How to Set Your Children Up for Success

by Nicole Youcupicio, Prevention Specialist, Casa Grande Alliance

As parents, grandparents, role models and mentors, one of our biggest driving forces is wanting our children to succeed and become healthy, productive adults. By teaching them executive-function and self-regulating skills we can help ensure that our children overcome the adversity in their lives, learn how to make good decisions, and grow up to be successful adults.  

Executive-function and self-regulating skills are the mental processes enabling us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks successfully. All of these skills are important for the multiple challenges that can produce major stress in their lives, including schoolwork, peer pressure, family situation, jobs, college and beyond. 

It is likely you are already helping your children to learn these skills without realizing it. Let’s dig deeper to learn about what we can do to help.

There are three basic aspects of these skills: 

  • Working memory — The ability to hold information in mind and use it.
  • Inhibitory control — The ability to master thoughts and impulses so as to resist temptations, distractions and habits and to pause and think before acting.
  • Cognitive flexibility — The capacity to switch gears and adjust to changing demands, priorities or perspectives.

Building these skills can start as early as infancy and continue into childhood and adolescence and are shaped by individual experiences. They are created through engagement with our children in activities that draw on and provide the opportunity to practice executive-function skills. For example, interactions with adults and parents help babies focus attention, create working memories and manage reactions to stimulating experiences. 

Focusing on teaching these skills helps teenagers organize time efficiently and independently, manage schoolwork, get the most out of extracurricular activities, complete big projects on time and meet important deadlines. 

Here are a few activities for each age range to assist you in establishing these skills from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University: 

6-18 months:

These executive-function activities encourage infants to focus attention, use working memory, and practice self-control.

  • Lap games (i.e.: peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake, etc.). 
  • Hiding games (i.e.: hide-and-seek, hide a toy, etc.). 
  • Role play. 

18-36 months:

In this stage of development, language plays a crucial role in executive-function skills while teaching children to listen, follow the rules and express themselves.

  • Active games (i.e.: follow the leader, freeze tag, freeze dance, hokey pokey).
  • Conversation (i.e.: talk about expressing their feelings).
  • Matching games (i.e.: puzzles). 

3-5 years:

A lot of learning and developing takes place during this age range, and children begin to not rely on adults as heavily. 

  • Imaginary play. 
  • Storytelling (i.e.: encourage children to tell you stories). 
  • Quiet games (i.e.: cooking, puzzles, etc.).

7-12 years: 

In this age range we are increasing the complexity of the games. 

  • Card games and board games. 
  • Physical activities/games (i.e.: organized sports, tag, etc.).
  • Music, singing and dance.
  • Brain teasers (i.e.: crossword puzzles, Sudoku, Rubik’s cube, etc.).


During adolescence, children begin to feel adult pressures weighing on them as they have to balance school and extracurricular activities almost entirely independently.

  • Goal-setting (i.e.: planning for goal and envisioning next steps to reach goal).
  • Tools for self-monitoring (i.e.: encourage positive self-talk, teach mindfulness of distractions, etc.).
  • Extracurricular activities. 

Study skills (i.e.: identify reasonable timelines for projects, keep a calendar of upcoming events and deadlines, reflect on assignments and accomplishments after completed, etc.). 

As you can see, there are many ways we can help guide and teach children to be prepared with the essential executive-function skills that will propel them to adulthood. 

If you have any questions or would like to schedule a presentation on enhancing executive-function skills or on the new research about adverse childhood experiences, please call the Casa Grande Alliance at 520-836-5022.