Flexibility is one of the brain’s emotional executive functions, and it includes the ability to adapt to changing conditions by revising plans or switching strategies. Students with the skill of flexibility can adjust when faced with setbacks, new information, obstacles, or mistakes. They can change their plans without feeling distressed and can accept an alternative when their first choice is unavailable. They often use multiple solutions to solve problems if needed and can develop new ways to do familiar tasks when necessary.
Students who have not yet developed flexibility skills often become upset with new information or a change in the plan. They tend to get stuck on one activity and have difficulty transitioning from one to the next. They often fixate on a topic and are disturbed when it changes. They will use the same approach to solve a problem repeatedly, even when it doesn’t work, and often feel upset or disappointed when facing problems.
When helping students develop flexibility, a few goals could include:
- Transition easily from one activity to the next
- Adapt to a change in topics and schedules
- Try new approaches for problem-solving
To work towards these goals, it is necessary to teach students how to adapt to changing conditions. Using tools like timers, checklists, and routines is especially helpful to show students how to anticipate changes. Students who struggle with flexibility need to explore why they are resistant to change, and then develop strategies for managing the stress they can feel. They need to learn how differences can have positive outcomes and that looking at things differently is often beneficial. It is also essential to give students opportunities to practice flexibility to reduce the distress they may experience. Because students who struggle in this area are often seen as rigid or close-minded, it is important to recognize the fear students can feel with new situations and different thoughts, so they feel safe to use flexibility strategies.
Flexibility significantly increases a student’s ability to learn and succeed, and providing students with the strategies to adapt to changing conditions and think more flexibly is a lasting gift.