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November 1, 2015

Teaching Flexible Thinking

Q: How can I teach my child to be less rigid about the schedule? He completely loses it when there is an unexpected change.

A: Good question. The first step is to understand that your child might not understand why the world works how it does, why people make the decisions they do, and why routines are sometimes disrupted by necessary changes. He might depend on some sense of predictability to be relaxed and unexpected change might cause him significant stress.

Try using a calendar or a "change board" as concrete, highly systematic methods of teaching tolerance for change. Make sure your calendar has room to write information on each day. Make note of birthdays and family or community events on the calendar and then teach your child to "check" the calendar every morning to see what is happening and to check for any changes. If a parent travels, you can mark out of town trips so that your child clearly sees when someone is leaving and returning. If your child asks perseverative questions about when a particular event will happen (Halloween, vacation, trip to Disney, etc.) refer him to the calendar to find his answer.

A "change board" can be used alone or in conjunction with a calendar. The classic change board is a white wipe off board hung in the kitchen. The board is always blank unless something is different about the daily schedule (a Dr. appointment, a visitor, or something like the monthly disaster signal). You will need to teach your child to look at the change board every day to check for changes. These changes can be simple ones or you might reserve the change board for the really upsetting changes.

Once or twice a week, try creating a simple change (not too drastic or emotionally upsetting - something like shopping on a different day or going to visit someone) so that your child gradually becomes used to seeing a change on the calendar or the change board. If your family has a last minute crisis that leads to unexpected changes minute, you can write the change on the change board and then prompt your child to check it.

Changes might still be unpleasant but by using a system to introduce change, you can take "the edge off" and make the change easier to tolerate.

For excellent examples of how to use visuals to teach flexibility, check out the work of Linda Hodgdon ( whose books are comprehensive and very easy to understand.


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