M OTHER: Modeling flexibility isn’t as easy as it sounds. Mordy’s therapy is work for me, too.
FATHER: I’m the parent — he’s the one who has to be flexible!
MORDY: If the other kids don’t want to play my way — I don’t care. I can play by myself.
The way Mordy strides into the therapy room reminds me uncannily of his father, and he’s every bit as tall, smart, and good-looking as his mother claimed.
The table is bare except for a container of Popsicle sticks. I hand one to Mordy. “Can you bend this?” I ask. “But don’t break it. Just bend it a little.”
I watch as Mordy tries. It doesn’t really work — almost immediately, the stick splinters. “Sorry,” he says.
“No problem. Can you try again?” This time he’s more careful; it doesn’t snap, but it doesn’t bend either. He glances at me, then, concentrating hard, pulls the ends slowly toward each other. Just when he begins to look triumphant, it snaps.
I laugh lightly. “Not very flexible, is it?” I hand Mordy a rubber band. “Try this.” The rubber band, obviously, bends and stretches in all directions.
“Some people are like Popsicle sticks,” I explain to Mordy. “They’re unyielding. They go only one way — stiff and straight. They don’t bend. But other people are flexible — like rubber bands. They can go in many different directions.”
Flexibility is a new concept for Mordy. He needs to become aware of the possibility that he can be open-minded and see things from multiple perspectives.
While Mordy mulls this over, I retrieve a sketch pad and a pencil. “Your mother says you’re artistic.” He nods. “Can you draw a picture of me?” I’m not surprised when Mordy eagerly takes me up on the offer.
In a minute, he hands me the paper. It contains a fantastic caricature of me. “Incredible!” Mordy grins. “Can you do another one? But this time, keep your entire body stiff — no bending over or leaning or anything.” I help Mordy get into position. After a few strokes he gives up. “I can’t draw like that!”
“Of course you can’t.” I put the original caricature and the unfinished sketch side by side. “Tell me, how will you accomplish more — by being stiff or flexible?”
At the end of the session I ask Mordy to step out while I talk to his mother for a minute. Mordy checks the clock and then agrees.
To a rigid thinker like Mordy, “a minute” means literally one minute — 60 seconds — not a moment more!
“Mordy does tend to be rigid,” I tell his mother frankly. “And we’re going to work on it. But one of the greatest tools for Mordy’s growth is in your hands: modeling and self-talk.”
Mrs. Kavenberg looks uncertain. “Self-talk?”
“Sure,” I say. “Mordy doesn’t know what’s going on in your head. You have to say it aloud for him. For example, ‘I really wanted to go to Bubby and Zeidy for the Sedorim, but Tanta Shiffy wants to go, too. We can’t both go. I’m going to be flexible and go another time.’ ”
When Mordy sees his mother being flexible, it creates a “template” for him to follow.
I walk Mrs. Kavenberg out to where Mordy is waiting. “Who do you think it’s more fun to be around?” I ask Mordy. “A kid who is flexible and can change his mind?” I hand him a rubber band. “Or someone who is rigid, who ‘breaks’ if he has to change his mind?” I give him the Popsicle stick, too. Both Mordy and his mother look thoughtful as they leave. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 538)
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist in private practice for over 15 years.