Unexpected changes in a child’s behavior are not uncommon, especially in today’s world that is constantly changing. There are many factors that can affect a child’s day to day emotions. The key is to recognize when their behaviors change and locate the variable that caused it. Then, we can offer and implement solutions to help the child. We have a fun story to share today about how one of our experts did just this!
It started when one of our clients contacted us for support with their child. The child often was described as energetic and sweet but was suddenly showing rigidity and throwing tantrums. The parents were able to narrow in on when the outbursts were happening, which was during the morning routine. They also identified what the child’s specific request during the outburst was. She only wanted Dad to facilitate her morning routine. It is important to note that in their dynamic, Mom is typically the main caregiver, and Dad typically works long hours at the office. This is where the variable comes into play.
Due to COVID, Dad had to start working from home. This made him more accessible to his daughter which led her to seek his attention on a consistent basis. Now that we have identified the WHY, we can find solutions to help the situation improve for the sake of the child and the parents.
Our staff member recommended a strategy of compromise and negotiation through logical conversations with the child. This strategy serves many beneficial, developmental purposes. By offering a compromise, it shows the child that we are willing to be flexible and that she is capable of being flexible as well. Negotiation shows the child that she is capable of being a problem solver. If her first solution doesn’t work, she is capable of coming up with a second, third, and fourth solution to accomplish her goal. Lastly, logical conversation encourages thinking and communication in a flexible form.
This process teaches the child that the world is a flexible place and even though she may not be able to get everything she wants, there are other paths to take that can be satisfying too. When teaching flexibility vs. rigidity, a key factor is encouraging the child to come up with their own flexible alternatives. Many children like to be in control. By using these strategies, it gives the child an opportunity to still feel in control. This time, the feeling of control is over the flexibility as opposed to one specific path and outcome.
Let’s talk about some specific suggestions we offered for the morning time tantrums!
The main part that the child seemed to have an issue with, was coming down the stairs with Dad specifically. Since we have identified the problem stems from the connection with Dad, we know the real problem is not the actual physical act of going down the stairs. We recommend for the family to find playful ways to motivate the child to come down the stairs on her own. It is important to avoid directive language such as “No”, “Don’t”, and “You Can’t”.
Here were some playful ideas the family began incorporating which ultimately led to a much easier, stress-free transition!
- Having Dad meet her at the bottom of the stairs (option: make it into a game of hide and seek)
- Moving like an animal, make animal noises
- Bring a preferred toy/item with her
- Tape large shapes on the steps and have Dad stand on the other side of a shape or a step below
- Shut off the lights and use a flashlight
- Draw a target or something she is motivated by at the bottom of the stairs (i.e. streamers, a picture, stickers)
- Write or draw a picture on a sticky note leading down the steps, turning it into a scavenger hunt.
This process may take longer than expected. Remember that she is used to having very few demands placed on her, even a small change will seem like a big challenge to her. The goal is to focus on making small, simple changes. The KEY is being consistent.
We hope these ideas inspire solutions for the next time your child shows rigidity. As always, please reach out if you have any questions or would like ideas specific to your child’s needs.