Spend any amount of time with a toddler and you will marvel at their ability to take a tiny foot and pull it every which way, including on many occasions, behind their ears. That’s flexibility! On the other hand, you may ask that same toddler to forgo naptime with their favorite blankie (which you can’t find or is in the washing machine) for an equally fuzzy, cuddly teddy and their flexibility is nowhere to be found.
When you are relocating your family, flexibility is the name of the game. Boxes don’t always get packed or unpacked at the “right” time to provide those glimpses of familiarity we all crave in the midst of major changes. Just like waves in the ocean can be beautifully peaceful one moment and crashing into the shores the next, our children have a variety of reactions and different times when moving to a new home.
Flexibility is a part of higher order thinking we typically call executive function. In order to be flexible, one must be able to adapt to new situations. In order to adapt to a new situation, one must be able to think both backward and forward. Thinking backward involves remembering situations in the past where flexibility was used with both success and failure coupled with the ability to integrate those past positive experiences to help problem solve in the current situation. Thinking forward involves being able to visualize a future state where things are “better.” In both these instances, the brain must be able to process all this information in ways that typically aren’t fully hardwired until our early 20’s. It’s not that our kids can’t be flexible or are willfully choosing to be inflexible; they just have a harder time processing experiences and information that help lead to flexibility.
Good flexibility skills look like waiting for your turn, dealing positively with losing a game or contest, transitioning well between activities, and empathy (seeing things from another’s perspective) to name a few. Underdeveloped flexibility skills look like problems with transitions, responding in anger to negative feedback, “digging in their heels” when change is needed regardless to the magnitude of the change, and getting “stuck” either in their thoughts or actions.
The good news is that flexibility, like athletic or artistic skill, can be taught and reinforced through parental guidance and even a little fun. This may not be music to most parents’ ears but video games in which players have to use different strategies to move through changing obstacles are great sources for flexibility practice. In these types of games, children have to constantly problem solve a situation and figure out alternate ways to move through the game to reach higher levels.
Other ways to help teach flexibility can include making up new rules for games your child typically plays. For example, play Reverse Scrabble where words are spelled backwards on the board. In addition, playing games where results are left up to chance like board games that don’t involve strategy or skill (think Candy Land).
Go to LearningWorks for kids for more information on activities to develop flexibility (as well as many other) skills.
No parent should move without a written game plan.
For more information about the Moving Families Initative, please visit www.movingfamiliesinitiative.com.