Social Thinking Articles


Superflex® Teaches Super Metacognitive Strategies

Superflex® Teaches Super Metacognitive Strategies

Updated: Aug, 2021
© 2021 Think Social Publishing, Inc.

Social thinking is flexible thinking; how we navigate through many different social landscapes and adapt our behaviors to meet our own goals is what the Social Thinking® Methodology is all about.

In 2008, our colleague, Stephanie Madrigal, conceived and spearheaded what has now evolved into a core social emotional learning curriculum: Superflex®… A Superhero Social Thinking® Curriculum. Superflex is an imaginary alter-thinker character cohabitating in the brain of young Aiden, a Caucasian, blue-eyed boy, whose brain is often overpowered by another brain inhabitant, Rock Brain, a highly inflexible Unthinkable®* (we are officially changing Unthinkables to UnthinkaBots over the course of 2021-22) who has the power to defeat Aiden’s superflexible thinking. Aiden’s internal Superflex is a Caucasian boy because that represents Aiden. Our (the authors’) Superflex characters are female and look just like us. Your Superflex looks like you. In other words, Superflex is you and Superflex is me because Superflex is what you imagine yourself to be when transforming into a social superflexible superhero. When you picture Superflex in your mind, it should be your twin (with added superhero clothing and gear).

The Superflex® Curriculum is the tool for interventionists, but the concept of becoming a superhero is introduced in a comic book about Rock Brain and other members of the Team of Unthinkables. The storybook is about Aiden’s discovery of his own inner Superflex. For the past 12 years, children all over the world have been learning metacognitive strategies as they imagine themselves as a girl or boy superhero and explore their own powers related to the 14 original Unthinkables (e.g., Was Funny Once, One-Sided Sid, Worry Wall, Topic Twister Meister, Energy Hare-y, etc.). They have also discovered and taught us about many more Unthinkables that dwell inside the brain of different individuals (e.g., Dark Defeatist, Picky Peter, Blurt Out Blue, Rule Police, etc.). In response to popular demand, Social Town Citizens Discover 82 New Unthinkables for Superflex to Outsmart identifies and illustrates some of the many pesky Unthinkables discovered by children readers around the world.

Most children adore the prankster ways of the Unthinkables, admire the rewarding powers of Superflex, and find motivation to transform themselves into their own Superflex to live as a solid citizen in Social Town and the broader social world—whether it’s in their own families, schools, or communities.

As part of the Superflex Curriculum, children are also encouraged to explore the powers of their own brain, including its ability to think metacognitively and flexibly to self-regulate and problem solve in the social world. This kind of thinking develops further self-awareness of which Unthinkable (i.e., thinking or behavior that disrupts positive social interactions) may be lurking nearby. Children then learn to how to use metacognitive strategies to defeat the powers of the Unthinkables. This empowers them, as Superflex, to defeat threats to their superflexible thinking and create pathways toward improving self-regulation. As you can see, it is critical to teach Superflex is Me! The emphasis is that for all children, Superflex looks exactly like them – whatever their gender, race, body size, hair color, or whether they wear glasses, or use a wheelchair. Each child’s Superflex is a mirror image of the child who is developing superflexible powers. Please see the free handout and video on our website (and then click "Read more").

Thanks to encouragement from the mental health community, we also began to introduce the Thinkables®, pro-social characters to create metacognitive strategies to defeat each of the 14 core Unthinkables. For example, Rock Brain is the Unthinkable and Rex Flexinator is the Thinkable; Glassman is the Unthinkable and Kool Q. Cumber is the Thinkable. As children learn specific metacognitive strategies to defeat the powers of the specific Unthinkables, they transform themselves (with imagination), into their own Superflex and gain even more powers.

As therapists and publishers of this work, we were thrilled by how many parents, teachers, and therapists used these materials to encourage metacognitive learning and social emotional self-regulation in 5 to11-year-olds. However, we also noticed that some interventionists (parents and professionals) were not well versed in metacognitive teaching. Instead, they used the Thinkables and Superflex characters to reward good behavior and the Unthinkables as a form of punishment. This was certainly never our intention, but we also understand that metacognitive learning strategies are vastly different from behaviorally based strategies that might focus on how to get a child to “behave.”

