The Vitality of Executive Functioning

 

 

Executive functions (collectively referred to as executive function and cognitive control) are a set of cognitive processes that are necessary for the cognitive control of behaviour: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviours that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals. Executive functions include basic cognitive processes such as attentional control, cognitive inhibition, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Higher order executive functions require the simultaneous use of multiple basic executive functions and include planning and fluid intelligence (i.e., reasoning and problem solving).
Executive function skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.
When children have opportunities to develop executive function skills, individuals, and society experience lifelong benefits. These skills are crucial for learning and development. They also enable positive behaviour and allow us to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families.
The Little Executive is one such organization that help children develope their executive functioning skills, more information can be found on their website.

Executive function skills depend on three types of brain function: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. These functions are highly interrelated, and the successful application of executive function skills requires them to operate in coordination with each other.
• Working memory governs our ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short periods of time.
• Mental flexibility helps us to sustain or shift attention in response to different demands or to apply different rules in different settings.
• Self-control enables us to set priorities and resists impulsive actions or responses.
Children aren’t born with these skills—they are born with the potential to develop them. If children do not get what they need from their relationships with adults and the conditions in their environments—or (worse) if those influences are sources of toxic stress—their skill development can be seriously delayed or impaired. Adverse environments resulting from neglect, abuse, and violence may expose children to toxic stress, which disrupts brain architecture and impairs the development of executive function.
Providing the support that children need to build these skills at home, in early care and education programs, and in other settings, they experience regularly is one of the society’s most important responsibilities. Growth-promoting environments provide children with “scaffolding” that helps them practice necessary skills before they must perform them alone.
Adults can facilitate the development of a child’s executive function skills by establishing routines, modeling social behaviour, and creating and maintaining supportive, reliable relationships. It is also important for children to exercise their developing skills through activities that foster creative play and social connection, teach them how to cope with stress, involve vigorous exercise, and over time, provide opportunities for directing their actions with decreasing adult supervision.
Inhibitory control and working memory act as basic executive functions that make it possible for more complex executive functions like problem-solving to develop. Inhibitory control and working memory are among the earliest executive functions to appear, with initial signs observed in infants, 7 to 12-months old. Then in the preschool years, children display a spurt in performance on tasks of inhibition and working memory, usually between the ages of 3 to 5 years. Also during this time, cognitive flexibility, goal-directed behaviour, and planning begin to develop. Nevertheless, preschool children do not have fully mature executive functions and continue to make errors related to these emerging abilities – often not due to the absence of the abilities, but rather because they lack the awareness to know when and how to use particular strategies in particular contexts.

What is growth mindset and why should we encourage it in children?

 

 

In people with a growth mindset, the brain is most active when they are being told what they could do to improve.
When you praise for effort, you encourage a growth mindset, the belief that intellectual ability can be developed through education and effort. Those with a growth mindset believe that they can get better at almost anything, as long as they spend the necessary time and energy. Instead of seeking to avoid mistakes, they see mistakes as an essential precursor of knowledge.
A growth mindset, however, believes that challenges and learning are opportunities, and that failure is an opportunity for growth. Rather than seeking out evidence that proves we’re not smart, people with a growth mindset focus on process and progress, searching out opportunities to stretch their existing abilities.
Adults and children with a growth mindset believe that skills and intelligence can be grown and developed – that they are in control of their ability to learn and grow. A growth mindset can help you recover from illness because you believe that you can do something about the illness. They can help you achieve in sport, at work and can also help you grow and develop in relationships. Cultivating a growth mindset could be the single most important thing you ever do to help you achieve success.
Growth mindsets prioritize learning:
• People with a growth mindset learn that:
• Trying and failing is part of the process
• Learning requires stumbling, correcting, and growing
• You don’t have to know everything in advance
• Practice and skill-building are more important than embedded talent
• You’re always a beginner
• Life is about life-long learning
There are three key things that you can do to develop a growth mindset:
• You need to recognise that a growth mindset is not just good, but is also supported by science. In other words, you need to be committed to developing a growth mindset.
• You can learn and teach others about how to develop and improve their abilities through adopting a growth mindset. This will help you to take control of your life, which is hugely empowering. Research shows that people who feel in control tend to perform better. It’s a virtuous cycle.
• Listen out for your fixed mindset voice. When you hear that little critical voice in your head telling you that you can’t do something, reply with a growth mindset approach and tell it that you can learn.
All parents want their children to be successful in school, sports, and extracurricular activities. But it’s not just about giving your kids praise or setting them in the right direction. Research shows that success is often dependent on mindset. Hard work, perseverance, and effort are all hallmarks of a growth mindset.
Ways a growth mindset shows up in learning:
Once you know the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, you can start to notice how it shows up in your everyday habits and your learning. Here are three ways that a growth mindset stands out:
#1: “Those with a growth mindset found success in doing their best, in learning, and improving.”
People with a growth mindset derive just as much happiness from the process as the results. They look for challenges and opportunities to engage with the material, rather than deriving all of their satisfaction from mastery. Rather than focus exclusively on the outcome or the goal, they focus equally on the process.
Rather than desiring a finished book, written and perfected, they are motivated by the process of showing up every day to write and edit. Master athletic champions will continue to find ways to improve their personal best rather than sitting on the bench and buffing their nails.
#2: “Those with a growth mindset found setbacks motivating. They’re informative. They’re a wake-up call.”
“In the fixed mindset, setbacks label you. “You’re terrified of losing and performing badly, because to you, you are your performance. When you perform badly, you’re devastated, because of you, by association, are now no longer valuable or special.”
Whereas a fixed mindset affixes their identity to the outcome, a growth mindset knows that their performance is not the only indicator of who they are. “Wow, that performance wasn’t as good,” the growth mindset might say. “I wonder what I could do differently to get a different outcome. How can I change and grow here to improve my game?”