Young children need executive functions every day beginning now and all throughout adulthood. Ellen Galinsky highlights seven essential skills that help children develop executive functions. I continue my focus on Galinsky’s skills this month by exploring skills two and three; perspective taking and communicating.
Next time you are having a challenging time with one of your students, ask yourself what their perspective could be and what the world is like through the lens of that child. We can’t forget that in order to promote perspective taking in the children we work with, we have to first practice it ourselves! Perspective taking goes beyond the “Golden Rule”. Instead of treating others the way we want to be treated, it's truly understanding and thinking about what another person wants or needs that allows us to take on their perspective. We need to be able to control our own thoughts and feelings before being able to take on those of others. Children build and use this skill by using words to express their feelings and working through conflict resolution rather than physical outward expressions. This executive function can be identified as inhibitory control. In addition, to take on perspective, we need to be cognitively flexible by viewing situations in many different ways, and we need to be able to reflect on our own thoughts in alignment to someone else’s. Children use these abilities when taking on different roles in dramatic play, working together to complete a task, and answering open-ended questions about the feelings of someone else and of themselves. Children learn the skill of perspective taking best when it is a part of their everyday experiences.
Like the complexity of perspective taking, communicating is more than speaking and listening. It is the skill of first determining what we want to communicate and then deciding how to communicate it to be best understood by others. Along with focus, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility, communication requires the additional skill of working memory. We need to remember what we want to communicate, hold onto what the other person is sharing, and then use the knowledge of both to keep the line of communication rolling. Children put their working memory to use when they retell past experiences and even identify and label pictures in a book. Help the children in your classroom build their communication skills by simply communicating with them! Think of it as a game of toss. Serve and return. Toss the ball and keep it going!
My next post will continue this series with a focus on skills four and five: making connections and critical thinking.
Galinsky, E. (2010). Mind in the making: The seven essential life skills every child needs (NAEYC special ed.). New York: Harper.