Family Life: My kid is so rigid! How can I help?

Let’s increase flexibility!

An important consideration for families who have chronically inflexible children is parenting style. Often, children who are easily frustrated and lose their temper a lot are challenging to parent. You might catch yourself saying, “It shouldn’t have to be this hard. Why does everything have to be a battle?”

Keep reading to see our age-specific ideas for toddlers, kids, and teens!

TODDLERS

A great children’s book that demonstrates the power of downshifting is offered in Llama Llama Mad at Mama. The mother in the story shows how a parent can meet a child’s needs while simultaneously holding the child accountable for improved behavior.

The little llama is out shopping, quite unwillingly, with his mother at the ‘shoparama.’ The little llama proceeds to throw a fit, hurling all of the groceries around the store and making a huge mess. The mother llama takes the time to understand how her little llama feels. She shows empathy and then expects the child to clean up his mess and to help her finish the shopping. This story is an excellent example of using supportive strategies to increase your child’s flexibility and behavioral compliance.

KIDS & TEENS

A great resource for learning to “pick your battles” is offered by Ross Greene in the Explosive Child. He teaches you how to be a “basket case,” which means that you put all of your priorities into three baskets.

Basket A is a small basket for non-negotiables.

Basket B is for issues that are important but for which you would be willing to negotiate with your child. In this case, you would be modeling, for your child, a rational and calm decision-making approach that results in a win-win solution.

Basket C is the “forget-about-it” basket.

This approach is referred to as downshifting, which means that the parent demonstrates for the child how to calm down and and think rationally about what to do. 

Other ideas for Kids and Teens

Model flexibility at home. 

Directly and explicitly point it out when you are being flexible. For example, “I really needed soy sauce for this recipe, but I realized I can use something else,” or “I was really looking forward to going to see my friends this weekend, but I decided it will be okay to catch up with them over the summer.” As silly as those examples sound, for some kids it’s very important to be explicit about situations that call for flexibility. 

Use flexibility in discipline and structure. 

This one can be hard because when our kids act out, we really want to hold firm. There is certainly value in being consistent with your follow-through! However, be aware if your resistance is starting to dial up in response to your child. What tends to happen with a chronically inflexible kid is that the parents notice the extreme resistance to their instructions and ramp up their own response. In the end, you have a rigid kid and a rigid parent, both digging their heels in and staying there. 

Whenever possible, lighten up on something important to your child and explicitly say so. “I heard your concern and I can see why you feel that way. I am going to be flexible with you on this. You can have X instead of what we originally agreed to Y because of Z.” In this case, Z might be that your teen did well on some other commitment, was more flexible than you expected, got good grades, did something nice for a family member, etc. As hard as this is, it can make all the difference.

Finally, incorporate the “oops” into your parenting

What’s that? When your children see you being hard on yourself and expecting perfection at every turn, they are likely to expect that in themselves. This is the old grandma’s law of “we don’t cry over spilled milk.” When you make a mistake, just say “oops.” And when they make a mistake, say “oops” too. Whenever possible, just let it go. This journey can be slow, but the more you lighten up on your own mistakes and go easy on your teen’s mistakes, the more you will see that flexibility emulated in them.

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