How Poverty Can Affect Executive Functions in Children

Executive-functioning skills are crucial skills that help kids think before they act, get started on tasks, make better decisions, manage their time, learn from their mistakes, and set goals. But not all kids have ideal circumstances for growing and developing effective executive-functioning skills. There is increasing evidence suggesting that poverty can have a negative impact on brain development. Poverty, which is defined through financial resources, opportunities for education, and family factors such as nutrition and exposure to language and culture, can have a large effect on executive-functioning skills in younger children. How poverty affects executive functions is related to the prominence of the prefrontal cortex, the most modern part of the brain, in the development of executive functioning skills. When the brains of children in poverty do not develop as efficiently as they might in a middle-class environment, these children tend to fall behind their peers, not only in the physical maturation of the brain but also in the executive-functioning skills they are able to display.

Neuroscientists are learning more about the impact of poverty on a variety of cognitive and social-emotional skills. The latest research strongly suggests that early intervention can help to counteract how poverty affects executive functions.

Read the following articles to learn more about this important fact and to see how we can help children of poverty improve their executive skills:  

Poverty’s Impact on Children’s Executive Functions by the University of California. Minimal research has been conducted to determine a correlation between children’s poverty level and their executive-functioning skills. The University of California is trying to bridge that gap by looking deeper into the effects that children’s poverty levels have on their learning and focusing capabilities. Findings from this study suggest that poverty level and executive-functioning skills are correlated.

Poverty, Parent Stress, and Emerging Executive Functions in Young Children by Eric Finegood and Clancy Blair. Building off the previously stated research, this study examines parents’ poverty level on the executive-functioning skills of their children. Many executive-functioning skills are developed through social interactions, and parental poverty level may hinder some from having these interactions with their children.

Using Brain Science to Create New Pathways out of Poverty by Beth Babcock. This TEDxBeaconStreet talk explains how poverty affects the development of executive functioning. Dr. Babcock shares new coaching methods that can be used to practice and rebuild executive-functioning skills. This type of coaching approach is a step towards breaking the cycle of poverty.

The NEW Preliteracy Defined by Lynne Kenney. This article compiles new and relevant studies to explain the importance of executive-functioning skills. Dr. Kenney also delves into the environmental and contextual factors that can have an impact on the development of executive functioning skills.

How trauma and stress affect a child’s brain development by Jackie Mader. In the wake of recent actions taken by the Trump administration separating migrant children from their parents, we need to keep the development of these children in mind. This article explains the importance of these connections with our parents and the effects that separation, trauma, and neglect can have on the children’s executive functions.

How Poverty Affects the Brain and Behavior by Scott Sleek. Poverty affects human beings in so many different ways. Brain and cognitive development are specifically at risk for children who are being brought up in poverty and adults who find themselves living in poverty later in life. This article specifically discusses the many frightening effects we are seeing in today’s youth and how we can help combat them.

How living in poverty affects children’s brain development by Brandi Thomas, from the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. This provides an in-depth discussion of the effects that living in poverty has on children’s brain development. The article notes that living in poverty has similar effects on the brain to abuse, thus leading to the association that stressful situations may be a cause. Learning about these effects can be the first step in taking action to help these children.

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