Teach Executive Function Skills this Holiday Season

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We all know that life during the holidays becomes even more hectic than usual. Between holiday parties, shopping for gifts, and decorating, it is a wonder that any of us can keep our heads on straight.

For the most part, adults can handle the extra level of activity because we have developed the ability to plan, organize, and problem solve. These skills are better known as “executive function skills.” Children aren’t born with these skills, and some struggle more than others to develop them. However, with the support of their parents and teachers, children can begin to develop executive function skills around age five.

Instead of tackling the holiday to-do list on your own, use these five activities that support executive functioning skills that you and your kiddo can do together this holiday season.

Cooking & grocery store trips

Cooking and food shopping require planning, sequencing, organizing, problem solving, etc. Cook a holiday treat with your child, and use this time to teach them about making and following shopping lists and recipes. Let them take ownership of a particular dish, and lay out manageable goals for the grocery store and the kitchen.

Calendar organization

With all the holiday party invitations rolling in, you can teach your little helper how to stay organized by adding all of your dates to a family calendar.

  • Get a fun calendar to hang on your refrigerator. When an invitation arrives, check the calendar together and decide whether or not you can go.
  • Show them how to add an event to the calendar with all of the important information (who, where, when, etc.), and then let them be on “calendar duty” the rest of the month. This activity not only supports organization and planning skills, but it will foster your child’s sense of independence.

Shopping

Holiday shopping can feel like one of the most daunting tasks we all have to accomplish between now and the new year. But why let it be daunting when you have an organizer-in-training there to help you?

Of course, you don’t have to include them in all of the shopping activities. Instead, give them a list of people that need presents (grandma, cousins, teachers, etc.), and have them think of gifts they might like. Push their executive functioning a step further, and have them figure out other key holiday-shopping details:

  • Store location
  • Price comparisons
  • Shipping estimates
  • Coupons
  • Sizes, colors, etc.

Decorating

Got lots of decorating to do? Don’t do it alone! Together you can inventory what you have and what you need, decide what decor goes where, pack up fall-themed decorations in an organized way, etc. Add some holiday music, cookies, and hot chocolate, and you’ll have yourself a (highly organized) party.

Holiday Cards

Designing, writing, and mailing cards is another one of those December tasks that can be exhausting. So this year, include all your little ones and make it quick, easy, and fun. Skills you can target include…

  • Planning and designing the card
  • Organizing a list of recipients and addresses
  • Shifting attention between writing, stuffing, and stamping
  • Checking your own work when you’re done

Maybe the most important executive function to target this season is emotional regulation. This means managing frustration, sustaining attention to a tedious task, and requesting a break or help when needed in an expected way.

No, these may not always be the most fun tasks for your 6, 10, or 15 year-old, but try to use every moment as a learning opportunity. And when you inevitably feel tired from all the prepping, model for your child how you manage boredom and frustration, and show them how to bring holiday cheer to every situation.


Lizzie Gavin a speech-language therapist and the founder of LG Speech Therapy, a private speech therapy practice in New York City. She specializes in treating language, learning, and social communication disorders. You can contact Lizzie through her website, www.lgspeechtherapy.com or her email address: [email protected]

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