Signs & Symptoms


Is your child unable to let things go?

Some kids have a very hard time letting go.

Your child may seem to always be pushing an agenda. ‘Mom, can we go get a doughnut after school?’ for example. It’s like a song playing on infinite ‘loop.’ Mom, can I have a playdate this weekend? Dad, can you take me to Target? When are we going sledding?

Those types of questions typically indicate intensity (a.).

Another type of repetitive pattern is one where the child is constantly seeking reassurance (b.). For example, a child may ask if you will be on time to get her from school, if you remembered to sign the permission slip, or if the cafeteria will really be serving pizza for lunch.

Some of these thoughts may even get outlandish or highly implausible. The child may worry that the world is going to end, that your plane is going to crash, or that the rainstorm may flood the house before she gets home from school. These thoughts are called intrusive thoughts (c.)

Another type of repetitive thought pattern is what we call perseveration (d.). This thought pattern occurs when a child obsesses over a certain topic, movie, or game. For example, ‘mom, can we hurry home so I can play Minecraft? I want a Minecraft toy for my birthday. Mom, these Cheetos are shaped like Minecraft creepers.’

The final type of repetitive thought pattern is thoughts about something scary, unnerving, or sad. These thoughts may be memories of something sad, such as a trauma event that happened, or they could be more of a negative lens, the type of thinking where the glass is always half empty. In psychology, we sometimes consider these thoughts to be a sign of cognitive distortions (e.).

What do challenges with Perseverating look like?

  • Constantly nagging you for something?
  • So persistent that you can predict what his going to ask for next?
  • Sounding like a broken record?
  • Asking you to stop after school for a snack, repetitively?
  • Repeatedly asking if you are going to be on time to pick her up from school?
  • Always having an ax to grind with someone or constantly wanting to ‘right a wrong?’
  • Struggling to let things go?

Why is Perseverating happening?

Having some repetitive thought patterns is common in most people; having an encumbering, intense amount of repetitive thoughts is seen in many mental health conditions. If that tape keeps playing over and over to the point that it gets in the way of day-to-day life, it could be something more serious, requiring treatment. The child may feel stuck in a rut. 

  • Depression can result from a looping tape of negative thoughts. These repetitive thoughts may lead to a recurring sense of hopelessness or despair. For example, ‘I feel like a failure because of what I said in class today…which reminds me of other times I have failed…which reminds me that no one likes me…’
  • Intensity. Some children who are gifted have particularly intense interests or incessant desires. They may really want to buy something, to make a project they saw on YouTube, or to discuss an idea. Although intensity does not indicate a disability, intense children can be challenging to parent.
  • Needing Reassurance. “I think I can’t. I think I can’t!” Kids who constantly worry that they may fail or bad things may happen are showing signs of anxiety. Anxiety involves excessive worries and fear over things that may happen in the future. 
  • Intrusive thoughts. Constant thoughts of something disastrous happening. Kids with intrusive thoughts may be showing signs of anxiety or depression. 
  • Special interests. The tendency to obsess over objects or interests. Children may have an insatiable need to talk about dinosaurs, Thomas the train, volcanoes, or Minecraft. 
  • Cognitive distortions. People with anxiety or depression often unwittingly ascribe to ‘cognitive distortions.’ It is as if the child views the whole world through a camera lens that can only see the bad side of things. For example, “catastrophizing” is an almost exclusive focus on worst-case scenarios. They ‘make mountains out of mole hills,’ making small problems into big problems. Another cognitive distortion is ‘black and white thinking,’ which is failing to see the neutral aspects of an event or situation.
  • Justice Seekers: Some children feel that they are the police for the world. They have an interaction that does not go well with a peer, and they are incensed. ‘They never say die.’ They may feel they can’t let it go until something is done about the situation. They may seek revenge. This thought pattern may be a sign of depression or a behavior disorder. 

These repetitive and intrusive thoughts are the result of neuron connections that have been ‘wired’ over time. It’s like drawing a circle in the sand and running your finger over it, time and time again, until it is a rut. This stronger connection happens because neurons that ‘fire together, wire together.’ Our brains tend to make associations between events and ideas that evoke similar emotional states.

How can I manage Perseverating at home?

A lot of potential causes for intrusive repetitive thoughts are possible, and some of these causes can be serious conditions. Certainly, some children have a natural borne intensity, particularly gifted children, and this intensity may not be cause for concern. In this case, supports and interventions are available that you can put in place at home.

Be patient with your child. Hear the concerns, even if they seem unreasonable.

Do not refute their statements, but rather repeat these statements with a “you feel” in front of them. For example, “This is a disaster; they are out of bubble gum ice cream,” can be replaced with, “You feel sad because you really wanted that ice cream…what do you think we can do about this?”

Allow your child to share worries or feelings. If the repetitive thought is about a video game or toy, work to shift the activity rather than engaging in an argument.

For example, rather than “I told you no!” try “You can play your game when we are done with dinner.” Often, rigid children like to win a fight with logic. If you set down the rule but then engage in logical dialogue, the child will think he or she can convince you to change your mind.

Do not feel you need to engage in an argument after you have stated the rule and explained kindly what you mean.

If your child seems to have significant difficulty in this area, resulting in frequent meltdowns, anxiety, anger, or depression, it is recommended that you seek professional help.

Referring your child for a comprehensive evaluation means that a psychologist will meet with your child for a number of hours and administer different assessments to help tease out the most salient symptoms and to provide you with diagnoses and recommendations to treat those.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Perseverating?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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