Executive functions develop gradually and slowly from birth to the end of adolescence or early adulthood.
If the first manifestations of executive functions are visible from the first year of life, the process of maturation is slow and the development of these abilities also involves learning. It is therefore normal for children to have difficulty in controlling themselves, to focus their attention for a certain time, to adapt to changes, to stop an activity to start a different type of activity, to follow rules, to manage complex tasks, to give up immediate gratification …
The progressive development of executive functions explains that one or more EF deficiencies exist during childhood and persists partly in adolescents. The development of executive functions is rapid during the preschool years and accelerates again in adolescence. It must be emphasized that individual variations are common.
At 3 years, children are able to perform tasks that have two different rules (for example: if you see a red apple on the screen, press such button, if you see a green apple, press another button). They are able to focus their attention on one of the two rules the time necessary to reach the goal and to inhibit the other rule, the two instructions being maintained in the short-term memory.
While it is difficult for 3-years-old to consider several representations of the same object, from 4 years old, children can recognize an object for what it is and its resemblance to another (it is a sponge, it looks like a pebble).
After the age of 3, the efficiency of the inhibitory control increases, the child gradually becomes able to defer a reward to obtain a greater one. He controls his desires and emotions.
At age 5, the child can inhibit one rule to activate another even when it concerns two characteristics of the same object (if the red object is round, press a button, if the red object is square, press a other button). He can successfully resolve a conflict and inhibit an action that has become routine (after pressing a button several times for the red object, it must change the button if the object is also square). As memory develops, the child remembers the places and objects he has already explored, and he can think of different strategies and imagine alternatives.
The executive functions of 7 years old children approach those of adults, if we stick to what can be visualized in brain imaging, ie concerning the development of neural connections involved in executive control. Children of this age can focus their attention on a task. The self-regulatory capacity continues to develop between 10 years old until the end of adolescence.
The development of executive control also implies a diversification of the processes involved, a specialization (the child is gradually able to remain focused on a goal and choose the behaviors best adapted to a situation) and a control more and more self-directed ( it depends less and less on the adult and the context to self-regulate) and anticipated (he is capable of more planning).
The goal of divergent thinking is to generate many different ideas about a topic in a short period of time. It involves breaking a topic down into its various component parts in order to gain insight about the various aspects of the topic. Divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner, such that the ideas are generated in a random, unorganized fashion. Following divergent thinking, the ideas and information will be organized using convergent thinking; i.e., putting the various ideas back together in some organized, structured way.
To begin brainstorming potential topics, it is often helpful to engage in self analysis and topic analysis.
Ask the following questions to help brainstorm a list of potential topics.
How do I spend my time? What are my activities during a normal day?
What do I know about them? What are my areas of expertise? What am I studying in school?
What do I like? What are my hobbies? What are my interests?
What bothers me? What would I like to change in my world or life?
What are my strongest beliefs, values and philosophies?
Ask the following questions to help narrow and refine a broad topic into a specific, focused one. Substitute your topic for the word “something.”
How would you describe something?
What are the causes of something?
What are the effects of something?
What is important about something?
What are the smaller parts that comprise something?
How has something changed? Why are those changes important?
What is known and unknown about something?
What category of ideas or objects does something belong to?
Is something good or bad? Why?
What suggestions or recommendations would you make about something?
What are the different aspects of something you can think of?
Techniques to Stimulate Divergent Thinking
1. Brainstorming. Brainstorming is a technique which involves generating a list of ideas in a creative, unstructured manner. The goal of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible in a short period of time. The key tool in brainstorming is “piggybacking,” or using one idea to stimulate other ideas. During the brainstorming process, ALL ideas are recorded, and no idea is disregarded or criticized. After a long list of ideas is generated, one can go back and review the ideas to critique their value or merit.
2. Keeping a Journal. Journals are an effective way to record ideas that one thinks of spontaneously. By carrying a journal, one can create a collection of thoughts on various subjects that later become a source book of ideas. People often have insights at unusual times and places. By keeping a journal, one can capture these ideas and use them later when developing and organizing materials in the prewriting stage.
