Teach Executive Function Skills this Holiday Season

Teach Executive Function Skills this Holiday Season

We all know that life during the holiday season becomes even more hectic than usual. Between parties, shopping for gifts, and decorating, it is a wonder that any of us can keep our heads on straight.

For the most part, adults can handle the extra level of activity because we have developed the ability to plan, organise, and problem solve. These skills are better known as “executive function skills.” Children aren’t born with these skills, and some struggle more than others to develop them. However, with the support of their parents and teachers, children can begin to develop executive function skills around age five.

To help us all, instead of tackling the every growing to-do list on your own, why not use these five activities which support executive functioning skills that you and your children can do together during the holidays.

Cooking & food shopping trips

Cooking and food shopping require planning, sequencing, organising, problem solving and so much more. Why not cook a holiday treat with your child, and use this time to teach them about making and following shopping lists and recipes as well as following instructions. Let them take ownership of a particular dish, and lay out manageable goals for when shopping for food and in the kitchen.

Managing your calendar

Between the party invitations, the school activities and the festive appointments you can teach your child or children how to stay organised by adding all of your dates to a family calendar. Put a fun calendar somewhere where you can all see and be responsible for, that way the responsibility is shared.

When something arrives that needs to be added, check the calendar together and decide whether you will go. Walk them through how to add to the calendar to include the important information. This activity supports organisation and planning skills but it will also foster a sense of independence.

Shopping for gifts

Gift shopping can feel like one of the most daunting tasks we all have to accomplish between now and the new year. But why let it be daunting when you have an organiser-in-training there to help you?

Of course, you don’t have to include them in all of the shopping activities. Instead, give them a list of people that need presents (grandma, cousins, teachers, etc.), and have them think of gifts they might like. Push their executive functioning a step further, and have them figure out other key gift-shopping details:

  • Where to buy the gift
  • Where they can find the most cost effective gift
  • If ordering it online, how long it will take to arrive
  • What size/colour do you need


Got lots of decorating to do? Don’t do it alone! Together you can make a list of what you have and what you need and decide which decorations goes where. Add some holiday music, cookies, and hot chocolate, and you’ll have yourself a (highly organised) party.

Holiday Cards

Designing, writing, and mailing cards is another one of those December tasks that can be exhausting. So this year, include all your little ones and make it quick, easy, and fun. Skills you can target include…

  • Planning and designing the card
  • Organising a list of recipients and addresses
  • Shifting attention between writing, stamping and posting

Managing the emotions

Maybe the most important executive function to target this season is emotional regulation. This means managing frustration, sustaining attention to a tedious task, and requesting a break or help when needed in an expected way.

The suggestions we have made here may not always be the most fun tasks for your child, but try to use every moment as a learning opportunity. And when you inevitably feel tired from all the prepping, model for your child how you manage boredom and frustration, and show them how to bring holiday enthusiasm to every situation.

Christmas isn’t the only time we need help with our executive functions, or when we should be teaching them. If you, or your child struggles with their executive functions at Connections in Mind we would be only too happy to find a way to support you. Book a call today.

By Sarah Holgate, Connections in Mind

Sarah Holgate
Sarah Holgate