Growing the Executive Branch, Pt. 1: Experiences and Executive Functions

If you have ever witnessed your child work through a problem, wait for a reward, or make plans for an upcoming event, you’re watching their executive functions in action. When they’ve easily lost their temper, forgotten what you said, or were too rigid to view a situation from another angle; that’s evidence that those mental skills are still developing. We talked about basic executive function last fall but here’s a deeper look into what makes it grow.

Executive functions refer to a set of mental skills that allow us to appropriately engage with our environment. Together, they manage our thoughts, actions, and emotions to accomplish tasks throughout the day. It’s housed in the prefrontal cortex. Although it gathers information from other parts of the brain to determine how to plan, organize, and manage situations, it is the last of the brain regions to mature. Children are not equipped with executive function skills when they are born. Instead, they develop them through quality of experiences.

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Late Bloomer: The Prefrontal Cortex

You ever think back on the things you did during your childhood and just ask yourself, Why? Like, what was I thinking?

Now that we’re parents, we find ourselves like a broken record, repeating instructions to our kids or cringing at their decisions and asking the same question: Why? What are you thinking?

Honestly, no one thinks as critically as an adult and for good reason: the prefrontal cortex. We’ve mentioned this brain structure and its significance in many of our previous posts, but it’s time to put a spotlight on this region and give it the credit it so genuinely deserves.

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Our Big Bounce Review

Because we loved our SlooMoo experience, Mary and I planned a slate of local Atlanta playdates to do and share on the blog every other month.

Criteria: The playdates need to be a something new that the kids have never done before. These would be more involved activities than the standard meet-up-at-the-park and would have some sort of sensory/development function.

For February, we bought tickets to The Big Bounce America. Advertised as the world’s biggest bounce house, we bought tickets for their opening weekend here in Atlanta. Tickets are for 3-hour sessions with timed entry into the main bounce house. This was also a junior session, geared for kids 7 and younger.

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Child(ish) Reads: Mother Brain

One of the things we love writing about at Child(ish) Advice is not only the practice of parenting but the science behind it. When Mother Brain popped up in my forthcoming Audible titles, I immediately pre-ordered it. A perfect title that fit right into our wheelhouse.

This book explores how children physiologically alter our brain. People have been giving birth and having families for thousands of years and yet we have a societal expectation that runs contrary to how we biologically adapt postpartum. Part-science, part statement; this book brings some much needed knowledge to how we care for ourselves post-baby.

Mother Brain: How Neuroscience Is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood by Chelsea Conaboy

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Treat Yourself: Sensory Valentine

On Pinterest, there are hundreds of links on how to make a sensory bin or do sensory activities for your kids. We know through all of our OT-forward wisdom that it is important to integrate sensory components in your child’s development. But what about us?

Our adult sensory system allows us to regulate our arousal levels to appropriately engage and complete our daily routine. When we ignore what our body is seeking in order to make it through the day, we can become agitated or distracted and those nearest and dearest become unfortunate casualties (sorry spouse).

We’re starting to hate the phrase “self-care” because it’s turned into all this noise about buying stuff and going to spas. This is called “prescribed balance”; it’s all of these things that society says we should do because it’s supposed to help us fix ourselves. In reality, it’s just another to-do list unless you are actually listening to what your body needs.

Those little things—from the smell of pancakes and bacon in the morning, to feeling the cool breeze during an evening stroll, to snuggling up under the covers while reading a good book—all have a sensory component and can be the unsung heroes of our own recovery. Here are some sensory suggestions to help you reset your happy.

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