Flexible Thinking

Flexible thinking refers to thought patterns that lead to open-mindedness, creative problem solving, tolerance of change and disappointment, and ability to see different perspectives and shades of gray (rather than seeing things as black-and-white). Learning to think more flexibly helps children to better cope with setbacks and changes, resolve conflicts with others, tolerate their own and others’ mistakes and imperfections, and generally be more resilient to challenges they might face. Flexible thinking comes more easily to some children than to others, but all children can build their thinking flexibility through practice and praise from trusted adults (e.g., “I love how you used your flexible thinking when that marker you wanted to use was out of ink. You changed your plan to fit the markers we have!”). This is a very fun set of books that helps children to learn flexible thinking skills (e.g., seeing multiple perspectives, making lemons out of lemonade) and to build their motivation to practice thinking more flexibly.
Age range: Preschool through 3rd grade. It comes in a board book as well as hard- and softcover, but the cognitive skill required to really appreciate this book doesn’t develop for most children until around age 4.
Recommended for: This simple, yet profound story based on the classic rabbit-duck illusion introduces the idea that two different perspectives can both be true at the same time. It’s great for children who tend to get stuck in arguments about the “correct” perspective (e.g., whether a sibling was being annoying or not) or opinion (e.g., which is the best food, sport, music, etc.).
Evidence-Based Practices: Cognitive Restructuring

They All Saw a Cat

Written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
Age range: Late preschool through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: This book is, at face value, about how different animals see things (i.e., a cat) differently, but it also teaches the concept of different perspectives. It’s a beautiful and clever introduction to the social skill of perspective taking.
Age range: Kindergarten through 4th grade.
Recommended for: This book will likely resonate best with a verbally-oriented child who will understand and connect with the book’s message that all endings are the beginning of something new. This message is actually quite profound and may be reassuring to a child who struggles with endings and transitions (e.g., leaving a playdate, getting a new teacher).
Age range: 1st grade through 5th grade.
Recommended for: This excellent interactive workbook empowers children to learn strategies to calm their temper. It reviews cognitive strategies (e.g., “cool thoughts”) and behavioral strategies (e.g., deep breaths, squeezing a pillow), and it touches on problem solving, compromise, flexible thinking, and avoiding “payback” escalation. It’s best for a child who is able to articulate their thoughts to some extent, but if a child isn’t yet able to do this, many of the other chapters on “anger-dousing” strategies will still be applicable and helpful. This workbook is great for a child who is ready to learn some strategies as well as a kid who is ambivalent about managing their anger or who doesn’t yet feel that it’s possible.
Age range: 1st grade through 5th grade.
Recommended for: This story teaches children that they can practice flexible thinking to make it less likely that their days are ruined when something goes wrong (e.g., a rained out baseball game, a fire drill during freetime). It’s an empowering message, and it’s provided by a relatable protagonist. Kids whose days are easily ruined by small setbacks will likely feel understood by Braden and comforted by the idea that they might not need things to go perfectly in order to feel okay.
Age range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: This book is an excellent read before, during, or after a vacation to help a child prepare for/ cope with/ or process a trip not going exactly as planned. Mr. Fish is initially frustrated by all of the disappointments, but then he realizes that the hiccups came with new opportunities and adventure (e.g., a detour takes him to a beautiful view). This book could be used more generally as a way to talk about things not going as planned and how a child can cope with this and be more open to disappointments and detours leading to new opportunities.


Written and illustrated by Oge Mora
Age range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: Ava and her mother use their coping skills and creativity to salvage their special day, Saturday, even though nothing goes according to plan. This book is, perhaps first and foremost, about a loving relationship between a Black mother and daughter. It is also a lovely story about coping with disappointments and a fun way to encourage children to practice taking deep breaths (there’s a refrain of Ava and her mother taking a deep breath each time something goes wrong).

Mr. Flux

Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Matte Stephens
Age range: Kindergarten through 4th grade.
Evidence-Based Practices: Exposure
Age range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: This story is applicable to a child who gets anxious when they aren’t able to follow a routine, whether in the context of anxiety, OCD, autism, or anything else. It’s a really fun, adorable story with a lot of heart and a very sweet ending. The ultimate message is that although it can be scary to break out of a routine, sometimes doing things differently can present new possibilities (like discovering a new favorite food, fun experience, or good friend).
Age range: Kindergarten through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: Children who have a hard time with change will relate to Camilla who initially struggles to adjust to a beaver dam turning her forest’s creek into a pond. With time and participation in preparing the forest community for the change, Camilla ultimately concludes that “there’s lots to like about a pond.” This story is particularly relevant to kids who love maps, as Camilla is a cartographer and maps play a big role in her adjustment to the change.
Age range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Age range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade.