In the last article, we focused on helping your child develop empathy, but what good is empathy all by itself? Here’s where the value of the fourth Habit of Mind comes in – flexible thinking.

Empathy helps you see things from another point of view; flexible thinking uses empathy to help you find new solutions for difficult problems. Psychologists call this cognitive flexibility – this includes both flexible thinking (considering a problem from a new perspective) and set shifting (the ability to let go of an old, unproductive way of thinking, to try something new).

Kids who lack cognitive flexibility tend to have a more rigid, rule-based way of thinking and acting. They face challenges in moving beyond the more basic way of doing things, and are unable to take on new tasks and responsibilities. They may find it difficult to “go with the flow”.

Kids who are cognitively flexible relish coming up with new ways of doing things and they often have a great sense of humour. Flexible thinking helps a child become open to possibility and change, boosting his resilience and overall chances of success in life.

Finding flexibility – at all stages
So, how can we help our children develop this valuable skill? First of all, be realistic about where your child is at developmentally. Toddlers and pre-schoolers can be exceptionally rigid in their approach to the world – this is developmentally normal as they are still learning about how the world works. Younger children are still piecing together the different rules that govern their large, scary and surprising world and they tend to want to exert as much control as they can.

As they mature, children begin to be able to identify different viewpoints and develop flexible thinking skills. Here are a few ideas to try:

1. Read books that contain different points of view, or creative interpretations of ordinary things
For younger kids, try the Not a Box and Not a Stick series by Antoinette Portis. Or Harold and the Purple Crayons. Older children will love reading fractured fairy tales – tales that contain different variations of the same story. Read The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and then The Wolf Who Cried Boy, for example.

2. Encourage pretend play
Stock your child’s play room with toys that stimulate role playing and pretend play – a doctor’s set or a kitchen set perhaps. Wooden blocks, empty cardboard boxes, scarves and a dress up box can also help your child develop his imagination.

3. Sing songs about problem solving
The classic “We’re Going on a Lion Hunt” is a great example of using many different methods of solving problems. Sing the song or watch the video, then talk to your kid about the different ways the kids in the lion hunt could have solved their problems.

4. Encourage spontaneity
Change up your routine – walk a different way to the MRT station or perhaps shop for groceries at a different supermarket. Spice up your weekend with different adventures. All this will help your child learn to adapt to different situations and become more flexible.


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This is part four of a 16-part series about Habits of Mind. Follow the series here.