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Cognitive flexibility for kids: Definitions, Activities, Tips

Jan 26, 2021

Cognitive flexibility for kids (or flexible thinking for children) refers to the mental ability to look at the situation from a different perspective, to pivot and make better decisions. We are living in the 21st century, the era when everything changes so fast, it is vital that parents and school leaders organize activities for children to think flexibly to catch up with constant changes. In this blog, Skidos would like to discuss about what cognitive flexibility is, give several reasons why cognitive flexibility is a must-have 21st century skills for kids to master and recommend some tips to grow your child’s cognitive flexibilities.

What is cognitive flexibility?

Cognitive flexibility is about quickly adjusting to changes, looking at things differently and exploring new ways of doing things. When we think flexibly, we can easily adjust to new situations and deal with the changes in our routine.

What is cognitive flexibility for kids

There is a big difference between a stuck thinker and a flexible thinker. A stuck thinker usually finds himself unable to change what he is thinking or doing, his mind is not open wide enough to receive or accept new array of thinking to adjust to an unplanned situation. He also does not know how to deal with possible changes or newly arising problems.

If things may NOT go as you planned, this probably can get you frustrated, worried or mad. At that moment, a rigid thinker tends to complain, mourn, pout, cry, give up, refuse to apply new solutions to the problems.

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Whereas, a flexible thinker shall act differently, to change the plan and try something new, in another word, to go with the flow. Possessing cognitive flexibility, a person can switch between two options to multiple options to resolve issues that suddenly occur. A flexible thinker is creative that when recognizing the original working method does not work effectively, he can open a new way of doing things.

Moreover, flexible thinkers also find it okay to let others freely follow their own working style, to perform tasks in their way as long as they can complete the given tasks well. Cognitive flexibility skill facilitates individuals with different opinions to get on well with others, to innovate new solutions to complex problems and generate new ideas of completing the given tasks.

Why is cognitive flexibility important for kids

Why is cognitive flexibility important for kids?

Flexible thinking for children is very important to master due to several reasons.

First, children are now living in the 21st century when everything changes so fast due to high technological development, it is vital that they know how to quickly react to changes and readily adapt to a new situation. Cognitive flexibility helps kids to cope with changes in a calm way, to let go of the old way of doing something and to innovate new stuff. With the flexible thinking skill, kids can be better at going with the flow and accepting changes in the situation or environment around them, both inside and outside the classroom.

On the other hand, children with weak cognitive flexibility might find it hard to accept sudden changes, be reluctant to take on new assignments or responsibilities, which may affect their chances of success in the future.

For example, in case a Physical Education class must be held inside due to the rainy weather, an energetic but rigid thinking kid may feel sad about staying indoor whereas another flexible thinking student can still find ways to enjoy the class; maybe inventing some indoor games or trying doing push- up challenges. It is undeniable that cognitive flexibility is an essential skill fostering kids to grow up and live a successful, happy life.

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BENEFITS OF cognitive flexibility for kids children students

The second advantage of thinking flexibly is that it facilitates kids to learn more effectively in numerous areas. Children are in the process of learning new things and acquiring different piece of knowledge day by day so that it is essential that they think flexibly to come up with impressive solutions to the assignments in their academic life.

For instant, while learning how to read, flexible thinking students shall easily accept that how the same letter combination can create different sounds (like the “ough” in two words “enough” and “plough”). With flexible thinking for children,they can be open to learn how a word can mean differently in different scenarios (“He hands in his exam paper” and “Please wash your hands carefully”).

In the Maths class, flexible thinking skill for kids can support them in figuring out new strategy to solve the given Math exercise because their mindset is open to new opportunities of having more than one answer to a problem whereas rigid thinkers might just follow the only solution steps in the textbook. Moreover, flexible thinking also plays an important part in facilitating kids to study foreign languages. In other languages, letters look like English alphabet letters may sound different from English letters and sentences may not formed together in the way they are in English. Having flexible thinking skill, kids can learn better and achieve higher academic results.

