Flexible Thinking

5 Family Activities and 3 Parent Tips to strengthen flexible thinking. As we move into week 2 of social distancing and the novelty of home school, increased screen time, and hibernating begins to wear off. Emotional and behavioral challenges may arise as our ability to think flexibly becomes tested.

What Is Flexible Thinking


Flexible thinking—the ability to think about an old thing in a new way—allows an individual to be
more successful at coping with change. A skill that adults and children alike can benefit from now more than ever.

Connection to Set Shifting

A related skill is set shifting—letting go of the “usual” way of doing something in order to
take a new approach. Parents are in the midst of modeling, for better and for worse, the ability to go
with the flow and to face the anxiety of uncertainty.

Learning Through Play

We can help children (and ourselves) learn to think more flexibly through play! Fostering their ability to adapt during changed routines, disappointment, emotional responses and most importantly, to the unknown.

Anxiety becomes easily rooted in the rigidity of trying to take or maintain more control than we actually have. Finding a degree of flexible thinking allows us to explore and experiment after we have established our comfortable and familiar baseline.

5 Family Activities To Improve Flexible Thinking

ONE: Change the rules of a familiar board game. Work as a group to identify a few rules that could
be shifted slightly and once you reach group consensus, try playing an old game in this slightly new way.

TWO: Gather small, common household items that are not typically used for play (think bottle caps, plastic cups, coins, pencils, string, clean takeout containers). Create a game using three or four of the gathered household objects. Be sure to identify the rules, the method of scoring, and the way the game will end. To work on social skills, teach your created game to another family member (or to a friend via video call), play a round or two, and then talk about any changes/improvements that might be made. Mix up the objects, add some new ones, and create another game.

THREE: Play -“What’s This?” Find an ordinary object and see how many different things you and your child can pretend it is. This activity encourages your child to see things in more creative ways.

FOUR: Create scribble art. Using blank paper or an erasable whiteboard, have one person make a small scribble or squiggle. The challenge for the next person is to turn that same scribble or squiggle into a picture. (You can use the attached beautiful oops grid.) You can turn this game into a social distancing challenge using chalk: draw your scribble in chalk on the sidewalk, stand back, and invite a neighboring friend (with their own chalk) to turn it into a work of art, then switch roles.

FIVE: Create your own jigsaw puzzle on white paper or card stock using a template (http://clipartlibrary.com/puzzle-pieces-template.html ) and your own drawing. Create a second puzzle using the same template, and switch some of the matching pieces between the two puzzles to see what kind of hybrid design or picture you can create. (Bonus: If you have it on hand, the crossword-building game “Bananagrams” is the perfect vehicle for strengthening flexible thinking skills. Players select letter tiles and create their own crossword puzzles as they race against other players creating separate puzzles. Players are tasked with the challenges of working with only what is available, making sense out of limited resources, looking at the same things in new ways, deciding to commit to what you started or rearrange and start anew. What better skills for adapting to the uncertainty that lies ahead?)

Flexible Thinking and Anxiety: 3 Parent Tips!

ONE: Allow your child to talk his way through solving a problem. Encourage him to think out loud as he solves logic puzzles and other problems. Help him learn to ask perspective questions like: Have I solved a similar problem before? Is there something different here that I haven’t come across in other problems?  Self-talk skills are very important in managing anxious emotions.

TWO: Let your child know which rules are ok to bend a little. Rigid thinkers love rules, and they love to remind other kids about the rules. While rules can certainly come in handy at times, fixating on specific rules can make it hard for kids to get along with others.

THREE: Change up the schedule! Routines are great for kids to know what comes next. Young children often thrive with consistent daily routines, yet sometimes the dependence on routine increases rigid thinking. In other words, they struggle to cope with change. To help, offer plenty of opportunities for the routine to change.

Learning to be more flexible can allow us to keep anxiety at a healthy distance. Without even knowing it, children can learn through play and emerge from the Coronavirus cocoon more empowered and prepared to adapt to what lies ahead.

We are so thankful you stopped by today! Wishing you wellness, joy and calm.

– Tracy Nemecek, Physio-Logics Wellness educator.

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