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READER QUESTION: HIS WAY OR THE HIGHWAY

low demand parenting foundations reader question Jan 26, 2024
READER QUESTION: HIS WAY OR THE HIGHWAY

 Originally published 4/28/23. Written by Amanda Diekman.

 

READER QUESTION:

"My child is chronically inflexible. It’s his way or the highway. How do I get him to open up to other people's perspectives?"

SOME THOUGHTS:

Inflexibility is a complex reality for your child. It may look as simple as "my way or the highway," but the reality inside of his bodily experience is much more layered and painful. On the nervous system level, inflexibility is communicating to you that your child has a very thin "window of tolerance," meaning that the space where they feel safe is extremely narrow. They are moving into fight or flight under many, many circumstances.

They are not saying to you, "It has to be my way." They are saying to you,

"The whole world feels unsafe.

Help me stay safe."

When we align with their nervous system capability, we shift from asking, "How can I get them to do more?" to "How can I make them feel truly safe in a wider variety of circumstances?" This shifts us from trying to change our child to changing the circumstances to better match their innate capability.

 

Inflexibility may also be telling us that our child has difficulty with sensory integration. This may seem surprising, but the brain's ability to integrate sensory details in a timely and efficient way is a crucial building block to coming up with creative solutions to problems.

If the brain is stuck processing incoming stimuli, or overwhelmed, the ability to be flexible, curious, and responsive goes down significantly.

Think about how you feel when you're exhausted or overwhelmed, and you have to come up with something for dinner on the fly, with the existing foods in your house. Have you ever opened your fridge and just stared at the food inside, as though it were a magic eye puzzle that would miraculously arrange itself into a meal? Or you've got your heart set on making spaghetti with meatballs, but you open the pasta sauce jar and it's gone fuzzy. And you suddenly cannot think of ANYTHING ELSE to make for a meal.

Inflexibility and rigidity can also be restated as strengths that will serve your child well as they grow.

Focused

Determined

Persistent

Dogged

Undeterred

I'm not really answering your question about how to get them to open up to other people's perspectives. Instead, I'm offering a perspective to understand inflexibility differently, to grow your empathy and compassion for the child's experience of being lazer-focused and sometimes unable to determine alternatives to their chosen plan. But I know that having a rigid child in a complex family system can be super challenging.

Rather than looking to make immediate changes to your child's brain type or skills (both impossible), let's look at the circumstances where your child's inflexibility is most challenging for the family system.

Let's accept that they cannot be flexible, instead of thinking that they just will not be flexible.

Look for:

  • Places where you'd like them to be more flexible, but it's really not a big deal and you can practice radical acceptance. Drop these demands for flexibility whole-heartedly and proactively.

  • Places where they need more support in coming up with alternatives, and work together proactively on determining a few possibilities that all work for your kid.

  • Places where sensory overwhelm or excessive cumulative demands are creating inflexibility for your child, and reduce stimuli, meet needs, and reduce demands.

  • Places where your child's inflexibility is chronically negatively impacting the family environment, but you don't really know what's going on. Become a demand detective. Watch your child closely, and seek information about what's going on.

Why is everything so hard?

 

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