How to Use Holiday Activities to Practice Kids’ Executive Function Skills

3 min read
a holiday meal showing an activity kids can help with that enhances their executive functions

a holiday meal showing an activity kids can help with that enhances their executive functions

Childhood is a time of rapid and unending development and growth, and one of the most useful skill sets that develops during this time is that of executive functioning skills. These abilities help with time management, emotional regulation, attention, and much more. 

When the holiday season comes around, all of these skills are put to the test. Schedules and routines change or become disrupted, and children may find these disruptions hard to cope with, since they’re still in the process of developing the necessary tools. On the bright side, this challenge makes the holiday season the perfect time to practice building executive functioning skills with your children.

Why the holidays are hard for children

If you feel stressed out during the holidays, you’re not alone. As much as they may enjoy it, your children likely also find aspects of the holiday season to be difficult or even overwhelming. Especially for younger children, the extra socializing during this time of year can be draining. 

Meeting new people, seeing large groups of people, and having or hearing many different types of conversations can easily become overwhelming. It’s also common for a child’s excessive excitement to be tiring or to manifest as bad behavior. Plus, there is a lot to do around this time. 

Between buying, hiding, and wrapping gifts, decorating, going to holiday parties, having adventures in the snow, and finishing schoolwork, it’s easy for a child to feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, or just tired. Adults experience similar stimuli, and their executive functioning skills allow them to properly deal with it all, but children may need some help coping.

Holiday activities for kids that can strengthen executive functioning skills

You can help your children cope with all the extra excitement during the holidays while simultaneously helping them build important social skills by being intentional and deliberate about practicing executive functioning skills during the holidays. 

Even small, everyday activities can become both quality time spent together and valuable practice in critical skills. The best holiday activities for your kids will vary based on their age and your normal routines, but below is a list of ideas to help you get started.

Cooking together

Wrangling your kids to participate in the holiday cooking with you is an excellent option for many reasons. It can be made age-appropriate no matter how old your children are and no matter how much of an age gap there is. When it comes to cooking, everyone can help, and it can always be made to feel festive.

Baking, in particular, helps children practice a host of important skills. Following a recipe requires planning to ensure all ingredients are present and accounted for, time management to make sure steps are taken at the proper time, working memory to remember which steps have already been completed, and attention to detail to carefully measure all ingredients. 

Younger children can be tasked with gathering ingredients or simple measuring, and older children can be asked to coordinate tasks between their siblings, take the lead when fine motor control is necessary, and even to carefully watch the oven and take the food out at the proper time.

Gift giving

Your children are likely going to be exchanging gifts each year, so use that to your advantage. Ask your children to plan ahead what gifts they want to get for others, and have them make a list so you can help them. This is also a great opportunity to practice financial responsibility. Consider giving your children an allowance for getting gifts for others, and allow them to search for gifts in the store, calculate their total, and decide what is and isn’t feasible to buy. You can even let them take the lead at the checkout counter. 

Once they’ve acquired gifts, the children will need to practice impulse control to not spoil the surprise. When it comes to gift-wrapping, you can allow the children to flex their creativity and practice crafts. 

Developing Executive Function skills are most effective when applied to something tangible. Finding these organic ways to work on these skills is the best learning opportunities you can present to your kids!

Casey Schmalacker

Casey Schmalacker, Vice President at New Frontiers, is a seasoned leader in marketing, sales, and business development. With a dual degree in Government and Law and Economics from Lafayette College, he has spent the past 10 years coaching students, adults, and organizations to improve executive functions, soft skills, and workplace performance. Casey’s approach is rooted in strategic development and a passion for personalized coaching, emphasizing a culture of continuous improvement.

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