If a parent says they don't care if their son or daughter succeeds, they're probably lying. Normally, a parent wants their offspring to achieve everything they set out to achieve, or so Harvard experts say, who also affirm that achieving success or not goes beyond the grades we obtain at school or university. "We refer to developing executive functions," they indicate. These are complex mental activities, necessary to plan and evaluate behavior in order to adapt effectively to the environment and to achieve goals. "Developing and strengthening them," they continue, "can help people -in this case, children- to feel successful and happy in life." For experts from the Harvard School of Health (Boston, United States) there are five essential mental activities.
While these are skills that children (and adults) can learn throughout their lives, there are two periods of time that are particularly important. As they maintain: early childhood (3 to 5 years) and adolescence/early adulthood (13 to 26 years). During these windows of opportunity, learning and using them can help set children up for success. On this occasion, the experts focus their attention on the first group. "The best way to learn a skill is practice, and the best way to do it is if something is fun and we feel motivated," the experts argue. And they present some examples, which we point out below, and that parents can use to help their children learn and strengthen these skills.
Regarding planning, the experts emphasize that parents and caregivers tend to plan the lives of children, but they recall that there are "ways to involve the little ones in this task." For example, and as they explain, they can plan their leisure school activities with them, including meals, clothes, bath time or play, among others. Behavior specialists emphasize that to achieve this goal, activities such as cooking or baking can be promoted: “They are very complete. They include making the shopping list, going to the supermarket, following the steps of the recipe and understanding them”.
To encourage the second point, which refers to the ability to focus attention, experts acknowledge that we live in a time when screens are very present in our children's lives and it is difficult for children to pay attention to other things. In order to promote this ability, and according to reports, parents should try to promote time without screens; having construction games on hand and reading printed books, among other examples.
As for self-control, experts recognize that the ability to react to frustration or to various situations is essential for personal growth. And they emphasize that "children always pay more attention to what we do than to what we say." To boost this ability, they propose that we talk to our children about emotions and explain how to handle them -deep breathing, yelling into a pillow, for example-; they must also be taught to understand the consequences of their behavior and why it is important for them to be aware of this. And finally, they recommend in the event of a tantrum, and once the episode is over, that they learn and know what they could have done differently.
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The next point is awareness: “This point can be fun.” The experts indicate as activities to promote it, taking walks, visiting places where they can listen and observe; participate in solidarity activities or simply have lunch or dinner with the family.
Finally, be flexible. At this point, specialists comment that parents tend to attend to our children and their needs by making our schedules and plans around them: "Something that is mere survival of the parents." But ultimately it's not always helpful. "Life has a very peculiar way of messing things up, even the most careful plans," they continue. “Children need structure, of course, but also to know that they can adapt to the inevitable disruptions that may occur. Like the schedules can change occasionally." They recommend being spontaneous or, when plans fail, trying to be optimistic. "By helping children learn these skills, it is possible for parents to learn something about themselves and some new skills," the behavior experts conclude.
Pilu Hernández, teacher, trainer of trainers and CEO of El Pupitre de Pilu, agrees with Harvard's opinion that it is not necessary to be the first in class to succeed and that, indeed, "recent studies today support that to achieve success we have to take into account other abilities such as executive functions”. “Executive function is a concept from the field of neuropsychology that encompasses a wide range of cognitive abilities aimed at achieving a goal and oriented to the future, in this case it would be triumph. Therefore, they are a set of execution tools and cognitive abilities that are directly linked to brain functions and that start up, organize and integrate other functions”, explains Hernández. "These, in turn, make people capable of measuring the short- and long-term consequences of their actions and planning results," continues the expert, "and they allow cognitions to be projected from the past to the future in order to find the best solution to novel and complex situations. This gives rise to people being able to evaluate our actions at the time of carrying them out and to make the necessary adjustments in case the actions are not giving the expected result”.
Hernández talks about 10 necessary skills for your children to succeed, five more than those mentioned by Harvard, although he acknowledges that it depends on each author.
And the million dollar question is, are these executive functions being worked on in schools today? "We can say that we started, but no, education is still more anchored in the repetition of content and in master classes than in changing once and for all the way of teaching and transmitting to students not only knowledge", continues the expert. "We would be talking about neuroscience, emotions, multiple intelligences, concepts that are currently beginning to be introduced in our classrooms," concludes Hernández.
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