Rigid behaviour amongst kids: where it comes from and what to do?

Rigid behaviour amongst kids: where it comes from and what to do?

You are in a store and your child wants a particular toy. You try to reason with your child however your child refuses to listen and throws a downright tantrum. You are now embarrassed and thoroughly frustrated in front of strangers. Does this sound familiar?

There are times when children can be very rigid and parents get very exhausted trying to reason and deal with them but they tend to be inflexible, stubborn and reluctant to listen. They do not compromise even when provided with multiple choice. This is often called cognitive inflexibility and may frustrate and tire parents. Some children may be chronically inflexible and this may lead to aggressive behaviour as the child may feel that he/she is not in control of the situation.

Many toddlers and preschool children tend to be inflexible and this can be a regular part of development, however, if this pattern persists and occurs repeatedly causing distress, then it becomes a cause of concern and needs to be attended.

Some common signs of rigidity include:

  • Controlling behaviour: My way or the highway stance
  • Shouting/screaming publicly wanting their way
  • Rolling on the ground or hitting their head
  • Resisting by constantly arguing and refusing to listen
  • Acting inflexible, unyielding, and relentless: insistent on getting their way.
  • Refusing to adapt: by resisting or running away
  • Avoiding others: playing alone and not responding to peers, if they don’t get their own way
    • Ignoring others: unable to or unwilling to consider other children’s interests, or ideas
  • Tantrums

Certain parenting practices can lead to rigid behaviour. At times children observe parents being very rigid in their behaviours and the child may just be mimicking the parental behavioural pattern. So, it might be a good idea to check out how the parent behaves during stressful situations or how adaptable are the parents to situations.
ADHD or Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) can lead to rigid behaviours, intolerance, resistance to change and inflexibility.

Some children have a need for structure, in such situations, parents can help them by letting them know if there is any change in plans. Some children have certain thoughts and processes on how things need to be done and they may not be very flexible to change.

There are certain conditions which may be similar to Rigid Behaviour. These include:

  • Generalized anxiety: rigid behaviour may result from anxiety
  • Social skills challenges: may cause rigid behaviour as the child may not know how to interact with peers & may want to play alone and remain socially isolated.
  • Emotional challenges: rigid behaviour may result from being irritable, sad or depressed. Children who are traumatized can be rigid or it can be an outlet for pent-up anger.

As a parent, what should you do?

Parents need to be flexible and develop patience. They must develop good communication skills. Children observe body language and if the body language of the parent is rigid, the child will exhibit rigid behaviour or throw tantrums, even if the parent has not said anything vocally. This will lead to a power struggle between parent and child and must be avoided at all costs. Do not expect an immediate change in your child’s behaviour. It takes time. You can prioritize the situations into non-negotiables & negotiables and forget it. You can then speak to your child rationally and explain these 3 situations. It takes time but over a period of time, things can be worked out. Make your child accountable and praise him/her for improved behaviour. Do not use the word NO. Give lots of time for transitioning. However, if there is no improvement, it’s time to seek professional help. When rigid behaviours affect school work, social activity and family life, then interventions are necessary. Medical examination and family counselling is necessary.

Dr Paula Goel

Consultant Paediatrician, Adolescent Physician, US Board Certified Lifestyle Medicine Specialist & Founder of Fayth Clinic

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