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Homework & study skills

7 Tips for Building Flexible Thinking

By Amanda Morin

281Found this helpful
281Found this helpful

Some children with learning and attention issues have trouble seeing other viewpoints and alternative ways of doing things. Use these tips to help your child practice flexible thinking, which is essential for learning and everyday life.

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Play the Fannee Doolee game.

Fannee Doolee only likes words with double letters. Keeping this rule in mind, you and your child can come up with things Fannee likes and dislikes. For example, she likes bees, but she doesn’t like bugs. She likes jelly but not jam. Thinking about the sense of the words and the spellings can help your child learn to shift gears more comfortably.

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Tell silly jokes and make puns.

Show your child how to use different meanings of words to make people laugh. For example, you can tell him a joke: “Why are fish so smart? Because they live in schools.” Then you can talk together about how the punch line uses two meanings of the word “school.” Encourage your child to come up with funny wordplay, too.

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Play “What’s this?”

Take an ordinary object like a funnel and see how many different things you and your child can pretend it is: a party hat, a trumpet, a unicorn horn. This activity encourages your child to see things in more creative ways.

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Read “Amelia Bedelia” and other books that play with words.

Kids who have trouble with flexible thinking may find it hard to understand that words can have more than one meaning. Riddles and jokes that play with words’ meanings or sounds can also be confusing. You can work on these skills together by reading books like Amelia Bedelia, whose heroine takes everything very literally. When she’s asked to “draw the curtains,” she uses a marker to draw spots on them. You and your child can talk about what she should have done instead.

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Make up new rules for games.

Kids who have difficulty with flexible thinking can have trouble seeing that there’s more than one way to do things. Practice seeing alternatives by helping your child make up new rules for games. Have players slide down ladders and walk up slides in Chutes and Ladders. Run the bases in reverse order in kickball. Once your child gets comfortable with simple switches like this, try combining the rules of two games to make a new game.

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Find more than one way to do everyday things.

Your child may be used to doing things in a certain order, so making small tweaks to an everyday process can show him that there are different options. For example, try making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by spreading the jelly before the peanut butter. If your child is old enough, ask him to help you map a new route from school to home. This can help your child work on problem-solving skills, which involve coming up with different approaches to solving a problem.

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Teach self-talk skills.

Teach your child to talk his way through solving a problem. As he gets older, self-talk skills will become more important. Encourage him to think out loud as he solves logic puzzles and other problems. Help him learn to ask questions like: Is this similar to another problem I’ve solved before? Is there something different here that I haven’t come across in other problems? You may also want to ask his teacher what can be done in the classroom to help him work on flexible thinking and other skills.

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About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Molly Algermissen

Molly Algermissen, Ph.D., is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.

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