How to Encourage Flexible Thinking in Children

Activities to help children deal with change, perfectionism, and rigid thinking.

Some kids can take change in their stride. The trip to grandma’s got canceled – no problem. They’re out of mint choc chip at the ice-cream stand – no big deal. For many children, though, even the slightest change in plans can seem like a disaster and quickly trigger anxiety or meltdowns. Moving away from rigid thinking towards a more flexible mindset takes practice, for both kids and adults, but thankfully there are lots of strategies that parents and educators can use to help children develop healthy flexibility – and maybe even fall in love with a whole new ice-cream flavor!

1. Shift Perspective

Make shifting perspective fun for children by getting them to use their bodies as well as their minds. You could ask your child to tell you 5 things they see when they look around them (doing this activity outside is even more fun!). Now ask them to crouch down on the floor, maybe they could pretend to be a curious cat or a slithery snake. What do they notice now? Ask them for 5 new things. See how just shifting where we look and how we look at something opens up possibilities we may have otherwise missed!

2. Redefine Perfect

Perfectionism in children can prevent them from taking part in certain activities or trying out new things and can lead to feelings of inadequacy in later life. Try focusing on the process rather than the end result to show your child that outcomes aren’t everything in life. For example, if your child is still struggling to tie their shoelaces, celebrate the fact that they’re showing up, putting in the effort, and still trying even after so many “failed” attempts. Point out all the awesome qualities this demonstrates like perseverance, determination, and acceptance.   

3. Use Picture Books

There are many fantastic children’s books about flexible thinking out there. Head down to your local library or talk to your school librarian about books that might appeal to your child. The best stories show relatable events so your child can imagine being in a similar situation. These stories prompt great conversations after you’ve finished reading about what they would do or what else the main character could have done.

If you’re looking for a fun and relatable children’s picture book that teaches flexibility, check out The Perfect Holiday Disaster: A little girl learns to get go of perfectionism. This book was inspired by camping vacations with my own children, in which I had to deal with the ‘unexpected’ countless times.  It is my wish to show both the children who can read this book, or the grown-ups reading with them that sometimes what may appear to be our biggest problems in life can actually turn into our greatest adventures if we’re flexible and open to them.

You can find The Perfect Holiday Disaster, which is available for purchase on Amazon.com.   

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