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A Flexible Mind

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The Mind is Like a Muscle

You can help your child develop a more flexible mind in the same way that you would help your child develop more flexible muscles: by stretching thinking to a comfortable point and not past it. If you move your muscles past the point of comfort, the muscle may be injured and the process of becoming flexible takes longer. Like a muscle, the mind will only tolerate a gentle stretch but, likewise, a mind will only become more flexible if you do stretch it.

In practical terms, a flexible mind is one that can tolerate, even enjoy, new experiences.  A flexible mind is able to learn from new experiences and integrate this new information into previously learned information.  Most of us become confused and overwhelmed if too many new things happen at one time. We then get upset or withdraw.  You will see the same thing with your child, and if you observe carefully, your child will let you know when he or she has had too many new experiences or been presented with too much new information.  As a parent, it is your job to help your child relax his or her brain for a bit by pulling out some more familiar routines and activities.

The aim is always toward helping your child learn to tolerate, accept and eventually enjoy new experiences and new ideas.

Stretching a Child's Mind

Here is an example from one of my therapy sessions.  I was playing doll house with a little girl.  Let's call her Rosita.  Rosita was not happy with my touching any of the dolls.  When I picked up a doll, she would scream and look at me briefly (which she saves for important moments). 

I considered two different ways to help her stretch her mind so that she could include me (and ultimately other children) in her play

Option 1

I could do something predictable and interesting with the dolls.  I hoped Rosita might begin to see a predictable pattern in what I was doing. 

I tried this: making each doll in her doll family lay face down while saying, Good night, Daddy Doll. Go to sleep.  Shhhhh. and shortly thereafter waking each doll, saying, Wake up Daddy Doll!  Wake up Mommy Doll! 

This strategy had worked in our last session.  But it did not work so well this time.  I think that Rosita had come prepared to make sure I did not interfere in her doll play this time.

Option 2

So I chose another option. I suggested to Rosita that there was another way to tell me that she did not want me to take the dolls.  I offered her an alternative to screaming. 

Each time Rosita protested, I modeled what she could say to stop me from taking her dolls.  She liked the idea and used it at every opportunity. 

We practiced this and both of us met our needs that day.  Rosita met her need to tell me not to touch her dolls by saying, DON’T TOUCH, TAHIRIH! each time I took a doll.  I met my goal of getting her to interact with me.   

Creating a "Don't Touch" Game

I would walk my fingers toward Daddy doll, saying I am going to get daddy doll.  And as soon as I had the doll, Rosita would tell me not to touch it.  I would agree, sometimes readily and sometimes reluctantly. 

Rosita came to expect that I would touch the dolls.  She tolerated this because I gave them right back.  That was as much flexibility as her mind would tolerate on this day.

But this little girl was not engaged in self-directed, solo play with the dolls as she would have been had I let her remain stuck in her solo play.  Instead, Rosita and I were busy with a discussion about whether or not I could touch the dolls.  We actively and pleasantly disagreed for twenty minutes or so.

This was great progress!

What next?

When Rosita and I play next, I might say to her, One minute, I will give daddy doll right back.  I might then play in some interesting way with the doll for one minute intervals. I could try ideas until, hopefully, hit upon an idea for joint play with dolls that was interesting to her or at least acceptable to her.