How do you improve a child's cognitive flexibility

Another possible strong point of cognitive flexibility can be that it assists your child to collaborate and get along well with his friends.  Thinking flexibly helps children to switch between options and come up with new ideas and thus, gaining control over negative feelings caused by sudden changes in the predefined plan such as disappointments, sadness, anger, hatred and to change their expectations and deal with unexpected plan.

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For example, if your children have a plan to go out for a picnic in the forest with other kids, one friend may show up late due to his family’ issues and make the entire plan to be cancelled. What to do to save the day? A flexible thinker can quickly adjust to the situation and not be angry with that friend while thinking of another awesome plan for the group such as to go to the nearby entertainment park and play amusing games or go home and arrange a party there.

Another example of the advantage of cognitive flexibility can be shown in doing teamwork. Your kids can meet some different or opposing opinions against him from his team members, if he can think flexibly, he can accept that others can be right and he can be wrong and switch his opinion toward the common goal of completing the task, avoiding argument and conflicts in the team. Thanks to cognitive flexibility, children can be excellent at working with others, maintaining good relationship with friends and living happily with others.

Activities for nurturing cognitive flexibility for kids

Because cognitive flexibility is so important for kids that parents and school activists should arrange interesting activities to stimulate kids to master this skill both inside and outside of the classroom. Skidos would like to suggest some activities for nurturing cognitive flexibility for children from an early age.

#1 Try new things out often

Parents can suggest your children to have an open mind and to try new things always. You and your kids can do something that you all have never done before. For example, together you and your kids to try exotic food, play new sports, listen to new kinds of music or try to play a different, not your favourite games. It is an effective way to encourage your kids to be flexible and thus, boost up your kids’ cognitive flexibility.

#2 Change some plans suddenly

Plan and routine are definitely beneficial for kids but life is always unexpected and full of surprises, it is better that you take chances to teach your kids to embrace unplanned events that life may throw their way. When there is a sudden change in the flow of a moment or a day, parents should act calm, deal with negative feelings and actively welcome the change to model kids to follow.

Cognitive flexibility Activities for kids

When the family goes out to try Chinese food and do not know that it is closed on Tuesday’s afternoon, parents can try talking to children something like, “Sorry! It looks like the restaurant is shut down on Tuesday’s afternoon. Let’s make a new plan to go somewhere else then. Do you have any ideas of another place to go for lunch today?”. This way you are presenting your children to unexpected situations and train your children to think flexibly to come up with new ideas.

| >>> Read more about another important 21st century skills: Critical Thinking for Kids: Why, Benefits & Tips [Completed]

#4 Set new rules for games.

Children who have rigid thinking style can find it hard to believe that there is more than one option to solve a problem. Parents can help them to practice recognizing other options by setting new rules for some games they usually play.

For example, you can ask your children to create their board /card/ Uno game with their own rules instead of following the defined rules or make up their own crosswords to challenge others. Play that games whose shifting rules with your kids and you can get your kids excited and be eager to think more flexibly.

#5 Play “Show me different ways….” game

Parents and teachers can help children to boost up cognitive flexibility by playing the game “Show me different ways to…”. First, gather up different objects like pens, pencils, crayons, and toys. Then say to kids, “Show me different ways to make the number 15.”. Children then can pick objects from the pile of things to form different numeric combinations that arrive to the number 15.

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For example, they might choose 2 pens, 4 pencils, 5 crayons, and 4 toys. The game can continue with different number. Parents and teachers can also join the game with kids. By playing this game, kids learn that there are so many ways to solve a problem and it stimulates their flexible thinking ability very well.

In summary, cognitive flexibility is important for children around the world to master in the 21st century as it is a driving factor for children’s development in achieving academic success at school and working with others in the future. Skidos believes that there will be a great deal of useful suggestions for fostering children flexible thinking available out there. If you have any other interesting thoughts or tips, please let us know!

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