Christmas: A time of family, celebration and a great opportunity to boost executive functions!

Christmas: A time of family, celebration and a great opportunity to boost executive functions!

For so many Christmas is the best time of year but equally  it can also be stressful and overwhelming for some. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to create extended periods of disruption to our children’s daily home and school routines, we are hoping that the Christmas season will bring some sense of normality back to our lives. Yet as parents, we can’t help but have this worrying feeling concerning the physical and psychological impact this pandemic is having on our children, especially on their cognitive functioning1. These cognitive skills, otherwise known as executive functions, are essential for success in school and life2. We know from this from decades of neuroscientific research on the effects of stress and trauma on brain development and functioning3,4.

As you may be finding your children at home more than usual with schools sending whole classes and even year groups into isolation for 2 weeks, it is more important than ever that we lay the foundation for strong executive function development at home. The great news is that this process can be fun, can create connections and actually improve relationships at home5.  With many of us scratching our heads wondering what to buy our children for Christmas, we have come up with a list of carefully selected gifts that will support executive function development and provide all the excitement and entertainment that comes with Christmas day!

What are executive functions?

Executive functions are a family of three core skills: inhibitory control, working memory and cognitive flexibility2. These three core executive functions work together in different ways resulting in a set of other high-order skills called executive function skills. There are 11 executive functions skills including time-management, organisation, planning, emotional control and response inhibition.

How can we support strong executive function development at home?

Develop a shared executive function literacy 

To support strong executive function development, the first stage is to begin to develop a shared executive function literacy and strategy toolbox with your child. We have developed a set of executive function literacy cards that support this process which are perfect for use at home and at school!  Each of the 11 executive function skills are embodied by a different character along with back stories to support the magical adventure of discovery!                                                                                                              

Play games

Playing board games and card games is a great way to weave executive function practice into your child’s routine. In most games we need to follow directions, take turns and plan strategies to get through the game. This involves executive function skills such as response inhibition, working memory, planning and emotional control. Whilst this can be difficult for children with executive function challenges, we have selected some games that can support this process whilst being easy to learn and play. These also make the perfect stocking fillers! Please visit our Reading and Resources page for the full range of selected games. 

Bop it – Working Memory and Response Inhibition

An at home must-have! This game will support the development of working memory and response inhibition.

Buy it here*:

Dobble Card Games – Emotional Control, Working Memory and Response Inhibition

A visual perception game for 2-6 players which will support the strong development of your child’s emotional control, working memory and response inhibition executive function skills.

For kids. Buy it here*:

For all ages. Buy it here*:

Other executive function boosting gifts

We have a range of carefully selected gifts that support executive function development, improve concentration and reduce anxiety. These include other games such as 5 Second Rule and Uno, puzzles, colouring books, doodle journals and sensory support such as weighted blankets and fidgets. Visit our Reading and Resources page to browse the full range.

A masterclass in managing the overwhelm at Christmas

There is no greater the gift than the gift of being organised at Christmas. In the first of our series of Brain Breakthrough workshops ‘A Masterclass in Managing the Overwhelm at Christmas’ we will cover stress triggers, goal-setting and how mindful practice and executive functions help you get and feel organised this Christmas! Find out more and book your place here.

We are also offering a ‘Pay What You Can’ system with a Booster Option for 2 x group sessions with an EF coach and an accountability WhatsApp group. Simply pay what you can…

Monday the 30th of November 8-9:30pm (GMT)

*Please note that, at no extra cost to you, we may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases you make by following these amazon links. This small commission helps us to keep putting on free webinars and creating free executive functions resources on our online executive function support groups for adults and for parents.

By Rebecca Tyler, Connections in Mind


1Waite, P., Moltrecht, B., Mcelroy, E., & Creswell, C. (2020). Report 02: Covid-19 worries, parent/carer stress and support needs, but child special educational needs and parent/carer work status.

2Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.

3Gunnar, M. R., & Barr, R. G. (1998). Stress, early brain development and behaviour. Infants and Young Children, 1-14.

4Stein P., & Kendall, J. C. (2014). Psychological trauma and the developing brain: Neurologically based interventions for troubled children. Routledge: Ohio.

5Schroeder, V. M, & Kelley, M. (2010). Family environments and parent-child relationships as related to executive functions in children. Early Child Development and Care, 180, 1285-1298.

Rebecca Tyler
Rebecca Tyler