We teach children at a young age to be nice, share, and tell the truth. We want to instill good values and morals, so the children will grow up to be good human beings. We stress listening and following rules. Well, some children take following the rules to the extreme. These children struggle with flexibility and change. They see the world in black and white, not a speck of gray. How do we teach these children that there are times the rules need to be bent and things cannot be taken literally?
A picture comes to mind. I am working with Paul( not his real name). Paul likes to debate me and argue, sometimes for hours, and does not give up until he is too exhausted. He has a hard time seeing another person’s side of the story. This time, he seems particulaly inflexible and stuck. He repeats himself over and over. I finally tell him to “Drop It”. And he does… except that what he drops is my Ipad that he happened to be holding when I asked him to “drop” his argument. When I ask him to explain why he dropped my Ipad, his answer is sincere: He was just following what I asked him to do and it wasn’t going to be his fault if the Ipad is damaged. How do we help Paul and other children who are too literal and inflexible grasp the nuances of everyday language, depending on the social context? Below are some tips:
When you start to see the child become rigid in their thinking it is important to label what is happening so the child can start to understand their own thinking process. Stating that they are not being flexible and explaining what that means since one child I stated that they aren’t being fliexible he started to touched his toes and stated loudly “Yes, I’m flexible since I can touch my toes”. Again, literal thinking, what does it mean to be flexible in their thinking?
Lets face it adults get stuck all the time in their own way of thinking and at time doesn’t help them. Showing your child that adults do get stuck too and are working on being flexible and changing the routine helps model to them what we want them to do. I can’t tell you how many times I show a child when I find myself getting stuck or if I made a mistake and I tell the child I’m sorry. Most of the time they are amazed that an adult said sorry to a child and they are more receptive to acknowledge when they make a mistake.
When you find yourself arguing with the child over being flexible that is when you need to stop and give yourself a break. When the child keeps saying the same thing over and over again you aren’t getting anywhere. Their processing is stuck and they aren’t hearing you anyways. You can tell the child “When you are calm we can talk” Or “I have listened to you please listen to me”.
All children are different and learn differently and some know how to read the social situations better than others. It is important to teach at a young how to work with others and be flexible in their own thinking.