Why Your Child Shuts Down (& What To Do About It)

Ever feel resistance when your child loses motivation?

It can be frustrating for both you and your child when they meet resistance and start shutting down. What’s going on in their minds – or lives – that makes them behave the way they do?

In this episode, Carol & Anne give helpful insights about why each Type of child shuts down—and how that looks different for each one. You’ll walk away with supportive strategies you can use, as well as questions you can ask your child when you notice them getting overwhelmed.

This week’s Parenting Practice

Notice when your child starts shutting down. What’s going on in their environment? Use the question for your Type of child so you can involve them in making the situation more supportive. This will encourage them to be motivated in a more natural way true to their nature.

Transcript of the podcast episode

Carol: The thinking mind is a tool and it needs to be coached and coerced. And you teach your mind how you want to use it. Welcome to The Child Whisperer Podcast. I’m your host, Carol Tuttle, author of the bestselling parenting book, “The Child Whisperer.” I’m with my co-host, Anne Tuttle Brown.

Anne: My Type 4 child stops trying if he doesn’t know the exact answer to something for fear of getting it wrong, how can I support him to not shut down?

Carol: Every type of child has that potential to stop, quit trying, they’re not motivated anymore, they’re feeling stifled. It’s not that they’re defiant, it’s most likely because you’re not using supportive strategies that naturally motivate a child.

Anne: Is this attendance tendency you see with Type 4s that they shut down if they don’t know the exact answer or something?

Carol: Oh, very much. Very much.

Anne: And I think she’s gone a step further being like, “He just shuts down not knowing the exact answer to something” she’s knowing why…

Carol: Not even trying.

Anne: …the root…

Carol: I don’t wanna try.

Anne: Yeah. For fear of getting it wrong.

Carol: Correct. I remember when your brother, Mark was in a foreign country learning a new language and he wanted to just quit, he was afraid to talk, he was afraid to speak the language…

Anne: To make mistakes.

Carol: …until he had perfected it because he knew he’d make mistakes and that would be very embarrassing to him. So, he was hesitant to speak. And I remember talking to him on the phone and telling him, “Well, the only way you’ll learn if you just have to make yourself speak and use it in day-to-day conversations and know that you’re going to make mistakes.” But it was this all or nothing approach to, “Well, I just wanna do it perfectly.”

Anne: Yeah, I’m not gonna speak until I know it all.

Carol: So, it’s very hard to try at all knowing I’m going to be imperfect at it. But I said, “Well, the only way to learn a language is to…

Anne: Start speaking it.

Carol: …let it go that way.”

Anne: Yeah. You kinda have to make a big fool of yourself when you’re learning a language.

Carol: Yeah. And eventually, you’ll get there.

Anne: I’ve heard stories of Type 4 children practicing the piano, they’ll hit one wrong note and then they just…

Carol: Wanna stop.

Anne: …slam all the notes and like, “Nah” and they’ll turn, “I’m so stupid.” And they’ll start to say all these remarks about themself just because they just didn’t get it right. Life is you’re practicing and learning a lot of new things.

Carol: You have Seth, my grandson who’s Type 4 and he just naturally is very motivated to do his very best in school and get the highest score. In his mind, that’s just what you do. If there’s a high score, you get the highest score. It’s very black and white thinking. And he was scored, missed a few, got in the 90 percentile, and it was very upsetting to him because it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t what he puts upon himself. So, it’s a learning opportunity to then help them deal with that. What they see as imperfection is just a part of our life experience and there’s no flaw to it.

Anne: So, let’s share how to support a Type 4 in this scenario and then we will go over how the other types feel or shut down and how to support them.

Carol: A Type 4 needs to understand a learning experience and what the sequence in learning so they can look at, I’m learning this perfectly, I’m developing in this perfectly. It’s not something you can achieve with an all or nothing approach.

Anne: Something you shared years ago that has stuck with me is find perfection in the process. And Type 4s are great at looking at the big picture and so if they look at the big picture from start to finish, this is where I can expect to be in the beginning like the piano. I know that it’s perfectly accepted and normal and fine to be making mistakes as I’m learning this song. To put that in part of the equation.

