- capable of bending easily without breaking.
Flexible thinking is important. People thrive when they have a range of ways to navigate stress at home and at work and psychological flexibility can act as a buffer between stress and negative psychological outcomes (Gloster, Meyer, & Lieb, 2017). The greater our psychological flexibility the more likely it is we have lower levels of depression, anxiety, and distress during stressful life events (Masuda et al., 2011). Parents need to adopt new ways of thinking when they have children and it’s an important skill set to pass on to our kids.
For parents having flexible children is an attractive possibility. We spend a lot of time with our families and so we want to enjoy being around each other. It’s just a lot easier for people living in a group, like a family, when everyone has higher flexibility. It is harder to access flexible thinking when we are under stress. Recent events have seen us needing to be flexible and high levels of change will require even more flexible habits. So you are not alone if you find yourself saying I am sick of my children “getting away with it” or maybe this you hear yourself talking about how your children annoy you when they do things “just to wind me up” . If this sounds familiar it could be worth spending time working out what needs to happen to encourage children to be more flexible.
When we say things like someone is winding us up it’s a sign that we are in the emotional part of our brain. Emotions can drive us to be more reactive, less calm and focused and can ultimately leave us feeling drained. When this pattern keeps repeating, other areas, such as our work, can suffer. https://gtgparenting.co.nz/2021/11/05/leadership-guide-for-parents-who-want-more-energy-at-home-and-work/
Another problem that happens when there is a lack of flexibility is that parents can be left with a strong feeling they are the only one at home being flexible. It feels unfair and causes frustration. Frustration and unfairness lead to a tense climate where there are more flare ups at home. So what is it that can parents do to help their children be more flexible?
Ask what does your child need from you
The starting point is thinking about what our child needs to learn to get skills in this area. When we ask what is it that my child needs from me, we get out of the emotional part of our brain and we get much clearer about what we need to do. We can be calmer and more focused on the problem and less about reacting to it. From the clearer perspective it’s much easier to use our energy to set things up well/. We can begin to look for the clues to see exactly what it is that our child needs to become more flexible.
Pay attention to what is really happening
Now we are acting like a citizen scientist, observing our child over time. Working out what they are able to do and what is a challenge for them. Kids are great at telling us what they need with their behaviour. Patterns that emerge over time and this information is powerful. It helps us notice that our child needs help in specific areas. It could be a need to learn how to share resources or toys or maybe it is to cooperate with their peers or their siblings. Not sharing and not cooperating are usually signs of a lack of flexibility. Children are likley to needas immature brains are typically not that good at this sort of thing. When children lack skills we need to put our focus on helping them to develop and to make their brain more flexible.
Work with what you’ve got
The parent who is saying that their child is winding them up also needs to change perspective. It’s my experience that even a child who has a small ability for cooperation also has a small amount of flexibility too. It just might be a smaller amount of flexibility than parents expect or would like. It is so tempting to throw our hands up in the air and shout “my child is so stubborn/difficult/defiant”. We are more likely to react strongly when the stakes are high over issues to do with health and safety. https://gtgparenting.co.nz/2021/10/28/teens-vaccines-making-decisions/
Keep on track and get really clear about what is actually happening right in front of us. As parents we are just are not in a habit of paying attention to these micro amounts. So look harder if you are struggling to find it.
Increasing awareness of what is going well will help to cultivate a more flexible approach. What we do over time will encourage flexibility. These are some examples of ways to notice and mention it:
“When you didn’t moan about waiting for your friend to finish playing with the scooter that was really flexible of you.”
“I like the way you waited for your brother to finish on the IPAD computer before you had a turn.”
“You didn’t interrupt me when I was on the phone to Nana, you waited for me to finish the call before you came and asked me to drop you off in town.“
“You’ve both been playing together for the past 2 minutes and no one has complained that the other one is a pain.”
Finding ways to highlight flexibility makes this value important. Flexibility helps everyone at home in the long run. Kids who learn how to be flexible and how to have a more flexible approach will have better outcomes when they can bend without breaking.