“How do I help my child move past ‘ritualistic’ behaviors so that we can have some ‘smooth sailing’? How do I decide what is ‘ big deal worth ‘battling’ over?”
Children often “insist” on certain things or routines (e.g., your child likes to drink out of the same cup or eat off a “special” plate at every meal; he demands that the same person dress or put him to bed every night; he not only wants to sit in the same spot at the dinner table each night, but he also tries to control where others sit; he “has to be” the first in/out of the car; he “has to be” the person to open the door upon arriving home; he insists on wearing certain clothes; etc.).
Trying to change the routine or desired item/location may lead to a tantrum, and a parent may conclude that their child’s demands are “no big deal” and “not worth battling over”. Indeed, sometimes these behaviors are nothing more than a “phase” that will pass on their own.
However, sometimes these insistent/ritualistic behaviors can become quite disruptive to family functioning and maladaptive for your child in social situations (e.g., school, when playing with friends). If this is the case, then one way to help your child through the resistance is to offer him reasonable choices that are slightly outside of his “comfort zone” and “not exactly” what he demands.
Consider as an example when your child insists that he “must” wear the same shirt every day of the week. You can decide that it’s “no big deal” and, therefore, wash/dry the shirt seven times per week. Or, you may decide that this is not only a nuisance but it also is a manifestation of your child’s inability to be flexible and, therefore, you may choose to simply keep the shirt in the hamper, offer him another shirt, and then manage his behavioral fall-out (e.g., tantrums, hitting, screaming, etc.) with firm and humane behavior management techniques.