The differences between teaching children to “behave” versus teaching children to develop their own pathways toward self-regulation are summarized in the chart below:

Exploring Behavioral Teaching versus Social Emotional Learning

  Behaviorally based teaching strategies Metacognitively based teaching strategies
Overall focus of teaching

Behavior produced based on social stimuli and antecedents.

Behavioral approaches often use an acronym to represent the links between “ABC,” defined as antecedents, behavior, and then consequences of behavior.

Develop and foster social competencies; how one socially attends, interprets, problem solves, and responds to socially based stimuli.
Intervention strategies and rewards
  • Uses direct cues and practice to produce explicit behavior in specific situations (antecedents).
  • Rewards pro-social production of these behaviors by external means or with praise.
  • Uses language and visuals to promote metacognitive learning.
  • Encourages children to talk about their thinking.
  • Fosters developing social emotional awareness.
  • Teaches cognitive strategies to adjust and practice specific behaviors to meet their own personal goal(s).
  • Develops internal self-reward system (pride) in one’s ability to self-regulate based on a goal.
Speed of learning and generalization May show rapid positive outcomes, but fail to generalize beyond the context where first taught and rewarded.
  • Involve deeper teaching and usually take longer.
  • Tend to promote learning across contexts and life, since we take our metacognitive strategies with us, no matter where we go.

Using the Superflex Curriculum to teach social emotional learners continues to evolve as we learn more about what you, the interventionist, needs to support your students and clients. We know children love imagining themselves as they transform into their own Superflex superhero. We know they enjoy building their Thinkable powers and defeating their own team of Unthinkables. We know you love teaching using this curriculum, but you’ve also asked for more visual supports in the form of stickers inspired by this motley crew of characters.

Superflex Super Sticker Collection: Unthinkables & Thinkables is now available for sale in one packet of over 500 stickers that showcase our team of Unthinkables, our team of Thinkables, and the idea that we can all transform ourselves into our own Superflex or “Superflex is Me!” Plus, each team has grown by one character! We added Blurt Out Blue to the team of Unthinkables, and its Thinkable counterpart is Thought Catcher. Blurt Out Blue gets people to call out answers to questions or make comments when it’s not their turn. Thought Catcher helps defeat Blurt Out Blue by catching questions and/or thoughts and saving them until it’s their turn to share their idea either by saying it out loud or by writing it down and showing it to a teacher or caregiver at a later time.

True to all teaching related to the Social Thinking Methodology, these stickers were not designed to be used as rewards or as a way to point out or punish a child’s behavior. Instead, use these as visual tools to encourage a metacognitive focus and promote self-awareness of their own Thinkable powers, as well as the powers of their Unthinkables—all coexisting within their social learning brain.

How to Use the Superflex Super Sticker Collection: Unthinkables & Thinkables

Type of Sticker

Recommended Use

Whether at school or home, it’s impossible to be learning to strengthen one’s superflexible thinking every moment of the day.

