Have you heard about the Stanford University marshmallow study? Many years ago, children between the ages of three and five were offered a marshmallow and told if they did not eat it, they’d be given another one. Those children who took the marshmallow and could not delay gratification had a higher rate of behavioral problems in school.
Executive functions are the cognitive abilities needed to control our thoughts, emotions and actions. That explains why we can’t say no to that chocolate chip cookie after a tough day at work. Just like the marshmallow test, these skills help us to say no to impulses and regulate our behavior.
Research tells us that executive function skills and social-emotional development are critically important and predictive to academic and life success.
What can you do with your child to nurture the development of these skills at every age throughout early childhood?
Infants and Toddlers
* Play peekaboo
* Say rhymes
* Read rhyming books aloud
* Talk about the object you are holding and try to keep their attention
* Sing songs with hand motions (Itsy bitsy spider)
* Play hiding games
* Take turns
* Encourage imaginary play (let them pretend to cook, clean or talk on the phone just like you do)
* Play simple matching games
* Play simple sorting games
* Talk, talk, talk about everything you see and do
* Put puzzles together
* Pass a ball back and forth
* Sing songs
* Play movement games
* Climb, balance and skip outside
* Play matching games
* Sort objects by color, shape or size
* Cook together and let them follow the recipe and measure ingredients
* Play board and card games
* Go for a nature walk
* Make up a guessing game in the car
* Play I Spy in the car or on a walk
* Sort everything in your grocery cart by color or shape
* Talk about your feelings and let them do the same
Young children love to play dress up and use their imagination, so give them lots of opportunities for pretend play. Maybe it is twirling around the room as a ballet dancer, moving and sounding like a dinosaur or dressing up as a teacher, firefighter or veterinarian. Let them play, explore and have fun investigating the world around them. It is through these experiences that they will learn how to listen and communicate, play well with others and solve problems.