Being a kid is tough, especially when it comes to processing big emotions – fear, anger, excitement. While we may not fully remember what it was like to be a kid, most of us do remember struggling with feelings that felt too big, too new, and very, very important.
Even with our own childhood memories, watching our children from an adult’s perspective can be a confusing experience. Have we really had that many breakdowns? Have we ever been that inflexible? Is this behavior normal or a sign that our child needs help?
If a child is particularly inflexible or has an unusually high number of emotional outbursts, understanding what’s behind their behavior is a good idea, rather than simply correcting it.
“Behaviour [itself] is a symptom of something going on, ”said Elaine Taylor-Klaus, founder of the organization Influence parents and author of The Essential Guide to Raising Complex Children With ADHD, Anxiety, and More. “This is an indication that they are having trouble and need help.”
As Taylor-Klaus often advises the families she works with, a child’s “naughty” behavior often has a reason, whether because of a neurological problem or something else. “It’s not a sign of disrespect, it’s not a sign of obstinacy, it’s a sign of being overwhelmed,” said Taylor-Klaus.
Rigid behavior is often about control
If your child is particularly inflexible, this behavior is often the way to regain a sense of control. For example, if a child feels insecure or insecure about something, they can deal with it by focusing on what they can control, be it the socks they wear, the cereal they eat for breakfast, or just enjoy themselves the ability to say “no”.
“When we have more control, we feel more secure,” said Rebecca Brightian, a child development expert and senior program director at the nonprofit early childhood education organization Zero to three. If your child is in a particularly inflexible mood, Parlakian says parents should avoid saying “no” in particular. This goes against typical advice that might encourage you to show a kid who is boss and set firm boundaries. Yeah, it won’t work.
“Hearing a ‘no’ when we are in a very emotional place can spiral us into a spiral,” said Parlakian.
Instead, it is best to acknowledge what you are feeling and when you ask for something, avoid saying no at that moment. Instead, engage them in a discussion of what they want and why, or encourage them to make a plan for how they can do something to get what they want.
Emotional outbursts are often a sign that a child is overwhelmed
Emotional outbursts happen for a number of reasons, but what they have in common is that a child may feel overwhelmed. “When kids reach their limits and we’re still pushing them beyond that, in a sense, they’re going to melt together,” said Taylor-Klaus.
Your child may have problems because of overstimulation.Sensory processing disorders are often confused with ADHD and similar diagnoses– because they feel that they are not able to do something or because they have difficulty processing their emotions and at that moment they simply do not know how to deal with them and nothing what you say, to correct their behavior, any punishment or consequence that you offer will help them to break away from it. In these situations, as Taylor-Klaus recommends, it is best to use a combination of appreciation, compassion, and empathy instead. Even if we don’t fully understand what’s going on or what the problem is, it’s still very real to them.
What Taylor-Klaus does not recommend is to go into problem-solving mode immediately. “If we fix the problem, they’ll feel disrespected,” said Taylor-Klaus. Instead, it’s important to slow down and pick up your child where they are.
If your child is struggling, it is important to find support
If your child is struggling with rigid behaviors or emotional outbursts and you believe something is going on, it is important to seek help as there can be a number of underlying problems causing this behavior, from a learning disorder like Dyslexia to a developmental disorder like autism or ADHD.
Also, before worrying too much, you should remember that every child is different and sometimes when it comes to their development they just follow their own schedule. “Parents should know that every child is different at every developmental milestone,” Parlakian said. And remember, if seeking support leads you to a diagnosis that you may find scary, the diagnosis will not change anything about your child. It will only help you to help them.