How to Cultivate a Flexible Thinker

With things constantly changing in our world, we are each learning how to go with the flow and change our plans when needed. Adjusting and thinking on our feet is essential, especially when each day brings something new. Sometimes when children seem stuck in their ways it’s not because they’re trying to be complicated. More often, they may not know how to handle the situation differently. Teaching our children to think flexibly helps them learn to handle changes and get along better with others, making them great team players in the long run.

What does it mean to be a flexible thinker?

Flexible thinking allows us to adjust our actions and reactions in real-time, considering the specifics of the situation and the people involved. It involves the ability to shift our plans, explore alternative solutions to challenges, modify our thoughts, or even set aside our personal desires in favor of a collective approach. A person who thinks flexibly is also good at interpreting the words and actions of others from various perspectives and contexts. This adaptability is crucial for effective problem-solving and navigating life’s unpredictable moments.

What does it mean to be a stuck thinker?

Stuck thinking is when we cannot change our thoughts or actions, even when things around us are shifting. It’s like having only one way to solve a puzzle no matter how many times it changes. This can make it challenging for us to see what others expect from us and how we might need to do things differently. When we’re stuck in our thinking, we might miss out on finding new ways to approach problems or understand others better.

Finding the cause of a stuck thinker

When a child seems stuck or inflexible in their thinking, it’s helpful to consider why this might happen.

  • Your child may resist changing activities because they’re deeply engaged and enjoying what they are currently doing.
  • Your child might struggle to grasp the group’s plan or activity.
  • Your child may be unsure about how to join the group or understand their role.

How to help your child be a flexible thinker

Helping children learn to be flexible starts with showing them they have choices and that there are many ways to look at a situation. Understanding they can pick different paths is the first step to learning flexibility, which is also great for solving problems. When they realize they can think of different options and make choices, they begin to see that they can have some control over things that happen around them. This helps them feel more comfortable when things change. It can also make them less upset, reduce difficult behaviors, and make them more willing to join in activities or stick to routines.

Easy activities at home to teach flexibility

1. Start by showing them that there are always choices. Have fun playing a game where you try to think of as many ideas and choices as possible. Here are some ideas:

  • Different foods for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, or dessert
  • Colors for clothes like shirts, pants, shoes, jackets, etc.
  • Pizza toppings (like cheese, mushrooms, pepperoni, olives, pineapple, sausage)

2. Celebrate when your child shows they can be flexible instead of stuck. It’s easy to notice when they’re stuck, but pointing out when they’re flexible sets a positive mood. Highlighting these moments helps them feel successful and more open to learning about times they might be stuck:

  • “You changed your plan! That was really flexible of you!”
  • “Even though you wanted to ride your bike, you decided to have lunch first. I’m so proud of you for being flexible.”
  • “I know you wanted the blue game piece, but only green is left. Let’s use our flexible thinking!”
  • “You were so flexible by letting your brother choose the movie. That makes me happy!”

Book recommendations to promote flexible thinking

Written by: Miya Wilson M.S., CF – SLP, TSSLD
Speech Language Pathologist

1. Social Thinking Website

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