September 13, 2018

Teenagers with School Challenges: Flexibility


Flexibility is the ability to change and shift plans, tasks and approaches to solve a problem, complete a task or activity or maintain open communication.

Flexibility can be understood in a few different contexts. It helps us adapt and manage a variety of situations and expectations. Flexibility can be important in problem solving, in routines, and in social interaction and relationships.

Flexibility Challenges Can Occur in Multiple Settings

Inflexibility can pose challenges for a teenager in school, at home and in social settings.

Some teens may be inflexible in all areas of life, and others may be inflexible in one context and not in another. Teens who are struggling significantly with flexibility may have anxiety or Autism Spectrum symptoms.

Problem Solving

The first context is flexibility in problem solving.

Can a teenager explore different approaches and consider perspectives from the teacher/ classmates/ group work partners to solve a novel problem?

Some teenagers get stuck. They see a task from only one angle, failing to think flexibly about how to solve the problem.

Helpful Strategies

These teens may need to be taught specific strategies to try at least 3 ideas for solving a problem.

Another strategy is for the teen to teach another student how to solve the problem, and then that student teaches the teen a different way to solve it. They take turns being a teacher and being a learner.

Flexibility in Routine

The next related context for flexibility is flexibility in routine.

This concern may be evident at home when you have a teenager who must always follow the same routine after school.

For example, he must always do his math homework at the kitchen table, have a snack, and then take a break.

If you have a doctor’s appointment or a school program, this change is met with stress and sometimes refusal because the schedule is changing.

Encourage Flexibility

Encouraging some flexibility in a teenager’s routine is good.

Certain activities, like getting ready for school or bedtime, benefit from a predictable routine. Find time to vary it up, encourage spontaneity and try new things with your teenager.

Flexibility Challenges at School

Inflexibility in routines and schedules can also cause challenges at school if changes occur. For example, an assembly, a fire drill, or a substitute teacher may alter the flow of the day, the routine, and the expectations.

These changes can cause frustration and stress in a teenager who is inflexible.

At school, it can be possible to create choices for a student who struggles in these situations. Allow a student to select preferred seating at an assembly or to leave the class early for a fire drill. Provide notice that the teacher is out sick, and have the student choose to stay in the classroom or take his reading to the library.

Provide Choices

A very inflexible teenager may need choices built into the day when schedule changes or other differences in the day may provoke anxiety.

Some schools will be accommodating no matter what. Others may require a Section 504 plan noting the presence of a disability, like anxiety or autism, to provide accommodations for these changes in routine.

Social Interactions and Relationships

The third type of flexibility is important in social interactions and relationships.

An inflexible teenager may feel misunderstood by a certain teacher and may refuse to work on the relationship. Some teenagers struggle to see the perspective of others, to take the time to understand differences of opinion. Teens who are inflexible in relationships tend to feel they are always right.

Teenagers with autism especially need to feel like a teacher understands and respects their point of view; otherwise they often discount a teacher and don’t try to learn from them. These teens may also have conflict with others who have differing opinions and perspectives.

Teaching Life Lessons

Flexibility to be able to listen to teachers, classmates, friends and parents and to consider other perspectives and opinions helps build relationships. Helping teenagers see the value in hearing all sides of an issue will improve their ability to build relationships.

If your teenager struggles significantly with social interactions and relationships, a counselor or school psychologist-led social group may be helpful. Teenagers must practice being collaborative and learning from each other; learning social flexibility is an important life lesson.

If your teenager has considerable difficulty with any or all aspects of flexibility, try some of these strategies. See CLEAPE for other free ideas and strategies:

Connect with CLEAR

If you need more support or believe your child might have a disability, like autism or anxiety, CLEAR Child Psychology can help. Call or email today to schedule a consultation.

Contact CLEAR today by calling 303-222-7923 or visiting our website at


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