Tom has clear ideas about how things should happen – he is the consummate rigid thinker. If something is not on his trajectory, he will either take it head on, explode or completely ‘blank’ it. Remember the Seinfeld episode about ‘blanking’ (or ignoring) others? Tom is the master. If we see people at the shops and it is a surprise and therefore not on his trajectory, he will simply ‘blank’ whoever it is, especially if it’s someone not well known to him. Apologies to all those who have fallen victim to the ‘blank’.
Earlier this week Tom asked me for some ice in a cup. As a usual rule, ice in a cup is crushed ice made in the Thermomix. Apparently this wasn’t on his trajectory either. When he came out to the kitchen to collect his ice, he looked disgustedly at the cup of crushed ice. He muttered under his breath, “Well… that’s disappointing!” I asked him what was wrong. His response – “I’m just very disappointed that you didn’t follow my directions. I just wanted blocks of ice, not that ice!” I’m sure you can guess what my response was. He does not perceive this interaction as inappropriate. To him he is simply relaying exactly what he is thinking. He doesn’t realise how rude it is and struggles to see the interaction from my point of view.
Saying goodnight to Tom is also interesting. He’s become more flexible in many other aspects of his day but he has very definite ideas about his bedtime routine. Tom takes an icepack and a heated wheat bag to bed with him every night. These are specific items and they need to be heated or cooled to his specifications. He will decide whether a book needs to be read or not, and which specific book he would like to hear. He has definite ideas about how the story should be read – no silly voices, no skipping pages, he likes to hold the book and he likes to turn the pages. As you leave the room he will accept a cuddle and say goodnight, but he will then say, “OK mum, you can go now, and shut the door please!” In other words, this interaction has been terminated as my routine is now complete and I’m ready to sleep now.
Being overly rigid in your thinking can make many things in life more difficult for you – unexpected changes can be upsetting; you may become so bound by your routines that you don’t try new things; you can tend to want to boss and direct others in order to ensure that your goals are met; and you can struggle to see things from someone else’s perspective. A flexible thinker is able to manage changes when they happen, try new things and see things from another’s perspective. It’s easier for a flexible thinker to make friends because they are better able to compromise and consider the feelings of others. So how do we teach flexible thinking to our rigid thinkers?
I read a post on the Connected Families website some time back, entitled “How a pipe cleaner can stop your child’s meltdowns” http://connectedfamilies.org/2013/03/12/how-a-pipe-cleaner-can-stop-your-childs-meltdowns/ . The article suggests that we can teach children the value of flexibility by comparing pipe cleaners to popsicle sticks. The pipe cleaner is flexible – it can bend when it wants to but it still has a backbone, and it can always return to the way it was. On the other hand, popsicle sticks are inflexible and rigid, when we bend them they break, they explode. This analogy then gives you a way to discuss these choices with your child and you can then reference it when necessary. I thought this was a great strategy. Please click the link above if you’re interested in reading more.
So as I type this last little bit of text, I can hear Tom reading a Scooby Doo book to his father and I can hear a host of instructions as well – “Dad, lie down here OK?; Dad, please don’t move the ice pack, it needs to stay here!; No Dad, I’m going to hold the book; Dad you don’t need to help me OK?: No Dad, I didn’t ask you do Scooby’s voice, I’m doing the reading tonight!” But just when I’m thinking there’s no hope of any “pipe cleaner” like behaviour tonight, I’m given a glimmer of hope! “OK Dad, you can do Scooby’s voice if you want!” followed by the lustiest and most mischievous of giggles from Tom as Chris bellows loudly, “Rooby, Rooby, Rooooo!”