Does your child get really upset over any kind of change? Does your child get really upset when things are not what they expect?
Perhaps your child bosses other people around to get what they want. Some children can only think of 1 way to solve a problem. Their brain gets ‘stuck’. They may, unintentionally, hurt other people’s feelings.
This is called ‘rock brain’ or ‘rock thinking.’
When this occurs, children will display behaviors that are not appropriate for the situation or for their age. Tantrums erupt. Toys get broken. Shutdowns occur. Children may also want to flee their surroundings.
Some children with autism can have Rock Brain and be real rigid with their thoughts.
As parents, we need to model and teach them how to be a ‘flexible thinker’ when something doesn’t go our way.
What is Flexible Thinking?
To be a good social thinker, you need to become a ‘flexible thinker’. When faced with a problem, a flexible thinker will make their brain move around the problem and think of different solutions. The brain does not stay stuck. A flexible thinker also thinks of solutions while trying to consider other people’s feelings.
Step 1: Take a deep breath.
Model this step for your child. Show them how to slowly take a deep breath, close your eyes, roll your shoulders. Children learn by what they see. Next time you are faced with a problem, tell your child about the problem and model the deep breath.
Step 2: Realize some things are out of my control.
This step will need to be modeled time and time. For example, you’re heading to your favorite hot dog joint. You arrive and find out they close early on Sundays. Instead of getting upset, take a deep breath, and realize you did not know Sunday’s hours and you have no control over this.
Step 3: Change the plan.
Now is the time to ‘think’ of a solution. You can find a different hot dog joint to try, buy hot dogs and grill them at home, or be adventurous and go out for pizza! Think “out load” to model for your child. It’s important to be calm during this step.
Step 4: Accept the change.
Finalize your solution and carry on. It’s important to not dwell on the problem and model how you can carry on and you are just fine. You survived!
Flexible thinking takes time to learn. Model, model, model. Anytime you’re at home or in the car and a problem arises, model the 4 steps to flexible thinking. Then you can start helping your child through the steps when they face a problem.
When a problem first occurs, your child might shut down or refuse to try flexible thinking. Give them space and 5 minutes to calm down with an activity they like (reading a book, coloring, iPad, having a snack, etc.) Once your child is calm, begin the first step and talk through the remaining steps.
Being a flexible thinker will help your child become a good social thinker.