Welcome the Unexpected

Does your child resist changes in daily routine or have difficulty transitioning from one activity to another without having a meltdown? Although this problem may be common, many children adjust swiftly without emotional distress. But what makes the difference? Why are some kids able to shift gears easily while others can not?

In my clinical training with Harvard cardiologist, Herbert Benson,MD at the Mind/Body Program of stress reduction and relaxation, we discovered the major keys to stress-hardiness.

Let’s look at the first key to stress-hardiness: flexible vs. rigid thinking. Don’t we want our kids to
adapt to life challenges and unexpected changes? Of course we do, because no one gets through life without challenges and changes! Those kids who can go with the flow are not only socially better adjusted but they are healthier. Studies show stronger immune responses in those individuals who are stress-hardy.

Here are a few helpful ways you can foster flexible vs. rigid thinking for your child:
1. Welcome the unexpected
Whenever possible, bring your child’s attention to the unexpected happenings in the natural world around them. If you skip over this simple exercise, you miss the opportunity to develop your child’s welcoming attitude for unexpected events. The element of surprise can be used as a psychological lever to promote flexibility.

2. Play the game of “could be good, could be bad”
Make a habit of intentionally playing “the game of could be good, could be bad”.
Jon J. Muth’s Zen Shorts gives you a repertoire of tales to open minds. The Farmer’s Luck illustrates how a situation that initially was thought to be unfavorable, turns out to be most favorable. Reading “Teaching Tales” designed with a morale is a powerful method to show your child though storytelling the unexpected possibilities of life.

3.Ask questions that inspire adaptability
When on vacation, demonstrate the variety of ways you could carry water from the ocean-such as, cup your hands; use a pail or a shoe; something left by the tide like a seashell, and much much more if you practice flexible thinking and engage your child’s imagination. Just ask questions that motivate and guide their ability to explore and adapt.

4. Rearrange the furniture of the mind
Help your child rearrange the furniture in her room. Change it up. Realize our external world effects our internal world. Clear the clutter. Give outgrown toys to those who have none. When you invite your child to be part of the process, the child’s sense of control builds flexibility.

5.Teach your child the art of improvisation!
When I was young, my mother often challenged our creativity by starting a project with everyday objects. She’d use the brown paper cups from an empty candy box and demonstrate how just two tares and flipping the cup over, made a chair for our doll house- the table was simple, turn over the paper cup and there you have a little table to match the chair! “Now, you make one and what else can you make?” she prompted. As we sat at the kitchen table with the candy box of tiny brown paper cups in front of us.

6. Twirl your child in the air while moving into another room to facilitate transitioning to a new activity.
When you spin in a circle the brain unhooks itself from whatever it was attending. This simple tactic of
being playful with your child, sets the tone for excitement and learning. Have fun!


Photo Courtesy of Bettyna Donelson

For more information about ways to cultivate stress-hardiness in your child
Stay tuned, next we will look at the second key to stress-hardiness: living in the present moment.