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One Executive Function skill that seems to be a necessity during the holiday season is flexibility. Flexibility is the ability to change plans when the information or situation changes. The holiday season is full of changes, including parties at friends’ homes, last-minute errands, and trips to grandma’s house. For an inflexible child, these changes in structure and routine may prove to be difficult. If your child is a creature of habit, here are some strategies that may help:

  • Anticipate Challenges: When does your child have difficulty? Is it when you run an unexpected errand after school? Does he not like to eat dinner at a different place or different time? Does he just prefer to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon playing with his toys at home? Look at your holiday schedule and to-do list, and jot notes about possible challenges for your child.
  • Empathize with your Child: Inflexible children’s reactions to change may often be difficult for parents, especially if the parents are a little more on the spontaneous side. However, know that your child is probably not out to make your life miserable; she may experience anxiety in new situations. Or she may be truly disappointed that what she planned in her head is not going to happen. Understanding your child’s point of view will help you better be able to productively problem solve with her.
  • Plan and Preview with Your Child: Both longer-term and short-term planning is necessary. A calendar that lists different events may be helpful, even for very young children. Review the calendar at night before bed, pointing out what is coming up tomorrow and next weekend. Discuss what the different events will be like, highlighting things that will be fun for your child.
  • Give Warnings Before Transitions: Even though you told him last night that you were going to grandma’s house in the morning, he may still not want to stop watching his favorite show when it’s time to leave. Give 10-minute and 5-minute warnings, and use a timer to help keep track.
  • Give Choices and Problem Solve:  When she says that she does not want to eat dinner at the neighbor’s house, ask her, “What can I do to help you feel better about eating dinner there? Would you like to take a special snack to share after dinner?” Sometimes allowing the child to have some say in the situation may help.
  • Do Not Expect Perfection:  Even with the best-laid plans, the craziness of the holiday season may just be too much for some children. Take a comfort object, extra snacks, and a fun activity with you in case your child needs distraction or something familiar. And remember to reinforce any flexible behavior you do see, because that shows that your little Inflexible One is trying!

Blogger Stephanie Dunne, Ed.S., is the Center Director at Springer School and Center. Prior to coming to Springer, Stephanie practiced as a school psychologist in public and private schools for ten years. If you have questions, please contact Stephanie at sdunne@springer-ld.org.

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