3. Freewriting. When free-writing, a person will focus on one particular topic and write non-stop about it for a short period of time. The idea is to write down whatever comes to mind about the topic, without stopping to proofread or revise the writing. This can help generate a variety of thoughts about a topic in a short period of time, which can later be restructured or organized following some pattern of arrangement.
4. Mind or Subject Mapping. Mind or subject mapping involves putting brainstormed ideas in the form of a visual map or picture that that shows the relationships among these ideas. One starts with a central idea or topic, then draws branches off the main topic which represent different parts or aspects of the main topic. This creates a visual image or “map” of the topic which the writer can use to develop the topic further. For example, a topic may have four different branches (sub-topics), and each of those four branches may have two branches of its own (sub-topics of the sub-topic) *Note* this includes both divergent and convergent thinking.
Today, I wanted to share with you a great article I found on LifeHacker which talks about how you can help your kids develop better social skills:
“… Your children’s social development will be a critical part of their success and happiness as they get older—even more important than their academic skills or intelligence. (Also, no one wants to be that parent who’s raised “Mean Girls”-like bullies.) You have a chance now to greatly influence your kids’ social intelligence and teach them things even we awkward adults are still perfecting, like how to build friendships and deal with rejection. They’re important lessons we all keep learning, and the sooner we start, the better.
The Social Skills All Kids Need to Learn
It seems like some kids (or people of any age) are more naturally socially adept than others—you know, the kind of people others gravitate to and for whom making friends comes easily. Don’t worry if your children don’t fit that mold or aren’t winning any popularity contests. Like any other skill, social skills can be learned, and, besides that, “being social” or outgoing isn’t the end goal in itself.
What is important, however, is that kids are able to form meaningful bonds with others, can empathize and interact with others appropriately, and have the skills to adapt in uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, as the University of Memphis points out:
Many students do not know how to handle interpersonal social situations that involve following directions, holding a proper conversation, listening, giving compliments, proper behavior during transition times, teasing, bullying, or just “hanging out” with friends.
Those are basic skills we want all kids to be able to have. Depending on your children’s ages, they might also need more specific social skills.
Skills for Preschool and Elementary School Kids
Vanderbilt University found the top 10 social skills kids need to succeed in school, based on surveys of 8,000 elementary teachers and two decades of classroom research, are:
Listen to others
Follow the steps
Follow the rules
Ask for help
Take turns when you talk
Get along with others
Stay calm with others
Be responsible for your behavior
Do nice things for others
These might seem like social skills promoted just to turn out “nice girls and boys” who earn the “gets along with others” check on their report cards, but they’re fundamental behaviors that help kids succeed (not just survive) in a world that emphasizes social norms. The goal isn’t just to make them cooperative, but to hone their social GPS so they can both advocate for themselves and care for others. (Heck, we probably all know a few adults who could stand to learn many of these skills too.)
Social Skills for Pre-Teens and Teens
Older kids, in middle school and high school, have more complex social skills to learn, thanks to growing peer pressure and that simply awkward period called adolescence. It’s a time when they’re becoming more independent, but everyone’s forming cliques; when they’re making big decisions about who they are and what they want to be, but also might start to care a bit too much about what others think.
Set personal goals
Identify and change self-defeating behaviors
Be assertive about his or her needs
Have feelings for others
Handle anger constructively
Resolve conflicts peacefully
It’s easy to say a toddler should learn how to follow directions or a young adult should know how to be assertive; it’s another to know how to best help them do that. So let’s look at a few strategies.
Model Social Skills
The first place we learn social skills, of course, is at home, and what we do as parents is more important than what we say. As All I Really Needed to Learn in Kindergarten author Robert Fulghum says, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”
Modeling positive social skills includes showing confidence ourselves when we relate to others, being friendly to strangers, offering to help others, and also treating our kids with respect (no matter how much they might be pulling at our last straw). Dr. Laura Markham writes on Aha! Parenting:
Teach your child that people are important. All parents have to choose their battles, so put up with messiness and dawdling if you must, but teach your child consideration for others. Model it for him early on, praise it, help him brainstorm to solve peer problems, and don’t let your child intentionally or unintentionally disrespect another person. It you can’t confront it as it happens without embarrassing your child, be sure to talk about it later. As kids get older, you may need to be very explicit about insisting that they acknowledge adults in their presence, as well as other kids. Often preteens and young adolescents need to be reminded of this, and to be given coaching on how to handle interactions that feel awkward to them.
