How to Help Children Build Flexible Thinking Skills

A Deep Dive into Growth Mindset

At this year’s Camp Slumberkins, Bigfoot gets off to a great start on his undersea adventure. But then he hits a snag when the currents get strong, and his methods don’t seem to be working. Flexible Jelly arrives just in time to help Bigfoot learn another key concept in growth mindset. This go-with-the-flow friend teaches Bigfoot how to Be Flexible through life’s unexpected twists and turns.

We’ve all seen our kids at that threshold—the way they’ve been doing something just isn’t working any longer, and they’re starting to get frustrated. It’s tough to watch them struggle when we want to help them out, and we may ask ourselves, “Should I encourage them to try harder, or throw in the towel?” Luckily, there’s a third option.

Different Actions, Different Results

We can easily get into a rut thinking that if we just try harder, we can figure something out. But if we work too hard trying something the same old way, we run the risk of burning out and giving up when we haven’t made progress. Luckily, we have a third option of being flexible that allows us to not get stuck in a frustrating rut or give up on our goal. Sometimes, changing course or switching up our method or approach to a problem is just what’s needed. And often, engaging in a different kind of action or effort produces different and better results.

As parents, we can help our children when we see that their method or approach isn’t working. This is a powerful opportunity to teach them the growth mindset skill of flexibility. While trying our best and putting forth maximum effort is important, it’s also important to assess how our efforts are going and where our energy levels are.

What Flexibility Really Embodies

Flexibility combines a powerful set of skills. In order to be flexible, we also have to be mindful, curious, and creative. When we realize our methods aren’t working, we must first notice that we need to change our approach, and then we engage curiosity and creativity to choose a different skill, method, or way of thinking. So when we teach our kids flexibility, we are actually teaching them a bunch of important growth mindset skills all at the same time!

We can begin teaching this powerhouse growth mindset skill to our kids when they’re very young babies. In fact, a lot of babies are masters at flexibility—and we’re not just referring to their ability to put their toes in their mouth! When we watch babies striving for something (pulling themselves up, picking things up with their hands), they will often try a certain approach for a time and then look around for an alternate approach if what they’re doing isn’t working. When we see them being flexible, we can reinforce their process (Great job figuring out that the handles work better to pull yourself up!) and we can help them look around for a different approach if they start to get overwhelmed with frustration. For younger kids, flexibility can come in handy during a lot of situations, for example when their favorite something (marker, stuffie, etc.) isn’t available, or they’re struggling with sharing or solving a problem. We can support their flexibility and collaborative problem-solving skills when we ask them questions like: Is there another color you can finish your drawing with? Or Can we make a plan so both of you take a turn playing with the truck?

Flexibility Supports Resilience

We’re less likely to give up when we embody a go-with-the-flow approach to life’s unexpected challenges. Flexibility also makes us more receptive to constructive feedback from others. Instead of ignoring critical feedback or allowing it to undermine our self-worth, flexibility allows us to hear feedback and ask ourselves what might be true about it or how it can help us to improve. For older kids, this can be especially helpful when they are learning advanced skills, playing on teams, and performing in front of others. Your saxophone teacher gave you some really honest feedback! I know that was hard to hear. What did she tell you that can help you improve your skills? By helping them to practice flexibility, we help our kids to be more receptive and resilient, and less likely to give up on what they’re working toward.

Flexibility Supports the Big Picture

When we teach our kids flexibility, we help them learn to switch methods or mindsets in order to reach their bigger goal. Reminding them of what they want to accomplish in the long term can often provide them with the inspiration to be adaptable.

At its core, flexibility is about being creative and playfully engaging with life’s challenges when the going gets tough. We hope you’ll join us under the sea for Camp Slumberkins as Jelly teaches Bigfoot the important lesson that different actions often produce different results!

Join us for our third lesson in Why Learning to Take Breaks is an Important Growth Mindset Skill here.


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