Carol: Yeah, to teach them the process of learning and how can you perfect that and be efficient with that so that you can get to the place that you will get to help them see the bigger picture. This is going to help you get there. I remember telling Mark, “You will achieve this. You will get to a place where you’ll have this language down very efficiently, you’ll feel very confident with it, and you’ll look back to when you were still learning.” So, trust that. Trust that’s where this is taking you and be okay with the process. So, is they’re informed about even giving them turn to their heads up of let’s take piano, for example, you’ll probably hit some wrong notes. You might do it during a recital. Just let’s look at everything variable that could play out.

Anne: You’re not going to get 100% on all of your tests.

Carol: Right. That’s pretty normal.

Anne: And then I think in the Type 4 mind they can be like, “Well, then why am I even trying?” Like why am I black or white? I think in the moment too, you’re just gonna have to give them time. You’re not going to be able to be like, “Pick yourself up again and let’s try the grounding technique” that we’ve shared in previous podcasts or in that moment, it might just be, “All right. That’s a wash. We’re gonna talk about this moving forward if this keeps happening in these certain scenarios” and help them get the bigger picture.

Carol: And then you reinforce, “You’re gonna get another chance.”

Anne: Yes. Lots of chances.

Carol: There’s lots of opportunities here. We’ll look forward to those.

Anne: How have you seen this affect adults as they haven’t maybe didn’t learn that in their younger years and it’s affecting them in how they’re in their emotional health day-to-day, Type 4 adults?

Carol: I’ve found that men have outward criticism are often and projected outward. That there’s the system or a boss or there’s something wrong that’s…

Anne: Getting a lot of commentary?

Carol: Handicapping them. Women tend to turn it inward. Critical, self-criticism. But when you think about our gender differences, we have an outward expression and an inward expression who we are.

Anne: So, do you feel that having these types of conversations helping your Type 4 child get an idea of the bigger picture will help them be more naturally motivated as they…

Carol: Right. You’re teaching a Type 4 how to use the process of their thinking mind which their dominant connection with the world is their intellect. And so don’t assume a child knows how to effectively use their thinking mind to their benefit. It can be your worst enemy or your best friend, depending on how you train your mind. The thinking mind is a tool and it needs to be coached and coerced and you teach your mind how you want to use it. So, the benefit of that is helping a Type 4 learn how to think in a way that supports them in the bigger picture of their life. Don’t just leave that to them to figure out. They’re very analytical people. So help them use that…

Anne: That will serve them very well.

Carol: …to their benefit.

Anne: Let’s talk about the other types now. How does a Type 1 shut down? What’s going on in their life that makes them just wanna shut down? And what does that look like when they shut down?

Carol: Well, their Type 1 energy is upward light, more spontaneous. Things need to be like surprises every once in a while.

Anne: Spontaneity.

Carol: Things to look forward to. And feeling too heavy and life is too serious. So, let’s take something simple as making your bed every day before you go to school. And if the bedding is a hassle to deal with and it has to be done every day, day in day out, and they’re feeling so just bored with it. It’s so routine and it’s not fun and it’s like the feedback from the parent is very demanding. “Make your bed, make your bed.” Because it’s so important to learn to be repetitive and do tasks. And I believe in all that but maybe a Type 1 needs to make their bed three times a week and say it’s in your…you get to decide whether you make your bed today. I’m not going to…

Anne: [inaudible 00:07:59] doors on bedrooms for a reason.

Carol: …require it of you

Anne: I use them even on my own because I don’t make my bed every day.

Carol: Yeah. Actually, Type 1 adults who really go extreme in their household maintenance where, in fact, someone even asked me could I be really messy because I was required to be so neat…

Anne: Yeah. And then doing it…

Carol: …and I am a Type 1.

Anne: …in a state of rebellion or just like, “Whoa, I get to be free, freedom.”

Carol: Housework felt like stifling heavy serious stuff because that’s what it was like in their childhood.

Anne: That’s a good insight for [inaudible 00:08:29] a person to have to be like, “Oh, this is what that’s connected to.”

Carol: Yeah. So, she had to learn to maintaining organization and tidiness in your home is a really good trait. So, Type 1s then have to learn how to do it in a way that feels light and open and more fun-loving.

Anne: I have a great app that I use with my kids when it’s clean up time, it’s called Lickety Split and you turn it on and it plays some fun upbeat classical music and it sets a timer.

Carol: Oh they have to come hit it, right?

Anne: And they say, “Can you get your room clean before you hear mek [SP], mek” which is the mark that you didn’t do it. And it goes for three minutes and oh, my goodness.

Carol: You can put the time in it.

