Trouble with flexible thinking: Why some kids only see things one way

By Gail Belsky

Some kids have trouble switching gears. Changes to a schedule make them anxious or angry. They struggle to cope with change because they can only see one possible schedule or solution. 

These kids struggle with a skill called flexible thinking. Their challenges with finding different approaches to problems can have a big impact on learning and everyday living.

When faced with a problem, kids who struggle with flexible thinking might freeze and do nothing. Or they might try the same strategy over and over, even if it’s not working.

This rigid way of thinking can show up during conversations. For example, kids may not understand that some words have two meanings. It can also show up in schoolwork, like when kids use a math strategy that works for one type of word problem but not with another.

Flexible thinking is part of a group of skills called . Trouble with these skills is common in kids with . But other kids who learn and think differently can also struggle with flexible thinking.

Slow processing speed can also play a role in being able to quickly switch gears and think of solutions.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Ellen Braaten, PhD is the director of LEAP at Massachusetts General Hospital.