The funny thing about being a parent is it forces you out of your shell and can help you become a better person through analyzing your own behaviors and attitudes. In a great article summarizing research on children’s social skills, Auburn University professors Jacquelyn Mize and Ellen Abell write:
Parents of these socially competent children endorse interpretations of social events that encourage resilient, constructive attitudes (Mize, Pettit, Lindsey, & Laird, 1993). Rather than making a statement such as, “That’s a really mean kid!” they may say something like, “Gosh, maybe he’s having a hard day.” They make constructive attributions such as, “Sometimes kids just want to play by themselves,” rather than expressing a sentiment like, ‘They’re not very nice if they won’t let you play.” These parents avoid defeatist comments such as “Maybe they don’t like you,” and offer instead suggestions like, “Maybe they don’t want to play that, but there might be something else they think is fun.” Such positive, constructive statements encourage children to take an optimistic view of others and themselves as play partners. They reflect an upbeat, resilient attitude toward social setbacks and the belief that social situations can be improved with effort and positive behavior.
Don’t Label Shy Kids
If your kids are naturally shy or feel insecure, try not to label them as such or try to force them out of their shyness. Instead, if your child is socially anxious, Dr. Markham recommends empathy and a problem-solving approach:
Don’t label your child as shy. Instead, acknowledge his feelings and point out that he can overcome his fears. For instance, “Sometimes it takes you awhile to warm up in a new situation. Remember Billy’s birthday party, how you held my hand all through the games? But by the end, you were having lots of fun with the other kids.”
Teach your child effective strategies for dealing with shyness. The general rule of thumb is to accept the nervousness that comes up as a part of normal life that affects most people, reassure yourself that you’re ok anyway, and focus on others rather than yourself. For instance, remind your child that she doesn’t have to be interesting, just interested, and teach her to ask other kids questions and listen to their answers. Brainstorm with her how she might handle a situation that makes her nervous.
Another reason not to label young people as shy is it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was told I was shy as a child, when really I think I was just naturally quiet and introverted. Having that label, though, led to me feeling tense and anxious during social situations—true shyness, which often starts out as a reinforced habit.
Give Plenty of Opportunities to Practice Social Behaviors
Kids learn social skills first from you, but then to a large degree from their peers. The more chances kids have to interact with others, the better.
Kids also will learn crucial skills from simply playing with you. According to Dr. Mize and Dr. Abell, the research suggests that children whose parents frequently play with them have more advanced social skills and get along better with their peers. It’s especially true if you play with them on their level, following their lead and in a “peer-like” way:
Children benefit from this type of play for several reasons. From balanced, responsive play with a parent, children may learn many of the skills commonly displayed by the socially competent preschoolers described earlier. In addition, when parents are responsive to children’s play ideas, children may come to feel that they are good, effective play partners and thus are eager to play with peers. Finally, fun, balanced parent-child play may instill that positive outlook toward others that makes children look forward to play opportunities with people outside the family.
Parenting Science has a few social skill activities you can do with your kids (school-aged and teens) based on research—and they’re actually fun games like charades.
All that said, chances are your kids are learning positive social skills the way most of us do, simply as we go along and through trial and error. Don’t worry or try to intervene too much unless there are serious signs of social trouble (for example, if your kid’s teacher warns of discipline problems). Most kids are insensitive (or even unkind) or socially clumsy sometimes.
Here are some signs that your child might need more social coaching(from you and/or teachers):
Lacks at least one or two close mutual friends
Has trouble losing or winning gracefully
Doesn’t show empathy when others are hurt or rejected
Acts bossy or insists on own way a lot
Can’t seem to start or maintain a conversation
Uses a louder voice than most children
Seems constantly ignored or victimized by other children or constantly teases or annoys other children
In those cases, you’ll want to take a more active approach to helping your kids with their “interpersonal skills.” Otherwise, just keep playing with your kids, being a model of social grace, and helping them build their relationships.