Nichols shares research on executive function with parents


EXAMINING EXECUTIVE FUNCTION: Nichols poses with recently published book.

Gabby Kepnes and Abigail Goldberg

Two weeks ago, Middle Division psychologist Dr. Christina Nichols and Riverdale Country School psychologist Christina Young presented their recently published book about executive function at a coffee hour with Head of the Middle Division Robin Ingram. The hour was a time for parents to listen and ask questions as to how they can support their children and help them learn necessary skills.
Nichols and Young co-wrote “Executive Functions at Home and at School: Six Skills Young Learners Need to Succeed,” a book that serves as a guide for parents to help their children become successful academically and in life in general.
At the coffee hour, they discussed the importance of emotional regulation, which is the ability to identify how you’re feeling and evaluate what the situation calls for.
Young talked about how parents should model emotional regulation for their children. If children are unable to regulate their feelings it could affect planning, creativity, good judgment, and impulse control. On the other hand, successful emotional regulation leads to healthy relationships, success in the workplace and good mental health, she said.
“We wanted to demystify the term “executive function,” Nichols said.
Nichols has been working for 18 years as a learning specialist and a psychologist, she said, so she was familiar with the ideas of her work.
She hopes that the book will serve as a resource for parents and offer more information than what she can provide in a short meeting, she said.
“We wanted to give a background into organization, activation, reflection and balance,” Nichols said.
Her job as a psychologist in the Middle Division helped tremendously in expanding the key concepts that are made clear in the book.
Nichols and Young first met about five years ago at a professional development conference, hosted by Horace Mann.
From there, they began sharing resources and discussing current research in neuroscience, which they then shared with parents, teachers, and students at their respective schools, Nichols said.
“Christina started writing it all down,” Nichols said. “And that was the beginning of the project.”
“The main point of the book is to show that it is all connected: academic skills, including executive functions; social-emotional skills; and physical, social, and emotional health,” Young said.
“In order to do your best work over time, through college and into your adult life, you have to know how to support yourself as a learner and a person,” she said.
“We dive into each of these areas and share current theory, research and discuss brain development. When we all have this information, we can all understand that these skills continue to grow into adulthood and that there are ways we support younger learners to develop the skills,” Young said.
Ingram is deeply invested in this project, she said, as she believes that being organized and planning ahead are the two biggest challenges that middle school students face.
“Teachers and parents were saying the same thing about being organized and planning over and over again.” she said. “It just made more sense to make a book out of it.”