Last Modified: September 13, 2022 | Published: July 30, 2022

Flexibility Is a Common Struggle for the Unique, Rigid Child

Do you find yourself wishing your rigid child was better at going with the flow? Maybe your child’s rigid routine gets in the way of their ability to experience life and take advantage of opportunities. Maybe you even feel like you can’t say yes to spontaneous get-togethers with friends or go on that impromptu evening walk around the neighborhood. If this sounds familiar, then your child may be finding it difficult to relax.

5 Ways to Help Your Rigid Child Cope

When your child is being stubborn, here are five tactics you can use.

1. Shift your style

Parenting style is an important consideration for families who have chronically inflexible children. 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. This basket allows you to model a rational and calm decision-making approach that results in a win-win solution.
  • Basket C is the ‘forget-a-bout-it’ basket.

This approach is referred to as downshifting and it allows you to demonstrate how to calm down and think rationally. 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.

2. Ask questions

Sometimes it can be helpful to engage in reflection. Ask your child why they are so upset that, for example, you went to a different grocery store. Sometimes, when a child has trouble ‘justifying’ their emotions, their logic begins to unravel, and they can become more flexible.

3. Take a back seat

What would it look like to allow your child to make all the plans on a Saturday? Maybe you could approach it as a game and call it ‘Opposite Day.’ On Opposite Day you are the kid, and your kid is the parent. It is up to them to decide what the family will do, what they will eat, and where they will go. Taking a playful roleplay approach to rigid ‘director’ behavior can take the pressure off. There’s also a chance it may help your child let go of some control on days when you aren’t intentionally switching roles.

4. Redirect the conversation

At times, you are simply going to disappoint your child. Maybe you decide to go to a different grocery store than usual because it’s closer to another errand you’re running. If your child isn’t happy about it, redirection can be helpful. Consider redirecting the conversation to what’s inside the store. For example, while your child is objecting to the store, try offering questions like, “When we get inside, do you want to choose ice cream or popsicles for your special treat this week?

5. Provide options

Sometimes it’s easy to let your child choose. In those cases, allow them to help you decide which store to go to or when you take that walk around the block. Maybe you will discover that your child is more flexible when they feel they are able to participate in the decision-making process. It may help them to feel a level of control over the timeline.

Feeling unsure about your child’s behavior? Here are a few signs your child might be battling with rigidity.

10 Signs You Have a Rigid Child

The rigid child tends to:

  1. See situations in black-and-white
  2. Have trouble deviating from routines
  3. Be overly obsessed with rule-following
  4. Dominate and direct play times with friends
  5. Get upset when things don’t go as planned
  6. Have trouble adjusting to schedule or routine changes
  7. Have difficulty yielding to another person’s viewpoint
  8. Resist authority
  9. Have meltdowns if you change your mind about plans that affect them
  10. Prefer playing alone to avoid compromise

What’s causing my rigid child’s inflexibility?

It’s normal to feel responsible for your child’s struggles, but their unique disposition certainly isn’t a reason to blame yourself. For instance, you could follow that mystery ‘parenting manual’ to a T and still find yourself struggling to help your rigid child relax. It’s important to be able to let yourself off the hook and redirect your energy.

Rigidity can be very hard for parents, especially when the source is unclear. But it is important to consider the degree of symptoms. If rigidity and inflexibility, tantrums, or focus on objects rather than people are significant concerns, it will be important to have a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation in order to assess Autism Spectrum symptoms as well as language, cognition, attention, and emotions.