ADHD and Flexible Thinking

woman thinking with legs crossed

Flexible thinking is one of the most important interpersonal skills we can teach our children.

And ourselves.

I’ve already discussed teaching children compromise, and this falls in line with that.

As an adult with ADHD you might have struggled with flexible thinking yourself.

While some ADHDers think of themselves as spontaneous, there are some of us who feel more comfortable with a sense of structure and control.

I first heard about the idea of flexible thinking in reference to my son during our initial foray into play therapy.

I had been reading the Parenting with Love and Logic books, and trying to train myself a bit in my reactions to his behavior. (affiliate link. See my full disclosure.)

A good friend who is a special ed teacher came over one night and mentioned that a lot of kids with ADHD and Autism have trouble with this concept. She explained that for many people, flexible thinking has to be learned and practiced.

Many adults and high IQ individuals have trouble with flexible thinking as well.

Flexible Thinking in children

Flexible thinking is the ability to consider other people’s feelings and thoughts as well your own.

Caroline Maguire defines flexible behavior by these criteria:

  • Think how your friends feel and adapt your behavior
  • Shift when a routine or plan changes
  • Meet people halfway
  • Adjust thinking and mindset when needed
  • Let go of old hurts and blam
  • Know you aren’t always right
  • Compromise
  • Refrain from, “my way only” behavior
  • Hear other people’s ideas

Taken from Why Will No One Play With Me? (affiliate link. See my full disclosure.)

As you can see, flexible thinking requires a lot of executive function, which many adults and children struggle with.

This type of interaction also requires that you really*** listen to other people and practice using your empathy muscles.

Hearing and listening are two different things. Hearing is passive, while listening is active.

Considering other people’s thoughts and feelings is difficult for adults, so I cannot imagine how hard it must be for children.

flexible thinking in adults

Adults need to practice mental flexibility as well.

In a professional capacity, if you can’t accept constructive criticism, then you are going to have trouble learning new skills and looking at situations from a different angle.

Employers have been polled about the personality traits that are desirable during the hiring process.  Two of these traits are “adaptability” and “creativity”.  Source

There is no way that I would be described as adaptable.  I am a creature of habit.

How you respond when plans change, or someone has a differing opinion, is of vital importance in adult interactions.

My executive function deficits make it very hard for me to adjust my thinking to changing circumstances.

I need to work on my flexible thinking and my listening ears just as much as my son does.

ADHD and Flexible Thinking

As a person with ADHD you are probably familiar with the idea of hyperfocus.

When we (ADHD’ers) really like something, or find something that excites us, we see nothing but that.

It’s kinda like an addiction.  There is definitely some dopamine involved.  You feel really good, and nothing else in the world is as important as this one person/activity/hobby.

When I go through one of these hyperfocus phases it’s pretty obvious to the people around me.

Many ADHDers report that hyperfocus is linked with a reduced ability to think flexibly.

When I find something that sparks my interest, I want to know everything. I need to research everything about the subject, digest it, and then find a sense of closure. And I will focus on it to the exclusion of everything else.

Anyone who interrupts will be on the receiving end of my temper.

My son will often hyperfocus on something that seems silly or innocuous and he will perseverate on it for hours. And if I try to shift his focus he becomes grouchy and emotional.

Obviously even my adult brain could use some help in this area.

Here are some tips for managing ADHD and flexible thinking.

1.gather resources

We have been reading Caroline Maguire’s book I mentioned above and practicing some of the exercises.

My son is nine, so he is able to have conversations about his thinking and feelings.

Another series that works really well for young children is the Super Flex books. (see my full disclosure.)

You can also make a lot of progress working with a trained therapist who understands ADHD/Autism and how thinking can become a little rigid.

Social skills groups are enormously beneficial for children, and luckily for you and I, life out in the world offers us a wealth of opportunity for practicing our flexible thinking.

2. talk openly about feelings

Anyone who knows me can tell you I don’t really enjoy talking about my feelings.  But when it comes to my child, I am all about sharing.  Oversharing, even.

When he is caught in one of his perseveration cycles and being completely inflexible, I ask him, “what am I thinking right now?”

Usually he says he doesn’t know. But this is an easy segue into a discussion about considering other people’s feelings and ideas. Sometimes we talk about, “reading through the lines” of what people say and noticing their body language and tone as well.

I encourage you to ask you children to identify their own feelings, and then try to identify how their behavior impacts those around them.

be (super) flexible

I have gotten so into the concept of flexible thinking that I actually ask myself, “Are you being inflexible?”  More often than not, I am.

These days I am more aware of my own tendency to default to inflexible patterns of thinking and behaving.

Leading by example is the best way for us to instill our values in our children.  So I am doing just that -I am controlling my snap judgments and my snarky comments.

I am showing my son that I value the feelings and ideas of other people.

There will be moments of crazy hyperfocus, but I am growing and so is my son.

He is watching me rewire my brain to be more flexible.

You never know, I might be able to get my own Superflex cape!

Flexible Thinking with ADHD

Super Flexible SuperHeros Courtesy of Pixabay


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