The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff. Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Our children are made of "star stuff." Yet, do we recognize it, and do we help them recognize it? Sometimes, when we perceive negative behavior or emotions in our children, we try to "fix" them. As parents, we feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and anxious when we don't recognize that our children aren’t misbehaving; they are simply responding to the extent that their cognitive skills are working.
Cognitive skills, which reside in the executive processing area of the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, are the mental skills that help us stay on task, think calmly and clearly, think creatively, and stay focused.
These executive processing skills also relate to our ability to reason, problem-solve, plan, use self-control, and make good decisions. In children, these skills and processing abilities will continue to develop until the age of 25.
What are executive processing skills?
Executive processing skills include the following key areas:
- Impulse control helps your child respond rather than react.
- Emotional control helps your child to keep feelings in check, rather than overreacting.
- Working memory helps your child remember important information.
- Flexible thinking helps your child adjust to the unexpected.
- Self monitoring helps your child evaluate what he/she is doing.
- Planning and prioritizing help your child decide on a goal and make a plan to meet the goal.
- Task initiation helps your child take action and get started.
- Organization helps your child keep track of things physically and mentally.
What increases and boosts executive processing skills?
There are lots of opportunities for us, as parents and teachers, to boost our children's executive processing skills. Teaching mindfulness to kids is one simple way of boosting these skills. Many studies have shown that the regular practice of mindfulness has life-changing effects on the child's developing brain.
Mindful practice improves children's memory and learning and perhaps best of all, mastering self-control boosts their self-esteem. To learn for yourself how this works, try these quick steps at home for yourself, then with your child:
Try this five-minute practice
- Wherever you are, ground your feet.
- Position yourself so you feel comfortable but alert.
- When you’re ready, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Feel the air as it flows in and out of your body. Notice the breath where it rests as it enters your body, is it your chest, your abdomen? Just notice.
- Now, allow yourself to be present and notice your thoughts, feelings, sensations as they arise. Just notice them. You don't have to challenge them, you don't have to push them away. Just let them be.
- Notice your thoughts as if you are watching clouds in a blue sky. Each thought is a cloud that gently passes along. Just keep noticing them and continue to be aware of your breath.
You can increase the time you practice from 5 minutes to 10 minutes, as you work your way up, and then help your child do this on a regular basis.
Your child: empowered and thriving
Sometimes the biggest hurdle is simply not knowing what we need to do to help our children thrive in today's world. Now that you have read this blog and know what executive processing skills are, and how mindfulness practice can help boost these skills, you are in an empowered position to help your child thrive, succeed, and embrace their star qualities.
Mindfulness training for kids, mom and dad
Consider these wise words from the New York Times article (May 2016), The Mindful Child: "…encouraging meditation and mind-body practices will come to be recognized as being as essential to smart parenting as teaching your child to work hard, eat healthfully and exercise regularly."