Building Mental Flexibility

May 15, 2024

Does your child struggle with flexibility? Maybe they get really upset when plans change, when something does not go their way, or they have to come up with a new solution. Teaching our children to be mentally flexible equips them with invaluable skills to navigate life's ups and downs with resilience and grace. While this sounds wonderful, we know how much some kids can struggle with flexibility and instead tend to be rather rigid which causes some big problems. Some kids are naturally more flexible, and some struggle. Our families include both!

Here are practical strategies and activities you can do to foster mental flexibility in your child, along with tips on how to respond when challenges arise!

1. Foster a Growth Mindset:
Encourage your child to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles. Use phrases like "I can't do it yet, but I will keep trying" to instill a growth mindset. Here are some other tips and the benefits of emphasizing effort over outcome:

  • Recognizes the effort of the doer. (“You worked really hard to get your grade.”)
  • Is faith that the individual can control self. (“You are a responsible person.”)
  • Promotes self-evaluation. (“How do you feel about your work so far?”)
  • Emphasizes effort and progress of a task. (“Look at all the improvement you have made!”)
  • Emphasizes appreciation of contributions and assets. (“Your efforts helped us have a good science fair.”)

 This is not to say we should eliminate all praise and concentrate solely on encouragement. Rather, we need to emphasize more encouragement than praise to help students achieve a more internal locus of control. Why is this important? Because it helps children learn to grow through hard work, rather than thinking they are simply not innately good at a specific skill set.

Engage in discussions about the brain's ability to grow and change with effort and practice. Here are some great resources:

Consider these short videos to watch with your children:

  1. The Mindset of a Champion | Carson Byblow | TEDxYouth@AASSofia (
  2. Growth Mindset (

Consider reading these books:

  1. Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: A Growth Mindset Book for Kids to Stretch and Shape Their Brains by JoAnn Deak
  2. The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi
  3. Growth Mindset Journal for Boys by Elizabeth Sauter

Here are some potential conversation starters:
     - "Tell me about a time when things didn't go your way. How did you handle it?"
     - "What do you think we can learn from this situation?"
     - "How can we approach this problem from a different angle?"

2. Practice Problem-Solving:
Engage your child in problem-solving activities that require them to think creatively and adapt their strategies as needed. This could include puzzles, brain teasers, or collaborative games where they must work together to find solutions. We love activities that require persistence such as Lego sets, Perler beads, or any activity that is slightly above their current skill set! Feel free to ask them for their input on things so they can build this muscle. This could be anything from how to fit all of the groceries on a shelf, how to sort through items to keep versus donate, how to organize errands to reduce driving time – literally anything!

Here are some games that require problem-solving AND collaboration with others:

  1. Dinosaur Escape (ages 4+)
  2. Outfoxed (ages 5+)
  3. Stone Soup (ages 5+)
  4. My First Castle Panic (ages 4-8); Castle Panic (8 +)
  5. Space Escape (7+)
  6. 5-Minute Dungeon (ages 8+)
  7. Forbidden Island (ages 10+) 

3. Emphasize the Power of Perspective:

Teach your child to see situations from different viewpoints by asking questions like "How do you think your friend feels?" or "What would you do if you were in their shoes?" This helps them develop empathy and understand that there is more than one way to see a situation.

4. Encourage Flexibility in Routine:

Introduce small changes to your child's routine to help them become more comfortable with unpredictability. This may sound scary. But we will never help our child build a skill if we ALWAYS accommodate their difficulties. This could be as simple as trying a new food for dinner or taking a different route to school. Celebrate their adaptability and willingness to try new things by very specifically praising their flexibility (e.g., “Woah, I’m so impressed that you were able to handle that change well!” “Thanks for being flexible when our plans had to change.” “I know those changes were frustrating, I appreciate that you were still able to participate.”).

5. Model Resilience:

Children learn by example, so demonstrate resilience in your own life by openly discussing how you handle challenges and setbacks. Share stories of times when things didn't go as planned and highlight the strategies you used to overcome them.

Responding to Frustration:

Even with all of these steps, your kids are going to get frustrated. It just happens! Building the super power of flexibility takes time and practice. So don’t give up! Here are some steps to help your child in those moments of frustration:
- Stay Calm: Model calmness and patience, even when your child is upset. Take a deep breath and reassure them that it's okay to feel frustrated.
- Validate Feelings: Let your child know that it's normal to feel upset when things don't go as planned. Encourage them to express their emotions and offer support.
- Problem-Solve Together: Instead of swooping in to fix the problem, empower your child to come up with their own solutions. Brainstorm ideas together and praise their efforts, even if the solution doesn't work out.
- Encourage Self-Reflection: After the situation has passed, reflect on what could have been done differently and discuss strategies for handling similar challenges in the future.

By fostering mental flexibility in our children, we empower them to navigate life's twists and turns with confidence and resilience. Through a combination of practice, perspective-taking, and open communication, we can help our children develop the skills they need to thrive! 

Want to know more about how to build self-regulation and coping strategies in your kids? Check our out Parenting 101 course!

Want more like this? Transform your home with our Parenting 101 Course, and weekly tips from two Child Psychologists. 

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