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Don’t Get Stuck During the Holidays!

3 Important Ways to Encourage Flexible Thinking This Holiday Season

Flexible ThinkingWith Halloween as the unofficial kick-off to the holiday season, we all know what’s coming: family parties, class get-togethers, cookie exchanges, holiday traditions, and a to-do list long enough to last us till next New Year’s. As adults, it can be hard to keep up with the fast pace and surprises that the holiday season brings. We have to adjust when Aunt Minnie shows up from out-of-town unexpectedly or the Santa at the mall is out to lunch, or we can’t go to a party because it conflicts with your child’s annual Holiday Concert.

It’s not the easiest thing, but we’ve come to expect and adapt to these kinds of sudden changes and competing commitments during the holidays. However, if you have or work with a child with learning and attention issues, change and disappointments are particularly heightened during the holiday season. This is because children with learning and attention issues, or Complex Learners, struggle with flexible thinking. When things don’t go as expected, Complex Learners can get stuck in a rigid way of thinking. This makes it feel impossible to move on with a new plan and leads to tears, frustration, and even meltdowns. When Complex learners get stuck, you will probably experience more trick than treat to your holiday festivities. It’s important to understand what is happening to your child and find ways to encourage flexible thinking for the holidays. Flexible thinking can help your child see things from a new perspective and understand that when things don’t go as planned, we’re still able to move on and have some holiday fun!

Demonstrate Flexible Thinking At Home

While you understand the importance of flexible thinking, you might be wondering how to encourage flexible thinking. Well, it can start right at home! Whether it’s telling puns to encourage your child to view phrases in different ways or creating a new alternate ending to a favorite bedtime story, there are many ways you can encourage flexible thinking at home. Check out these tips and more to give your child opportunities to learn and practice flexible thinking.

You can teach by demonstrating your own flexible thinking too! How do you handle an unexpected email from your boss? How do you react when you’re running late in the morning? Set a good example by using your own strategies to work through the unexpected. Letting your child see that flexible thinking is something everyone practices, and sometimes struggles with, can help him understand that it is a skill he can develop over time.

Talk to Your Child About The Unexpected

While you can’t predict a new turn of events, you can practice the unexpected with your child. Ask your child what she thinks she should do if her cousins want to play Clue at Grandma’s holiday party this year instead of Candy Land? What’s an appropriate response? Role-play different versions of the scenario and talk to your child about expected and unexpected behavior.

Praise your child when you see him successfully practice flexible thinking. Even if it’s a small event, like calmly asking for a slice of cherry pie after learning her favorite apple pie is already gone. Just as you want to encourage positive behavior, don’t be afraid to talk when things don’t go well. After both you and your child have calmed down, talk with him about how he can handle the situation next time. Flexible thinking doesn’t come naturally to most Complex Learners. It requires a lot of practice on behalf of the learner and even more patience for the teacher!

Come Up With A Strategy

While you can do your part to encourage flexible thinking, sometimes children’s emotions and frustrations can take over. What happens when she doesn’t get as much candy as he did last Halloween? Or what if he didn’t get the present he was sure Aunt Susan was going to get him? In situations like this, encourage your child to turn to a strategy. Help your child come up with a strategy that will help give her what she needs to calm down and move on during times of frustration. Maybe he needs physical activity. Encourage him to go for a walk around the yard or run on the family treadmill for 10 minutes. Maybe deep breathing and some alone time does the trick. If so, have her go to her room for some meditation and quiet time.

Talk to your child about why using strategies is important.  Strategies aren’t a punishment, but sometimes it might feel like that to children, making them resistant to trying one. Share what you do when you need a break and work together with your child to establish a plan on how he can use a strategy during the holiday hustle and bustle. Does she need to check in with you first? Is there a secret code you two can share when it’s time to take a break and use a strategy? Even establishing a designated quiet space in a relative’s home can prove beneficial.

Practicing flexible thinking during the holiday season is a valuable skill for Complex Learners but it can be a tricky one to master! With some time, practice, and strategies, you can help set up your child (and yourself) for fewer tears and more cheers this holiday season!

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