, without this consistent structure, many children lose the gains they made in strengthening their executive functions over the course of the school year. In some cases, children can actually regress which sets them back when starting back at school, a term known as ‘summer learning loss’2. Supporting their executive functioning development during the summer is one of the ways you can minimise this3.

The benefits of maintaining consistent structure and routine can reduce tantrums, anxiety and oppositional behaviour whilst supporting their executive function development4. This is important as executive functions are a strong predictor of school readiness – even more so than entry-level maths, reading and IQ5! So, keeping on track can be rewarding for the whole family and can reduce difficulties in the transition back into a school routine come September.

Executive functions is a broad term used to describe the set of cognitive processes required to prepare and execute tasks and goal-directed behaviours5. These include skills such as sustained attention, working memory, organisation, planning and prioritisation – to name a few! As executive functions play a key role in your child’s development and their success into adulthood, it is crucial to support the development of these skills in early years, both during the academic year and in the summer holidays. Take a look at our resource below which explains some more of the skills that can be affected by executive function challenges. If you would like access to more free resources like this then make sure you become a member of our executive function support groups for parents where we will be providing some valuable resources on activities, tips and advice on how to engage with and support your child’s executive functions over the summer

Everyone has their own executive function profile which is made up of different strengths and challenges. Take our Executive Function Questionnaire to find out what your executive function strengths and challenges are, what you can work on and how! Planning out your summer activities will give you all something to look forward to. For example, use a visual planner and pin it on the wall in a communal family area. We recommend spending some time the evening before discussing and identifying how long these activities will take. This is a simple exercise that can strengthen their time management and planning and prioritisation skills and will set their expectations for the next day. This will also help your children understand and appreciate what you need to do in terms of managing work, home life and family time whilst teaching them about compromising, commitments and supporting their flexibility and metacognition executive functions6. If you are dreading the thought of planning out over a month of activities then visit the Connections in Mind Pinterest account which is full of executive function boosting activity boards!

You don’t need to reproduce school conditions in order to support your child’s executive functioning. Learning to cook is a foundational life skill that can be taught at home and can also be a lot of fun! Selecting a menu, preparing dishes and cleaning up after meals involve important executive function skills such as planning, prioritisation, organisation and goal-directed persistence7. You can also create visual checklists and have your child check off each stage as they prepare and cook the meal.

At the end, we recommend using the  ‘What Went Well’ and ‘Even Better If’ approaches to reflect on the cooking session. This encourages problem-solving, metacognition and will motivate them to improve their culinary skills and continue cooking! Although you might want to offer more flexibility in your routines in comparison to the school year, the more your children stick to a familiar routine the easier it will be for the whole family throughout the summer holidays and in September. The benefits of maintaining these routines and implementing structured activities that encourage creativity can also help teach children about responsibility and support their response inhibition  executive function. Routines can include consistent times for waking up, getting dressed, eating meals and going to bed.  In fact, research has shown that change in the structure can be difficult and can cause confusion and stress in children4. Of course, it is still important to take some time for spontaneous activities but try and keep to a familiar routine to minimise stress-levels for everyone! We have recently launched which is our new online learning platform and is also the home to our Connected Minds Parent course. This course is a self-paced, online development course that gives parents practical strategies to help them build strong, healthy relationships with their children. This course uses a neuroscientific approach which provides the foundation for parents to manage their children’s behaviour with more confidence. Parents will gain a better understanding of how supporting their child’s cognitive functioning will increase their child’s future success in school and in life. Hear from the course facilitator Imogen Moore Shelley in her informative video.At Connections in Mind, we are a team dedicated and caring executive function and ADHD coaching experts. Through our coaching programmes for young children and teenagers, our coaches combine their expertise and knowledge acquired through experience and education with strategies based on the latest empirical research to create bespoke coaching programmes tailored to individual client needs. Whether your child or teen is struggling with organisation, time-management or emotional control, they can work one to one with one of our amazing coaches to address their executive function challenges and develop new strategies so that they can flourish personally and academically. Watch our video for Executive Function Adventures (for younger children) or find out a bit more about our Coaching for independent Learning programme (12 years+). Seeking additional support can also reduce tensions in relationships and create a happier and calmer household. If you would like some more information about the Connected Minds Parent Course or would like to discuss the range of bespoke coaching programmes we have to offer for your child or teen, book a free consultation call with Sarah, one of our executive function coaching experts today. You can watch our client testimonials here.

By Rebecca Tyler, Connections in Mind

1Arlinghause, K. R., & Jognston, C. A. (2019). The importance of creating habits and routine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13 (2), 142-144.

2McEachin, A., & Atteberry, A. (2017). The impact of summer learning loss on measures on school performance. Education Finance and Policy, 12 (4), 468-491. 

3Finch, J. E. (2019). Do schools promote executive functions? Differential working memory growth across school-year and summer months. AERA Open.

4Harris, A. N et al. (2013). Child routines and parental adjustment as correlates of internalizing and externalizing symptoms in children diagnosed with ADHD. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 45, 243-253. 

5Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.

6Gauvain, M., & Huard, R. D. (1999). Family interaction, parenting style, and the development of planning: A longitudinal analysis using archival data. Journal of Family Psychology, 13 (1), 75-92.

7Doherty, T. A., Barker, L. A., Denniss, R., Jalil, A., & Beer, M. D. (2015). The cooking task: making a meal of executive functions. Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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