Supporting social-cognitive development in the elementary years: The role of executive function and self-regulation
Every day we make decisions that have repercussions. Sometimes the effects are immediate and intended; other times the effects might be unintended or might not be apparent for years. As parents or educators, part of our role is to support the development of children’s decision-making skills, helping them to develop patterns of adaptive decision-making that will serve them well in their current lives and into the future. Part of successful decision-making involves self-control, a system served by the brain’s executive functions (EF). This involves the ability to put aside immediate reactions and base decisions on a variety of important considerations. Social-cognitive development, the ongoing improvement of the ability to get along with others and to understand others’ emotions, expressions, motivations, and intents, relies, to a large degree, on the same EF systems. The current paper explores the interaction of these two factors (the role of EF in social-cognitive development), explores the research to determine the most effective approaches to improving both factors, and develops a handbook providing activities for educators to use while supporting the growth of both EF and social-cognitive skills. Results of a needs assessment reveal that the majority (59%) of educators surveyed had never used a social skills improvement program in their classrooms, while a full 95% believed that social skills are important or very important for a student’s academic success.