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Imagine that you could no longer use the same route home one day! What would you do? You’d find an alternate way to get home, right? That’s what flexible thinking is all about, being able to quickly figure out a way that’s different from the usual.
Kids with thinking differences tend to struggle with flexible thinking and that can have an impact on their ability to learn. Luckily, there are some foolproof ways to develop and nurture flexible thinking from an early age!
Cognitive flexibility or flexible thinking refers to the ability to adapt our thinking and behaviour in response to the circumstances surrounding us. When children are asked to change their approach to solving a problem, or think about multiple concepts simultaneously, they need to display flexible thinking. Flexible thinking is an important aspect of executive functioning, which includes the mental processes that enable one to focus attention, plan, and remember instructions while performing multiple tasks simultaneously.
Sounds complicated? In a nutshell –
- Flexible thinking allows a child to think on the spot and look at things differently.
- It enables “unlearning” of known ways of doing things, making room for new ways.
- It is an important ability when it comes to learning, both academically and in life.
Why Flexible Thinking Is Important for Your Child
While we’ve established that flexible thinking plays a major role in a child’s ability to learn, it also helps them in adjusting to new information. Flexibility also comes in handy in social situations and while dealing with peers. It is an important part of a child’s ability to shift between activities. It helps them deal with changing expectations and disappointments and cope with unforeseen changes in routines and events.
For example, at school, in a Maths class, flexible thinking will help your child come up with a new strategy to solve a maths problem, because his mind is open to trying more than one way to solve the problem. At the same time, a rigid thinker would only follow the solution steps given in the textbook.
When it comes to unfamiliar situations too, a child with good cognitive flexibility will deal with the situation easily. For example, a rigid thinker would feel dejected if a Physical Education class must be conducted indoors due to heavy rains. In contrast, a flexible thinker would find ways to make the most out of the situation.
Kids with weaker flexible thinking skills tend to have trouble understanding grammar rules and pronouncing words correctly. They have also been shown to have difficulty with certain math concepts and with their reading skills.
This makes it important to pay attention to nurturing and guiding your child in the right manner.
5 Ways to Nurture Flexible Thinking in Your Child
Mindful practices and exercises can make a world of a difference in nurturing flexible thinking. Kids are efficient at learning when it comes through creative ways. Try these strategies to help your little one move away from rigid thinking and adopt a more flexible approach to dealing with situations.
1. Encourage going with the flow.
When there is an unforeseen change in the course of a moment or a day, go steady, stay calm, and actively accept the change. Talk about it to your child, exposing him to your thought process. You can say something like, “Oops! It looks like the park has been temporarily closed. Let’s come up with a new plan!” We’re not saying that you will always get it right. But such opportunities will keep coming your way, so give it a go when you can.
2. Ensure your child eats a healthy diet.
Along with other mindful practices, a diet rich in essential nutrients will complement your efforts to nurture your child’s flexible thinking.
3. Spend time outdoors.
Nature is both soothing and stimulating at the same time. It is always changing and unpredictable, offering different sights, sounds, sensations, and smells. This is perfect as it provides welcoming and abundant opportunities for your child to shift his focus and exercise his cognitive flexibility. Such opportunities are seldom found in an indoor environment.
4. Play games by changing the rules.
You can ask your child to come up with or design his own board/card game with his own set of rules. He can even make up his rules for an existing game. Such games are fun and challenging for all who play them. This activity is efficient as it teaches your child how to adjust. Your child is bound to be super excited and eager to think more flexibly.
5. Try out new things.
You and your child can do something different that you both have never tried before. For example, together you either can play a new sport, try different cuisines, or listen to a new genre of music. This is an effective way to encourage your child to explore different experiences and thus, enhance his cognitive flexibility.
Cognitive flexibility brings about positivity in children and encourages them to manage life changes without any panic, fear, and confusion. In today’s day and age, flexible thinking is important to master as it is a driving force in your children’s development, success at school, and when he works with others in the future. In the words of Charles Darwin – “It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent who survive, but the one most responsive to change.”
In case of any questions or clarifications regarding your baby’s nutrition or development, do get in touch with your paediatrician.