Why Is My Child So Rigid In Their Thinking?

Many parents have been complaining about their child being “rigid thinkers” – children can’t think dynamically and apply “rules” dynamically. They are unable to see shades of grey

You give them a direction, and then they can’t generalize that to other areas or they apply the rules rigidly to other scenarios.

So for instance: If you tell your child they need a jacket to go outside in February, and in June they’re still insisting on a jacket to leave the house.

Or you tell them to always put their dishes in the dishwasher after they eat…and then they do it even when the dishwasher is full of clean dishes.

Or you tell them to go play and set the timer and then you come back to find them having a toileting accident because you told them to stay downstairs and play until the timer beeps.

A lot of parents have said that it’s really frustrating because you feel like you need to anticipate and preemptively address every single possible variation of your directions that could occur.

Not only that, but they won’t ask for help!

They get defensive and weaponize the rule.

“You said to ALWAYS put my dishes in the dishwasher!”

We get super frustrated by this.

Parents can be just as bad.

We want to do the same thing, the same way, all the time. Any time there’s a variance or other consideration, it’s like it breaks us.

My mods in the Posse will often shake their heads at this because someone will take one piece of information and try to apply it everywhere and then complain when it doesn’t work.

I receive at least one email a week from someone saying something along the lines of “you said to do this, I did that, but it didn’t work.”

I’ll often reply “Well, yes, but there’s also this consideration to take into account…” and the response is usually “how am I supposed to know when this or that applies?!”

The answer is usually “you have to feel it out!”

Parents who are rigid thinkers raise kids who are rigid thinkers.

Grab the scripts for crazy-making behaviour and know exactly what to say next time your toddler, preschooler, or kindergartener isn't listening.

Once again, it all comes back to us, which I recognize is hard.

It’s hard to take that look at ourselves.

Every time I do a MudRoom where I talk about parents being responsible for their child’s behavior. I get lots of responses from people who get super defensive, because they feel like I’m blaming them.

I’m not blaming you, I’m holding you accountable!

Do as I say, not as I do doesn’t work!

Your children listen to your actions more than your words, and if you’re modeling rigid thinking, they’re going to follow that model.

Credit where credit is due.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain this, and what actually helped me put my thoughts together was listening to a recent episode of Brene Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us where she was talking with Austin Channing Brown, the author of I’m Still Here.

In the episode they were talking about how white people like “race rules”. We get upset when a black person gives us a guideline and then it turns out there’s shades of grey to that guideline and it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

I thought “omg yes!” Because parents do that to me all the time. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, whether it’s parenting, or race, or sex, or money, or health…anything.

We want rules!

We want to be able to follow them, to the T, and have that be our safety net. Right?

Nobody can fault me, nothing bad can happen, as long as I follow the rules to the letter. When the rule doesn’t save us, the rule doesn’t keep us comfortable, when something bad happens despite the rule, we panic.

We blame the guideline-maker. We go into defense mode.

This isn’t topic-specific, it’s experience specific.

Beginners do this.

White people do this about race.

Overweight people do this about weight loss.

New money does this about wealth management.

Parents do this about kids.

The more you know about a topic, the more you realize that there’s nuance to everything. Nothing can be boiled down to a rule that will serve you always.

There are always competing factors that you’ll have to navigate. Nothing is black and white, there are shades of grey to everything.

How do we learn to find the shades of grey and navigate those?

Whether it’s us or our children, the answer is education, experience, and messing up. I know nobody wants to do that with their kids, because parents are supposed to be super human and be perfect.

I don’t subscribe to that.

Children, bless them, are the most forgiving creatures. Every day we have the chance to do better. I

f we stick our heads in the sand, if we refuse to educate ourselves, if we cling to rules, we’re going to be stuck in a perpetual groundhog day situation where we keep having the same problems over and over, and bigger and bigger.

We get on a hamster wheel and we can’t get off. Our children start reflecting those traits back at us because they’re our mirrors, remember.

What we show them, children will reflect.

Our children start reflecting those traits back at us and the light isn’t super flattering. It’s easier to blame others than take responsibility, so we focus on trying to fix them. Rather than asking ourselves what we don’t know about this and seeking to educate ourselves and trying something new or asking for help or looking at it from anothers perspective

You can learn from other people’s mistakes.

There are people who’ve gone before you. They can already see the shades of grey and point them out to you. They won’t fault you for being a beginner, they’ll teach you to see the shades of grey for yourself.

This is what I do!

This is why there are all these webinars on race, weight loss, money management, building a business, literally any topic you could imagine, to help you go beyond the basic beginner rules.

By finding the shades of grey in your own areas of concern, you’ll be demonstrating to your kids that there are no hard and fast rule for how to look for grey areas, and how to find those areas to improve.

This is only learned by observing those around us. It’s different from flexible thinking, which is an executive skill.

It’s more about your attitude to life.

Always looking for what you know, yes, but also what you don’t know. Being curious and unafraid to mess up in the name of learning.

I’m always saying that putting your own oxygen mask on first if a cliche because it’s true. This is a beautiful example of that. W

hen we model for our kids not getting frustrated when we, or they, find a shade of grey- but using it as a learning opportunity. You’ll notice that your children will more readily accept when they make a mistake and be more apt to ask for help too.

There are two ways that you can do that.

You can join us in the Parenting Posse and start working your way through the Mudroom; whether that’s on the blog, the podcast, or the videos here on the page.

You can put your name on the waitlist for ParentAbility and come join us there and I’ll walk you through everything step by step.

Reminder: Starting July 8th the Mudroom will be recording on Wednesdays at 1pm EST.

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About Allana

Hi, I’m Allana. I teach parents of toddlers and preschoolers why their children are misbehaving and what to do about it without yelling, shaming, or using time-outs. When not teaching parents about behaviour you can generally find me chasing around my two boys, reading cheesy romance novels, or hanging out with my own parents.

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