In this blog we will focus on flexibility. This does not mean flexible muscles. We will be focusing on flexible thinking muscles.
Flexibility of thought can be broken down into the following areas
Being able to adapt to new situations, break down complex tasks into bite size chunks, improvise, and shift strategies to meet different types of challenges. It means coming up with solutions that one would not have originally thought. Flexible thinking also means being able to see another person’s viewpoint or theory of mind. Flexible thinking involved breaking down the problem into small manageable chunks and finding a creative solution. If tasks seem insurmountable and you you feel frozen by overwhelm you lack this crucial skill.
Some people thrive on change and the unexpected and enjoy unexpected change to their routines: they are naturally adaptable.
If your child needs to know what is coming next, and gets easily thrown off balance when there is an unexpected change of plan your child is probably not naturally adaptable.
When your child is faced with an unexpected problem how easily can they solve that problem, independently and on time. If they can do this well, then they are exhibiting flexible thinking skills.
Does your child have difficulty seeing alternate viewpoints in a situation or with interpersonal relationships they have challenges with theory of mind.
The world of work is changing at an ever increasing pace so employers actively seek out employees who can adapt to changing circumstances and environments and embrace new ideas, who are enterprising, resourceful and adaptable.
It is crucial to teach flexible thinking skills to your child, so they will have the best chance at life success.
Let’s look at the following real life scenarios taken from my clients.
Sarah had a son with mild processing issues. He would leave a trail of mess wherever he went. When asked to tidy up, he would quickly get frustrated, often to the point of violent temper, and leave the job unfinished.
She was fed up and wanted him to change. She learned that he was not lazy, he was not creating messes on purpose. He simply did not know how to break down the task of tidying up after himself. Sarah learned that his brain did not naturally know how to break down tasks into small doable chunks. Sarah learned tools to teach him how to think flexibly and break down tasks.
Sara’s son made bread pizza for himself in their small grill oven. She realised how many steps made up this task. She praised him for accomplishing this by himself. When he had eaten she gently asked him to count how many items had been taken out of their homes, and now needed to be put away. He looked around and with her help, counted 13 items. She then asked him to put away the items. There were some items that he did not know where they belonged, she asked him to problem solve and guess which cupboard they lived in. He was able to do this with 7 items. She helped him with the other 6 items by asking him questions to encourage him to problem solve. If done enough times he will be able to do this independently without outside prompts.
One of the coaches in our practice related the following incident. She needed to reschedule a client session on short notice due to a family emergency. At the next session her client discussed for a long time how this change of plan messed up her day. The coach used this as an opportunity to discuss flexible thinking strategies with her client.
Flexible thinking skills can be taught at a young age. A client used the following simple tool when interacting with her 3 year old who had limited verbal expression skills. He loved to draw. He would get very frustrated when his drawings did not turn out how he wanted them to. She simply repeated a variation of the following sentence “You are so upset that your picture is not turning out the way you want. You have a picture in your head how you want this drawing to look like. I can’t see that picture. Let’s try to be flexible and change the picture to something else. What picture in your head can you think of?” At first her son resisted, but slowly he learned to enjoy this exercise. She did this consistently for about 6 months. She knew she was seeing change when he was faced with minor problems, he started telling her “let’s be flexible, it is ok that the picture didn’t turn out how I wanted it to. And he proceeded to problem solve.”
Flexible thinking exercises to do with your child.
- Take an ordinary object like a spoon and see how many different ways you and your child can pretend it is. This teaches your child to see the world around them in more creative ways.
- Teach your child to do regular routines and tasks in different ways. If your child first gets dressed in the mornings and then eats breakfast, ask them to switch the order of activity. Ask your child to help you map out a different route home from school.
- Create your own rules for games. Children who have difficulty with flexible thinking may have trouble seeing that there is more than one way to do an activity. When playing snakes and ladders ask your child to slide down the ladder and walk up the slides.
- Children who have trouble with flexible thinking may find it hard to understand the meaning of common sayings. Discuss well known phrases with your child and talk about their meaning.
The good news is flexible thinking skills can be taught. consistently focusing on this, little by little you will see change.