The Full Story
Executive Function (EF) refers to the management system of the brain. It is the mental skills and processes that enable us to focus attention, adapt to new and unexpected situations, remember instructions, control impulses, regulate emotions, set and achieve goals, problem solve, plan and organize. These duties are carried out, or as the name denotes, executed by the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Through EF processes, the brain intercepts a barrage of thoughts and impulses and steers them toward safe and productive outcomes. These mental skills are the basis for higher order cognitive functions and are essential to controlling emotion and behavior. We use these skills constantly as we learn, work and manage daily life.
Why it Matters
The first years of life are a window of great opportunity and vulnerability for the development of EF. Studies show that executive functions begin to develop shortly after birth, with the most favorable time for growth in these mental skills during ages 3-5. By age 7, some of the aptitude and brain circuits critical for EF abilities are similar to those existing in adults.
When children have the mental capacity to manage their impulses, their capacity to make choices and understand consequences increases, as well as their ability to connect with people and their environment.
In situations where an attentional demanding task must be performed, self-regulation and executive function share effort as a resource for doing so.
Because this window of opportunity for influencing this development is relatively short, it is crucial that parents understand the impact their parenting practices have on these life long mental capacities nurtured in this timeframe.
Impact of Parenting Practices
Positive and emotionally supportive parenting has been found to improve a child's executive function development. However, parents are not always familiar with a young child's neurological capacities and often lack the training and tools necessary to enhance EF development.
This can lead to negative interactions during stressful times and these negatively influence EF development. Studies show that negative emotions have the potential to disorganize attentional processes. This is because attentional processes are developed as children practice using cognitive skills with support and understanding.
Parents who patiently guide children through experiences beyond their physical capabilities, help them acquire tools needed to gain power and control over their bodies and mind.
Impact of Screen Use on Executive Function
Parents often use screens to occupy children during waiting situations, to relieve boredom or pass the time. However, there is substantial research suggesting parents
should use EXTREME CAUTION in this parenting practice as it can negatively impact cognitive function and development in young children.