Last week we talked about RESPECT and ways to enhance this quality in our children. If you missed it, you can read it HERE. As we continue this month’s topic of lessons children learn from parents, this week’s topic is flexibility.
A quality that will help make life more bearable is to learn flexibility.
This is the trait of learning to go with the flow, and not letting the little things bring you stress. A child who learns flexibility will not get wrapped up in anxiety every time plans change, as they so often do. As an adult, flexibility will make your child a better employee, parent and partner who doesn’t demand rigid adherence to previous plans.
What is Flexibility?
Flexibility is the a thinking skill that focuses on a child’s ability to adapt to new situations, improvise, and shift strategies to meet different types of challenges. For example, when taking a test that contains both multiple choice and essay questions, a child with good Flexibility skills will be able to switch easily between the two formats, while a child who struggles with Flexibility skills may get stuck and become frustrated each time the format changes.
A great way to teach your child flexibility is for them to learn that it is acceptable to make changes to a plan when necessary. Keep a relaxed routine. Don’t get me wrong… a routine can benefit everyone, but it is perfectly okay to make small changes every now and then. Find a way to make up for anything that your child feels they are missing out on through the last-minute routine changes, as this teaches them that change doesn’t necessarily mean they will lose anything in the long run.
Video games can help improve Flexibility by allowing kids to practice their Flexibility skills while in the midst of a fun and immersive game experience. Many games require players to shift their thinking and gaming strategies with each new level, in order to advance and “beat the game.” Video games provide a great opportunity for children to learn from their mistakes, shift their approach, handle frustration, and think creatively about new ways to solve problems.
Here’s an example for you: A young girls eagerly joins her friends for a game of volleyball. When she arrives she finds that they have started without her. There are already 6 players on each team and she has to wait her turn to play. She stands on the sideline, full of frustration, pacing back and forth and grumbling about wanting to play volleyball. This little girl struggles with flexible thinking. In other words, she can’t switch gears quickly and find new solutions to problems when things change without warning.
Now what parent hasn’t seen this behavior before?
Cognitive flexibility includes two skills: flexible thinking and mindset shifting. Kids who are able to think about a problem in a new way engage in flexible thinking, while kids who get stuck in their ways tend to engage in rigid thinking. Mindset shifting refers to the child’s ability to let go of an old way of doing something to try a new way.
When kids engage in flexible thinking, they are better able to cope with change and process new information, both within the classroom and out in the world. Kids who find flexible thinking more of a challenge struggle to take on new tasks and have difficulty solving problems. The good news is that flexible thinking skills can be practiced and modeled at home. Try a few of these strategies to help boost your child’s flexible thinking skills.
- Bend the rules. Children who are rigid thinkers love rules, and they love to remind other kids about the rules. (There’s always at least one in the crowd) While rules can certainly come in handy at times, being engrossed on the specifics of rules can make it hard for kids to get along with others. Try changing the rules to your favorite board games. Your child might resist at first, but by making small changes, he will learn that he can adjust. Making small changes to the rules can actually make games more fun, and improve your child’s ability to solve problems. When kids learn that rules aren’t always set in stone, they begin to approach problems from new directions.
- Talk it out. Talking it out is a great way to work through a problem for everyone, but especially for kids. Teach your child to take a few deep breaths, state the problem, consider at least three possible solutions and then choose one. When kids learn to talk their way through problems, they experience less frustration and are better able to cope with unexpected changes.
- Modify the routine. Routines are great because they help us know what comes next. Kids are no exception. Young children often thrive when they have specific daily routines in the home, but sometimes the dependence on routine increases rigid thinking. In other words, they struggle to cope with change and learning to think for themselves. Instead of doing everything exactly the same way each day make small modifications to the routine here and there. Even small changes, for instance making up their beds after breakfast instead of before breakfast some mornings can demonstrate to kids that it’s okay to do things in a different way.
- Get a joke book. Rigid thinkers tend to struggle to understand jokes. They also have trouble making up their own jokes and puns. Joke books can be a great way to talk about the different meanings of words and think about how changing the meaning of a word makes it funny. When kids develop flexible thinking skills they are better able to solve problems, engage in positive peer interactions and focus in school. When they learn to shift their thoughts in the face of new information, they can work through change and transitions. It takes time to develop this important skill set, but it helps kids thrive for years to come.