As the COVID-19 virus spreads, more instances of school closures, social distancing and self-quarantine are appearing.  While the health benefits are obvious, it can be very challenging for both adults and children. We all wonder what we should be doing if we’re stuck at home and of course, I’m thinking, “Encourage executive function skills!”

Here are some thoughts.

Routines: Routines are important especially when our usual routines are disrupted. They provide structure and security while helping us from feeling powerless and unmotivated.  For those kids with good sleep habits, work to keep them during this time. For those without, it may be an opportunity to develop some. Certainly, kids can sleep in a bit and not wake up at the crack of dawn as might happen on a school day. But sleeping until mid- day isn’t a wise idea. Additionally, staying up a little later at night won’t hurt. But you should help your children avoid staying up until 2:00am and sleeping until noon. Being well rested is key to strong executive functions and even small disruptions in sleep routines can take a while to correct. Make sure kids keep up with their hygiene and grooming routines including being dressed and not in PJs everyday.

Schedules: Children are accustom to a schedule at and after school, helping their brain to structure what is happening, what did happen and to anticipate what is going to happen. Some of this structure should exist at home. It doesn’t need to be rigid but having times allotted each day for key areas can be comforting. Free time shouldn’t be the only time and extensive hours with video games and social media shouldn’t be the only activity. Make developing the schedule a joint venture allowing kids to have some control over the unusual situation. Here are some ideas:

  • Academics: Some students will be participating in distance learning. The school may set the participation time but if not, determining a regular “school time” will be important. There should also be a designated location for school time that isn’t on the bed. They should continue to use all the tools they have been to help them succeed especially their planner. Homework and studying times should be kept consistent and should include a plan, a good place and a good time to complete it all.
  • Sports & Exercise: If your child participates in a sport, try to find some ways for continued independent practice, even if it’s more cross training than sport specific. And everyone can benefit from some daily exercise. Getting blood moving to the brain does wonders for EF.
  • Chores: Regular chores should be continued and perhaps new ones added as the family works together with the new situation. Recognizing the perspective of others is an important EF skill. Kids may enjoy assigning the chores to family members and being in charge of evaluating success.
  • Cooking:  Putting together a meal incorporates many EF skills. It requires determining an appropriate goal, sequencing of a plan, being aware of the timing and, at least for me, the need to make revisions.
  • Arts & Crafts: Creative activities tap into the right hemisphere of the brain and learning new skills involves all EF components.
  • Puzzles & Games: These can be a fun way to encourage EF skills. Attention, memory, problem solving, visual-spatial skills, sequencing, inhibition, mental flexibility, making use of feedback and many more can be encouraged while having fun.
  • Reading, TV & Movies: In addition to doing this alone, family involvement can encourage EF. Look for the opportunity to discuss both factual and deeper meanings or have kids write a review, create a test about the story or design essay questions. 
  • Social Media: This will be an important connection to friends, which is very important in preventing depression. But the quantity and quality of the engagement should be closely monitored. And remember, kids mirror what they see so develop parameters for everyone in the house.

Lots of togetherness: Everyone being home can make for a lot of togetherness. Be sure to allow opportunity for everyone to do their own thing and be separate from each other.

“You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage.”~Michelle Obama