How To Stop Power Struggling With Inflexible Children

Rigidity

All or nothing, inflexible, and absolute thinking patterns and behaviors are common among children with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. These children often get stuck believing their opinions are facts and then dominate conversations, convincing others they are right. Because of their rigidity, they may refuse to end discussions, refuse to engage in specific activities, or refuse to follow instructions. These interactions provoke emotionally driven disagreements. When not prepared ahead of time, it is easy to fall into the trap of arguing against their irrational thinking. Below is a useful guide to escaping the “Chinese finger trap” like interactions.s-l300

Let Go of Your Control

  1. Understand Anxiety Rules. Be aware that rigid thinking and defiance are symptoms of anxiety versus purposeful insensitivity and opposition. It is inevitable that children with anxiety will attempt to control you, others, and their environment. Although not socially appropriate, this behavior helps anxious children eliminate their feelings of helplessness, while also securing their sense of safety.
  2. Don’t React. When a child challenges you, especially if the child is being defiant, disruptive, or verbally aggressive, it can test even the most experienced parent or professional. Defending yourself against their negative behaviors only traps you in an endless power struggle. This is why it will help to remind yourself ahead of time that inflexible children are coming from a place of fear and not hate. Similar to what you would tell your children when you notice yourself getting upset, stop and take a deep breath. Imagine an invisible bubble around you and their words ricocheting off the bubble.
  3. Lean In with Validation. The sure-fire way to get out of a Chinese finger trap is to push your fingers together to release the trap’s hold. Similarly, when working with an inflexible child, the more you fight against their argument, the more resistance they will give you and the situation. Because their attempt to control their situation is coming from fear, the key for them to let down their defenses and “loosen the finger trap” is for you to lean in and provide reassurance, comfort, and empathy for their concerns.
  4. Pick Your Battles. When safety is not a concern, decide what interactions are worth addressing in the moment. Even if it means opinions differ or someone is not being included, sometimes letting go of the outcome of being right is more valuable than carrying on an endless heated debate.
  5. Teach Social Consequences. During a moment of calm and when time and privacy permit, share your genuine observations of the children’s behaviors and your concerns for how they may be perceived by others. Show a Chinese Finger Trap and explain how the children’s inflexible thinking and controlling behaviors trap others into feeling uncomfortable around them. Discuss the natural consequences and your concerns for their friendships. Teach them that when they are more flexible, the finger trap loosens and others feel more comfortable and driven to wanting to their friend.
  6. Address the Anxiety. Provide a predictable environment with visual schedules and proactive commentary of what will happen at each stage of the day. Teach and practice coping strategies to manage transitions, new experiences. and social anxiety. Always remember that anxiety is a driving force to rigidity and the key to escaping the power struggle trap.

How to Burn a Bridge with a Parent

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It was Back to School Night for parents a few weeks ago and I introduced myself to my son’s new school counselor. Following our greeting exchange, I politely asked in private how my son was doing. The 6’4 twenty-something counselor immediately pulled his body away, avoided eye contact, and said with force, “I can’t talk about that because of confidentiality.” His defensiveness to my innocent question caught me off guard.

After ignoring my impulse to walk away from his intimidating presence, I asked him to clarify what he was talking about. Specifically, because the treatment goal is just improving social skills. The counselor blurted some scripted speech about needing to protect my son’s privacy and wanting to preserve rapport with him. He was unapologetic and appeared apathetic to my curiosity.

When I finally mustered up the courage to tell him I was frustrated and that no one at the school had ever talked to me in his tone, he acquiesced and gave me some general updates about my son. At that point, all rapport with me was destroyed and I was emotionally checked out of the conversation. My detachment from our interaction prevented him from hearing any useful tips and strategies that would make his job less challenging this school year.

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Bridge Burning 101:

  1. Dismiss a parent’s question about how their child is doing.
  2. Use confidentiality as an excuse to not engage.
  3. Use body language that shows you are in control and disinterested.
  4. Use a memorized script to answer questions.
  5. Invalidate a parent’s feelings.
  6. Be inconsistent with what you say and do.
  7. Neglect to ask a parent for their input and see the value of their collaboration.
  8. Permit interruptions and give divided attention to others.