How To Teach Flexible Thinking

Flexible thinking with ADHD

Are you a flexible thinker?

I am trying to be.

Lets face it, those of us with ADHD often struggle with mental flexibility.

I have been contemplating the idea of flexible thinking quite a bit lately.

I first heard about this idea in reference to my son during our initial foray into play therapy.

I had been reading the Parenting with Love and Logic books, and trying to train myself a bit in my reactions to his behavior.

In the midst of this a good friend came over one night and mentioned that a lot of really bright kids with a variety of diagnoses have trouble with this concept. She explained that for many people, flexible thinking has to be learned.

She suggested the SuperFlex series of books for us to try out with E.

Naturally, I took this idea and asked the psychologist I took him to what she thought. (Yes I took my son to a play therapist, a licensed psychologist and an occupational therapist. In that order.)

She thought it was a great idea to expose him to SuperFlex.

She also explained that many high IQ individuals have trouble with flexible thinking.

What is Flexible Thinking?

Flexible thinking is the ability to consider other people’s feelings and thoughts as well your own.

Thinking in a flexible way also involves listening skills. I have ADHD, I suspect my son probably does too, and we both have listening issues.

We hear people talking all the time, but hearing and listening are two different things.

Considering other people’s thoughts and feelings is hard for adults, so I cannot imagine how hard it must be for children.

Flexible thinking is an important interpersonal skill.

The more I think about it, the more obvious it becomes to me that one needs to be a flexible thinker in a professional capacity also.  If you cannot accept constructive criticism, then you are going to have trouble learning new skills and looking at situations from a different angle.

Employers have been polled about the personality traits that are desirable during the hiring process.  Two of these traits are “adaptability” and “creativity”.  Source

There is no way that I would be described as adaptable.  I am a creature of habit.  As in, I am totally inflexible. And so is my son.

And creative..well lets just say I am a good “idea” person.  Executing my ideas is a different story.

My thinking is not flexible enough, and my executive functions are not good enough to bring my ideas to fruition.

ADHD and Flexible Thinking

As a person with ADHD you are probably familiar with the idea of hyperfocus.

When we (ADHD’ers) really like something, or find something that excites us, we see nothing but that.

It’s kinda like having an addiction.  There is definitely some dopamine involved.  You feel really good, and nothing else in the world is as important as this one person/activity/hobby.

When I go through one of these hyperfocus phases it’s pretty obvious to the people around me.

Is it possible that this hyperfocus is linked somehow with a reduced ability to think flexibly?

I know that when I form an opinion on something, I have a tendency to stick to it.  It doesn’t matter what you show me to the contrary, if I have made a decision, you will not change my mind.

My son will often hyperfocus on something that seems silly or innocuous and he will perseverate on it for hours. I wrote about him doing this in this post, where we were at the Aquarium.

No matter how much fun he was having, he would not stop asking about that red boat! It was maddening.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

(ADHD definitely affects your flexible thinking muscles.)

How I am teaching my child to be a flexible thinker:

gather resources

We have been reading the SuperFlex books that were suggested to us. My son loves them and the books are absolutely wonderful for pre-school and school aged children.

SuperFlex is a superhero in a cape. (A superhero must have a cape! HELLO!)

SuperFlex has a brain sensor that alerts him to when the citizens of Social Town are under attack by the Unthinkables. So far we have only read about Rock Brain, who creates inflexible thinking – and Glassman who causes big reactions to tiny problems.

This all sounds silly, but it works. We have regular conversations in our house about defeating Rock Brain and Glassman, and my son looks forward to telling me how he dealt with them each day.

talk openly about feelings

Anyone who knows me can tell you I don’t really enjoy talking about my feelings.  But when it comes to my child, I am all about sharing.  Oversharing, even.

When he is caught in one of his perseveration cycles and being completely inflexible, I ask him, “what am I thinking right now?”

Usually he says he doesn’t know. But this is an easy segue into a discussion about considering other people’s feelings and ideas.

I encourage you to ask you children to identify their own feelings, and then try to identify how their behavior impacts those around them.

be superflexible

I have gotten so into the concept of flexible thinking that I actually ask myself, “Are you being influenced by Rock Brain?”  More often than not, I am.

These days I am more aware of my own tendency to default to inflexible patterns of thinking and behaving.

Leading by example is the best way for us to instill our values in our children.  So I am doing just that. I am controlling my snap judgments and my snarky comments.

I am showing my son that I value the feelings and ideas of other people.  This includes people on the other side of the political spectrum, as well as my own family members.

I still have moments of crazy hyperfocus when I am excited about a new home improvement project, or something I am researching.  But I am growing and so is my son. He is able to watch me re-train myself to be more flexible.

You never know, by Halloween I might be able to get my own Superflex cape!

Flexible Thinking with ADHD

Super Flexible SuperHeros Courtesy of Pixabay


Are you a flexible thinker?

Do you think flexible thinking is important?


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