I have known Nancy Weinstein, of Mindprint Learning©, for many years.
Now that parents are seeing their children’s struggles more intimately during home learning, I have been asked by so many of them, what they can do to better understand their children’s challenges.
I thought it might be helpful to ask Nancy to explain a bit about what she does and, more specifically, to help you understand how difficulty with Flexible Thinking, one of the measures used in her assessment tool, impacts so many children.
Mindprint Learning© is an online assessment tool to accurately identify how your child learns best across 10 skills in the domains of complex reasoning, executive functions, memory, and processing. The assessment was developed by neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania and is used to support students worldwide.
Of all the Mindprint measures, Flexible Thinking is the skill parents usually want to understand better. It’s likely because the behavior typically associated with weak flexible thinking is so challenging, e.g., temper tantrums, stubbornness, and other uncooperative behavior. However, what sometimes looks like weak flexible thinking is really a child struggling with learning or anxiety. Other times, parents are surprised to learn their child is struggling with flexible thinking because their child is internalizing their struggles rather than misbehaving. I’ve outlined what you can look for in your child’s behaviors, so you can decide how best to help your child.
What is Flexible Thinking?
Flexible thinking is part of the domain of cognitive skills known as executive functions. It is the ability to shift thinking or attention in response to new or unexpected facts or events. In more simple terms, does your child listen and take feedback? Do they get easily upset when you break their routine, or they find out that plans have changed? Flexible thinking improves with age, so insert “age-appropriate” as you ask yourself these questions. If you’re answering “yes,” you’ll want to keep reading.
Why is Flexible Thinking important?
Flexible thinking is key to decision making in all types of situations. Imagine driving without your GPS, and you reach a “road closed” sign; you have no idea where you are or where to go next. You might get angry, especially if you’re in a rush. You might panic about what to do next and call someone for help. Or you might simply sit there flummoxed.
That’s how a child with weaker flexible thinking feels when asked to find another way to solve a problem or try a new, unfamiliar situation or task, or make a choice—some combination of confusion, anger, fear, frustration, and panic.
Keep in mind that no two children will handle these intense feelings in the same way. In other words, the response you see will vary depending on your child’s personality, but the results will be the same — the adjustment that needs to happen isn’t happening.
What are the most common signs of weak, Flexible Thinking?
Many factors can influence your child’s reactions at a given time. However, look for patterns.
Does your child repeatedly struggle more than peers with:
- Transitions (e.g., the first day back to school after vacation, participating in a new after-school program)
- Disappointments (e.g., canceled plans, not getting their first choice)
- Getting along with others (e.g., argues with friends, refuses to listen)
In school, weak flexible thinking can be missed. Sometimes the most capable students have the weakest flexible thinking, so it doesn’t affect academic performance until middle or high school. Still, there are some telltale signs.
Do you hear from your child’s teachers that they:
- Struggle with instructions (but may have no problem once they get started)
- Don’t take feedback (might listen, but the feedback doesn’t show up in the student’s work)
- Struggle with decisions or choices (picking a paper topic or deciding what to read)
How do I know it’s Flexible Thinking and not “something else”?
It’s good to be cautious about assuming your child struggles with flexible thinking because other challenges can look a lot like flexible thinking.
Here are some other struggles you’ll want to rule out first:
- Anxiety. Students trying to cope with anxiety can behave similarly to students with weaker flexible thinking. They might have temper tantrums or refuse to listen to adults as a way to cope with their overwhelming emotions.
- Learning struggles. Students might not say, “I don’t understand” or “I can’t finish my work.” Instead, they might just give up, refuse to do the work, or not adapt because they simply don’t know-how.
- Social challenges. Defensive or aggressive behavior can look a lot like weak flexible thinking, but it can be a child’s way of coping with bullying or feeling left out.
I’m confident the problem is Flexible Thinking. Now what?
Start by recognizing that flexible thinking is a coachable skill, but it will take time, lots of patience, and trust. If you’re going to tackle this on your own, we encourage you to read everything you can on flexible thinking, starting with Cindy’s book, 8 Keys to Parenting Children with ADHD. Decide if you want to inform your child’s teacher so you can work together to give your child consistency at home and school. Start with these key parenting strategies, which can build the foundation for supporting your child.
Prepare for Transitions
Make Contingency Plans
How to Take Feedback
Many parents find it really hard to do this on their own, and you might consider parent coaching.
I’m no longer sure it’s Flexible Thinking. Now what?
You might want to talk to your child’s teachers to see what they’re noticing in school and if they might be seeing other challenges, you do not see at home. Or consider discussing your concerns with an expert in social-emotional challenges. Your child’s pediatrician, the school psychologist or counselor, or an outside child psychologist are good places to start.
A psycho-educational evaluation is the most comprehensive way to determine if your child struggles with flexible thinking or other challenges. It includes an evaluation of academic and cognitive skills. It’s also time-consuming and expensive if the school refuses.
This is often when parents come directly to Mindprint to get objective data to identify the challenge. Based on your child’s Mindprint results, you’ll know if your child is struggling with flexible thinking or not.
If it’s flexible thinking, you’ve got a good handle on what to do next.
If it’s another cognitive skill, your Mindprint report will guide you on the next steps.
Learn more about Mindprint’s at-home solution.
Nancy Weinstein is the founder and CEO of Mindprint Learning©, the worldwide leader in online cognitive assessment for children ages 8+. You can find out more about Mindprint by Clicking Here or reach the Mindprint team at [email protected].