From a One-Track Mind to Train Depot Thinking

by michelle reynolds

It can be hard to admit, but we have all had times when we have reacted badly when things have not gone our way.  When it comes to our kids, sometimes they can roll with it; switch tracks and keep on chugging. Then there are those other times, your little locomotive gets locked on one track and, boom, an outburst, tantrum, meltdown… Whatever you call it, it’s a train wreck.


Flexible Thinking is the skill needed to smoothly roll from one track to another without going off the rails. It is the ability to think about a problem in a new way and adapt as things change.  Flexible Thinking is something that children (and adults) can learn and become better at with practice.  Not being able to change tracks to cope with the unexpected can cause fear and frustration. Kids often express these scary emotions by acting out in one way or another.


Here are a few simple ways to help the children in your life build the Flexible Thinking muscles needed to throw the track switch. The key element in all these tips is slow speed and gentle curves; locomotives don’t make 90 degree turns.


Change Zombie Tag into Tiger Tag

Rigid thinkers usually love to follow the rules and make sure everyone else does too.  This can create conflicts with friends because less rigid kids love to add new variations to play.


Help your child practice coping with variation by changing the rules slightly in a safe setting. Pick a game or family activity at home that has a set of rules and tweak one a little bit. Let them know the new rule up front, before starting the game. Even better, get their ideas about what rule to change and how the new one will work. This will help your child adjust to variations and rule changes that always happen at school or on play dates.


Shake it Up

Change the routine… a little. Do things in a different order, like PJ’s before teeth brushing or sitting in a different chair for dinner. Even taking a different route home from the grocery store helps children see that nothing terrible happens when you do something familiar in a different way.


You’ve got options

Have your child give 3 ways to solve every problem.  Even the silliest solution: I got in trouble for talking so I’ll never talk to another person, ever, for the rest of my life, helps children to recognize that they have choices.


It’s Backwards Day

Can you do the opposite? Change directions…literally. Ask your kids if they can eat with their other hand, walk down the hallway backwards (not near the stairs), or read a book upside down (them or the book).  Engaging the brain in new ways expands thinking and builds flexibility.


What Could It Be Now?

Find strange new uses for old things. Challenge your kids to make something new with materials from the recycling bin. Even more fun, play a game where you think of new uses for familiar items. What could you do with the sock that lost its mate? What about with every solo sock in the house? Another great game is to grab something like a pipe cleaner or paperclip and take turns pretending it is something else.


about michelle reynolds

Dr. Michelle Reynolds is a Licensed Psychologist in the state of Connecticut.  Dr. Reynolds has a passion for helping people integrate healthy lifestyle choices across all aspects of life using a holistic model to help patients flourish. She earned her Doctorate in Clinical Health Psychology from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, and has worked in the mental health field since 1995 in diverse settings including hospitals, mental health clinics, home-based services, and private practice. In her free time, Dr. Reynolds enjoys geocaching, biking and kayaking with her husband and children.

Michelle Reynolds, PhD

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