How Do I Teach My Child to Have Flexible Thinking?

Flexible thinking, also known as cognitive flexibility, is the ability to shift thinking, or think about something in a different way.  This year is full of unknowns; children aren’t sure what school will look like, if parents will go to work, whether sports will be played, or if playdates will happen. The following strategies can help your child practice their flexible thinking skills to find success in the upcoming school year. 

Try out new game rules

An important part to flexible thinking is to see things in different ways. One strategy to try is to take a game that your family knows well, and switch up the rules. This can be as easy as taking a game of soccer and changing the rules so your team gets a point every time you block a goal. Or, while playing monopoly, deciding to move the tokens in the opposite direction around the board. Changing the rules of a game shows your children that sometimes it can be fun to look at things in a different way. 

 Change up your routines

Yes, routines are so important for your children, and children love to know what to expect. However, sometimes it’s okay to change up the routine to show your children that they can be okay with some flexibility to their schedules. This might mean that you have your children take a bath in the morning, instead of at night, or they can do their daily reading after dinner instead of before. These slight changes in their schedules can show them that it’s okay to have a flexible schedule, and that things will still turn out okay,

Play the “More Than One Purpose” game

This game is simple. Find objects around the house, and see if you can brainstorm other uses for the object. For example, you might look at a blanket and see how it can be used to keep you warm, it can be used as a roof for a fort, or it could be used as a tablecloth for a picnic. Or, you might discuss how a plastic cup can be used to drink water, it can be used to scoop sand, or it can be used as a hat. Learning that an item can have many purposes, is a way to stretch your child’s flexible thinking skills. 

Be a role model

You are your child’s best role model, so an easy way to practice flexible thinking, is to demonstrate when you are being flexible. For example, if you were planning to go to the store but it closed early, you might calmly say “It’s frustrating that the store is closed, but we’ll try again in the morning.” Take the time to say these comments out loud; your child can learn a lot by hearing your own self talk. 

Brainstorm possible answers to a problem 

Many children believe that problems can only have one solution, so to promote this area of flexible thinking, try brainstorming many answers to a problem. If your child comes home and is frustrated that he forgot what the assignment is for homework, try brainstorming possibilities for fixing this problem. He can contact a classmate to ask for the homework, he can look at his teacher’s online posting to see if he can find it, or he can go back to the school to get his agenda book. By brainstorming with your child, you start teaching him that there can be many answers to a problem, and it’s best to be flexible to find the right answer.

Praise them when they’re flexible

Just like when your child makes their bed in the morning, and you shower them with praise, the same goes for flexible thinking. When you find your child finding new ways to solve a problem, or seeing something in a new way, praise them. Be specific, “I’m proud of you for finding a new way to solve that problem with your friend.” or, “I’m proud of you for being flexible with the change in our schedule today.” This positive reinforcement will continue to strengthen your child’s flexible thinking skills.

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