What to Avoid!
Superflex is Me! sticker
  • When introducing the stickers, have the child wear the Superflex is Me! while practicing noticing which Unthinkables are lurking.
  • Use to point out when you notice the child actively working on awareness of the powers of specific Unthinkables.
  • Use to point out when you notice the child talking about or using his/her powers related to a specific Thinkable
  • Draw pictures to show their own face as Superflex.
Avoid using to reward a child for stopping a behavior.
Thinkable stickers
  • Use these stickers to teach awareness of the powers of a specific Thinkable.
  • Have the child wear the sticker (or put it on paper) when they are actively thinking about and trying to use those powers.
  • Encourage them to talk about the Thinkable powers and how they are trying to use those powers.
  • Draw pictures or write stories using the Thinkable (and Unthinkable) stickers as icons in the text. Use the Superflex is Me! sticker too.
Avoid using stickers as a reward for being “good” or using desired behaviors.
Unthinkable stickers
  • Use specific Unthinkable stickers to build awareness that Unthinkables may be lurking around.
  • Encourage them to talk about the powers of the Unthinkables and why these interfere with one’s own superflexible thinking.
  • Have children discuss strategies they (and their Thinkables) may use to try to defeat specific Unthinkables.
  • Draw pictures or write stories using the Unthinkable (and Thinkable) stickers as icons in the text. Use the Superflex is Me! sticker too.
Avoid using Unthinkable stickers to call out, shame or punish children for doing behaviors related to specific Unthinkables.
Team of Unthinkables stickers
  • Have the child select 2-3 Unthinkables that may “team up” or show up together to invade their brain.
  • Talk about the team powers and how those might be different from individual Unthinkables.
  • Draw pictures or write stories using the teams as characters in the story. Use the Superflex is Me! sticker too.
Avoid calling out, shaming, or punishing children for doing behaviors related to behaviors found in the Unthinkable team.
Team of Thinkables stickers Based on the team of Unthinkables selected:
  • Have children find the matching team of Thinkable stickers.
  • Discuss how we use many different types of strategies in a day to deal with a range of different Unthinkables trying to invade our brain.
  • Draw pictures or write stories using the teams as characters in the story. Use the Superflex is Me! sticker too.
Do not expect children to know how to defeat Unthinkables without teaching them strategies.

When using metacognitive teaching across ages, you might notice social learners are beginning to think (and talk) about themselves in the social world. Most children make these connections even better when interventionists/adults point out or engage in metacognitive discussions about their own observations about the powers of Unthinkables, Thinkables, and superflexible strategies.

While all children will eventually mature beyond the pretend world of Thinkables/Unthinkables and Superflex, most of us never outgrow learning about the power of our own social mind and its role in helping with self-regulation in the social world. For this reason, we keep the discussion going with older kids about how to use their knowledge from the Superflex Academy in a more grownup way. Some tweens and teens enjoy imagining video game-type characters to keep up their superflexible thinking while others will enjoy developing a board game or card deck of teenage Unthinkables/Thinkables.

At the end of the day, all materials developed as part of the Social Thinking® Methodology promote a growth mindset and grit, along with learning metacognitive strategies for understanding how the social world works in order to learn to work (navigate to regulate) in the social world.


*Name Change from the Team of Unthinkables to the Team of UnthinkaBots

We have officially changed the name of the Team of Unthinkables to the Team of UnthinkaBots. The Superflex curriculum was born in 2008, and over its lifetime we have relied on input and ideas from clients, students, families, teachers, and therapists in both the neurodivergent and neurotypical worlds. Using their feedback and our own clinical experience, we have refined the curriculum series to include Thinkables, expand the characters in Social Town, and add the You Are a Social Detective, 2nd edition, storybook as a way to welcome social learners into the Superflex Universe. Recently, while meeting with neurodivergent adults, we discovered that the concept behind the creation of the Unthinkables was misunderstood and, at times, misused in classrooms and clinics by having certain Unthinkables represent children or people, rather than specific thoughts or actions.

To encourage interventionists to use these concepts in the manner intended, we are changing the name of Unthinkables to UnthinkaBots. With this new name, social learners can now imagine the Bots that try to control some of our thoughts and actions. For example, Was Funny Once releases SillyBots to get us to use humor at unexpected times and in unexpected situations. We all can learn to tackle the SillyBots with strategies and tools from the Social Thinking® Methodology. We hope you will enjoy imagining new ways to think about the UnthinkaBot characters in classrooms, small groups, and at home! One more thing. We replaced 4 of the 14 “first generation” characters with new names: Mean Bean (previously Mean Gene/Jean), Me-Gull (formerly One-sided Sid), Body Drifter (formerly Body Snatcher), and Blurt Out Blue (formerly Grump Grumpaniny).

We will be updating our products with these changes over the course of 2021 and 2022. It makes sense that we’re teaching students to be superflexible, since we, as publishers, also flex a lot as we learn. We hope you enjoy incorporating these important updates.

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