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Kids Can Overcome Complexity

I recently read a cartoon wherein a child approaches her teacher and says, “I’ve paraphrased, summarized, outlined, compared, contrasted, and inferred. Can I just read now?” (Andertoons)

Complexity can derail or exasperate young children. When things are complicated, lengthy, unruly, unnecessarily demanding, or time-consuming for kids to slog through a complex task, it can seem as if they’re being compelled to wade through thick, yucky sludge.

Alternatively, give kids appropriately challenging and straightforward activities, and they’re more inclined to become engaged and motivated. Better still, watch what happens when they’re invited to co-create their learning and recreational experiences! Tasks that are deemed interesting, fair, and well suited to a child’s ability level are less likely to be perceived as being arduous.

Picture the difference between gliding along on clear ice versus struggling to navigate through that aforementioned muck. Or (also as noted above) reading for fun and pleasure versus having to dissect and analyze the material.

Sometimes challenge is the very thing that motivates people, providing incentive for explorations, inquiry, contemplation, creativity, and fresh ideas. It’s good for children to welcome challenges! However, too much challenge—or complexity or excessive demands—can be off-putting and overwhelming. And, sometimes, there’s a fine line between “too muchness” and what seems just right.

Here are seven strategies for parents seeking to help children confront things that they may otherwise find daunting or complex.

Strategy 1.) Aim for a step-by-step or a slowly escalating approach.

When routes appear circuitous or tricky, slowing down can make it easier to proceed. Muddles can also lead to mix-ups, whereas clarity can dispel confusion. Help children plan well, start small, proceed gradually, maximize strengths, and keep track of progress and accomplishments while conquering complexity.

Strategy 2.) Concentration and effort are game-changers.

Nothing will work unless you do.” (Maya Angelou). Support children’s efforts as they learn to focus on one thing at a time and to stay on task. As they become more aware of purpose, actions, and what commands (or interferes with) their attention, their effort and intent will increase. “Kids are most successful when they’ve learned how to meet challenges and work hard.” ~ Not Now, Maybe Later (p. 124)

Strategy 3.) Encourage kids to strengthen the skill sets that can make tasks more manageable.

This may involve practice, building upon what they already know, getting assistance or guidance from others, or dividing a task into smaller segments. They can consider, too, how friends and family members prepare to tackle complexities—for example, through connections, communication, discovery—and ultimately, triumph! There’s satisfaction in all of that.

Strategy 4.) Reduce distractions and overstimulation.

Children can be inundated by sights, sounds, textures, smells, and other extraneous and heightened sensory experiences. These may occur any time of day or year and spur the imagination but also be overpowering. External hubbubs—for example, loud celebratory events, boisterous parties, chaotic activities, and overflowing toy boxes—can be disconcerting. Keep in mind that some little ones do better when circumstances are more tempered and less intense.

Strategy 5.) Show kids how they can use positive energy as a motivator.

Help children take the time and space they require to feel comfortable, to find “the eye of the storm” or the calm within complexity, and to pace themselves according to their personal needs, preferences, and aspirations. They can also engage in deep breathing and mindfulness techniques. (Mindfulness involves paying heed to what’s happening in the moment. It can stimulate self-awareness, self-regulation, and vitality, and even very young children can learn about and benefit from being mindful.)

Strategy 6.) Quell your child’s doubts and excuses.

Is the complexity they’re facing truly insurmountable or impossible to overcome or circumvent? Some things ARE difficult—but can your child persevere, and not only push through but prevail? Chat with them about the power of resolve, tenacity, self-confidence, and resilience. Demonstrate how those attributes summon positivity, desire, determination—and success! “Success is falling down nine times and getting up ten.” (Jon Bon Jovi)

Strategy 7.) Creativity can provide a way forward through complexity.

Imagine possibilities. Reconfigure thoughts, Visualize. Improvise. Be open-minded. Tap into enthusiasm, be resourceful, use next-level thinking, and ignite ideas! Ultimately, the composition of the blaze anyone chooses to light their path is of their own making. Choose creativity!

Each strategy above is like a beacon through the potential murkiness of complexities. The underlying premise is: “Don’t flip off your personal light switch or undermine your smarts.” (Bust Your BUTS, p. 34) Encourage children to see complexities as adventures and learning opportunities—challenges that can be enlightening and that they can even enjoy!


Joanne Foster, Ed.D. is a multiple award-winning author of several books. Her most recent is Ignite Your Ideas: Creativity for Kids. To find out about her publications and presentations and for resources on supporting children’s well-being and learning, visit

Cover Photo by Karolina Grabowska

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