How to Strengthen Your Child's Psychological Flexibility

There are constant changes in life, and it's important that children learn to adapt as soon as possible. Developing their psychological flexibility will be a great help in achieving this.
How to Strengthen Your Child's Psychological Flexibility

Last update: 05 January, 2021

We all know dynamic and resolute people who seem to always be able to face the unexpected with creativity and confidence. But we also know people who feel paralyzed in the face of change, and who are unable to redirect their lives. These differences are based on the psychological flexibility of each individual – an idea that should be promoted from an early age.

So, what is psychological flexibility? It’s a cognitive ability that continues to develop until a person is around 20 years of age. But, in spite of that, it’s important to work on a child’s psychological flexibility from a young age. This will help them to achieve a greater emotional well-being, and more stable and satisfactory social relations. In addition to this, you’ll help them to be more successful in life.

Rigidity vs. flexibility

Psychological flexibility is the ability to modify thoughts and behavior according to the demands of the environment. It’s also the ability to perceive different points of view and create options and alternatives when our initial idea no longer works.

We implement this in different situations in our daily lives. For example, when one class finishes and a child has to switch from math to language. Or when they were expecting to have pasta and tomato sauce for lunch, but there’s no sauce left.

How to Strengthen Your Child's Psychological Flexibility

Children who tend to be more rigid in their thinking will be enormously frustrated by the change of lunch plans. Some will even refuse to eat anything else. This unexpected change, even though it’s a very minor and unimportant one, can cause them great discomfort and they won’t find it easy to find an alternative solution.

On the contrary, a child who has been taught psychological flexibility will be less disturbed by this situation. They’ll be able to accept it more readily and quickly, and will look for alternatives and solutions.

As a result, they may decide to eat the pasta plain, or mix it with some other ingredients. You could also suggest to postpone the pasta meal till the next day and go and get some sauce on that afternoon.

This is a simple, everyday situation where the degree of psychological flexibility makes the difference between dissatisfaction and problem solving. However, it can influence and improve many other areas of a child’s life.

Benefits of psychological flexibility

  • Helps children adapt to changes more quickly and with less suffering. It teaches them to accept that their expectations won’t always be met, and helps them to be creative enough to think of other options. Instead of remaining in a negative frame of mind because of their frustrated desire, they’ll be able to come up with alternative ways to reach a satisfactory solution.
  • Improves children’s ability to perceive information in their surroundings, and change their behavior accordingly. In this way, it’ll be easier for them to change from a formal environment, such as a class, to a more relaxed one, such as break time. They’ll be able to adapt their behavior in order to succeed in different situations. They’ll be able to keep quiet and stay focused during class, and then chat and participate with their classmates during break.
  • Increases children’s empathic capacity, and opens them up to different points of view. Psychological flexibility allows children to look beyond their own opinion and understand that there are different ways of understanding situations. This will help them to be more tolerant and understanding of the people around them.
How to Strengthen Your Child's Psychological Flexibility

How to promote psychological flexibility in your child

As you can see, psychological flexibility helps children see how they themselves can generate changes in their emotions. It motivates them to look for alternatives instead of getting stuck in negativity, and also promotes tolerance and understanding of other people. In short, they’ll become more autonomous, creative, happy and healthy infants.

If you want to enhance your child’s psychological flexibility, then take advantage of everyday circumstances to analyze different perspectives together.

When they feel frustrated, then encourage your child to look for a different solution. When one of their friends is angry, encourage them to try to imagine what the other child is thinking and feeling. If they’re sad, then show them how they can change their frame of mind simply by changing their thoughts.

Encourage their creativity and imagination; help them to think differently. But, most of all, listen to them. Suggest ideas and alternatives, and listen to their opinion, value their ideas, and applaud their ingenuity.

And don’t forget to practice it yourself! Your attention and your example will be their greatest motivation to become more and more flexible.

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  • Cobos-Sánchez, L., Flujas-Contreras, J. M., & Gómez-Becerra, I. (2017). Intervención en flexibilidad psicológica como competencia emocional en adolescentes: una serie de casos. Revista de Psicología Clínica con Niños y Adolescentes4(2), 135-141.
  • Servián, F. (2018, 11 mayo). Inflexibilidad psicológica y depresión: ¿cuál es su relación? Recuperado 23 enero, 2020, de https://lamenteesmaravillosa.com/inflexibilidad-psicologica-y-depresion-cual-es-su-relacion/