By Danielle Taylor


Promoting Flexibility in Children

Something we’re always coming back to in Positive Discipline are the long-term goals and the traits we hope to see in the kiddos we care for once they reach adulthood.  One life skill that I choose to focus on is being flexible.  I’m not always the most flexible person in the room, and on occasion, I can miss out on something fun because I wasn’t being flexible enough.  The good news for me, though, is that working with children gives me lots of opportunities to model, practice, and grow my own flexibility muscles. 

Since I know flexibility is a life skill that’s important to me, I’ve consciously decided to spend time and effort focusing on that.  One easy way to do this is by pointing it out and verbalizing when we are being flexible. I will explicitly say things like, “Oh no!  It’s pouring.  We can’t go to the playground after all.  Good thing we are so flexible!  What fun thing can we do indoors, instead?”  Or, “I know we usually eat lunch before we pick your brother up from school, and today we’re running late, so we’ll have to eat lunch after we get him, instead.  Thank you so much for being flexible!”  

Be genuine when you say things like this; kids can tell if you’re not!

I want the kiddos I work with to recognize when we are flexible and know that I appreciate their flexibility. Now that they’re older, my nanny kiddos will say to me, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m flexible.”  Music to my ears! 

Another way I try to inspire flexibility is by saying YES as often as I can. I have to model some flexibility myself if I’m going to ask others to.  It’s so easy as the adult to assume that we are right, that we know the better/faster way to do things, and that kiddos should defer to our judgment and preferences.  I think there’s always an opportunity to learn from one another and kids are surprisingly creative!  My nanny charges may be small, but their thoughts and feelings are just as valid as mine are.  When I find myself saying no to something, I try to do a quick spot check: 

  • Does this really matter?  Why?  
  • Does it need to be a no?  Can I find a smaller yes in here somewhere?  Or, can this be a “not right now, but we can later!” 
  • Am I just following the routine?  Is this just a social norms thing? 
  • Am I just trying to be in control here?  

Many, many times that I’m about to say no, I can check myself, and find some way to include a yes.  That might sound like, “Well, we do need to pack up your backpack, but sure, we can do it after dinner.”  The other day, I asked an older child to put his instrument in the car.  He asked if he could put it in the front seat, and I said, “No, I’d prefer if you put it in the back,” because that’s what we always do.  As he started walking towards the back, I was able to pause for a moment and realize that I could absolutely flex here.  What possible difference could it make where his instrument sits in the car?  I corrected myself and told him, “of course you can put it in the front,” and I got a genuine “thank you” back.  What a super small thing, but a quick opportunity for me to casually show my flexibility and openness to his thoughts and preferences.   I also like knowing that my nanny kiddos are comfortable and confident enough to share with me when they do have a different idea and that we can discuss our options & thoughts in a mutually beneficial way, without getting into an argument or power struggle

I never want them to feel nervous or hesitant in sharing their thoughts, ideas & preferences with me, so I have to be welcoming and open when they do. 

A good rule of thumb to ask yourself is, “Does this matter more to them or to me?”  If it matters a whole lot to them, and not much to me (ie: what shoes they’ll wear to the park, what snack to bring in the car, what card game to play next) then I’ll really try to defer to them.  If I’m not flexible with these kiddos, why would they be flexible with me?  

Because I’m typically open-minded & fairly flexible with my nanny kids, I think it works in our benefit that when I do really dig in & need something done in a certain way or in a certain time frame, they understand that I have a reason and work with me.  They know I’m not typically being rigid for no reason.  

One easy, quick way to balance both getting what needs to be done, done and demonstrating our flexibility is to offer genuine choices or options that you’re both okay with.  “Would you like to pack your backpack up before breakfast or after we eat?”  You can leave it even more open-ended for older children.  “We are leaving soon for your soccer game..  What’s your plan for getting changed?”  That gives them the control that they crave while still getting things checked off the list.  Be careful not to offer options that you’re not actually comfortable with them choosing.   

The last thing I’m conscientious about when it comes to teaching flexibility is to make sure that my nanny kiddos understand the difference between being flexible and being a pushover.  I want to help raise children who can set and respect boundaries.  I don’t use my “thanks for being flexible” language if it’s not an appropriate time to be flexible.  

The rules that keep us safe are intentional, non-negotiable, and not something that I’m going to flex on, and my nanny kiddos know that.

I’m not wishy-washy or unsure of my rules around health or safety. I’m firm and confident on things that are important.  We want to offer freedom and flexibility within established boundaries.  

I also try not to push or manipulate kiddos into being flexible when they are clearly not feeling comfortable.  Don’t ask for flexibility from a child on things like their bodily autonomy. For example, I’d never tell a kiddo to “be flexible” and give someone a hug when they’ve made it clear they don’t want to, but I might ask them if they can be flexible about what podcast we’re listening to in the car.    

Flexibility truly is an important life skill.  Nobody likes working with rigid, uncompromising people, so let’s make sure we aren’t raising rigid, uncompromising people.  A nice bonus of keeping flexibility at the forefront of my mind at work is that I’m seeing myself be more flexible in my personal and day-to-day life.

How do you impart flexibility in the children in your care?

Author bio

Danielle Taylor is a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator and Certified Positive Discipline Early Childhood Educator. Danielle has over 13 years of experience working with children in various capacities, primarily as a nanny and a classroom teacher. Danielle is a passionate life-longer learner and enjoys sharing Positive Discipline tips, tools, and tricks with others.


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