Anne: My three-year-old, he’s Type 2 but he’s just like stuck in the mud when I’m like, “Hey, let’s clean.” If I turn that music on the first time and he was like, “Let’s do it.”

Carol: It really got him going, huh?

Anne: Oh, yeah. It’s really fun. I even turn it on when I’m like, “I’m giving myself three minutes to clean my kitchen.”

Carol: I would like it. I got to hit that buzzer.

Anne: Yeah. Lickety Split.

Carol: And I need a curtain to open and say, “You have now won a new car.”

Anne: All right. Taking a [inaudible 00:09:35]. One other scenario I think for a Type 1 could be like if they’re in extracurricular classes and they’re going, it’s just like monotonous and it’s just structured and too scheduled.

Carol: There’s no free time.

Anne: Yeah. It can happen and it’s not just chores. Look around, be an observer as a parent, what in their life is too structured, too heavy, and they’re feeling stifled? And what will it look like when a Type 1 is shut down? Will they become overly animated or will they just become more depressed?

Carol: They don’t wanna do it. They’re just drained, they’re…

Anne: Complaining.

Carol: Yeah. Resistance.

Anne: Resist. Okay. So, you just take…making efforts to lighten those things up. Maybe cancel the class or move…

Carol: Ask them.

Anne: Okay. Yeah. And definitely when they’re older giving…and even little too I’m often surprised with the conversations that I can have and be like, I’m just gonna ask my kid. I don’t have to figure this out alone.

Carol: Oh, I know. Ask your Type 1 child. How do you really feel about making your bed every day? Is your bed fun to make? Is it easy to make?

Anne: That would be a good question. How can we make this more fun?

Carol: Yeah. Ask them.

Anne: I ask that question to my Type 2 son in a Type 2 way. “How can I make this more comfortable for you?” When I’m feeling like we’re butting heads. “How can I make this more fun? How could you make this more fun? How can we make this lighter?”

Carol: Now, they’re gonna say okay, you need to say the question for each type. So, you better do that now so we don’t forget.

Anne: What have we got?

Carol: Type 3, how can I make this move more quickly for you?

Anne: Well, let’s go over Type 2 first and we’ll…

Carol: How can I make this more practical for you?

Anne: Yes.

Carol: Type 4. How can I make this more…

Anne: How could this make more sense? How could you perfect this?

Carol: How can I support you in figuring this out?

Anne: Honestly, you’re taking those keywords and you could make up 10 different phrases, like in “The Child Whisperer.” You’re using those keyword movement, those motivating factors. Type 2. They start to shut down when they feel rushed or pushed. If you tell a Type 3, we joke about this. If you tell a Type 2 to hurry up, they will slow down, if you tell a Type 3 to calm down, they will get more intense. So, you need to be careful with [inaudible 00:11:31].

Carol: It’s countering our natural movement so it’s trying to enroll someone’s nature in being counter to who they are.

Anne: Yeah. It’s like you tell a Type 4, “Lighten up.” It’s not going to give you the response that you want. So, we teach lots of measures in “The Child Whisperer” of giving them time buffers, giving them their own space to make their decisions in the timeframe that they feel more comfortable with.

Carol: Let’s keep this conversation going Anne, but first, we’ve got a special message for our listeners.

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Anne: What would make a Type 2 feel rushed or pushed?

Carol: They don’t know the plan, the next step. They’re feeling the energy of their parents really come on to them. Really. They’ll feel it. It’ll feel like this push. I don’t know any other way to describe it. It really, really is like a push and they feel very encumbered by that. Even with my husband who’s a Type 2, if I come on too strong or try and get him to do something by my decision, my pace, he resists. It’s like…

Anne: Getting stuck in the mud.

Carol: Yeah.

Anne: So, again, questions and communication like, let’s talk about the plan. How can your Type 2 child help with the plan? Honestly, it could be a great support to you as a parent of enrolling their abilities to think about the details and make a plan. They would love that.

Carol: I mean Sam, who’s only three, you could extract from him some plans that he would come up with.

Anne: He would say, “What’s the plan, mom?” He answers the question.

Carol: He just asks that, “What’s the plan, mom?”

Anne: That’s his question. He asks that. And of course, I’m willing to share with him all of the details.

Carol: [inaudible 00:13:45]. He’s a question asker. I will…

Anne: Oh, my goodness. That could be a whole other podcast.

Carol: Why?

Anne: What do I do when my child says “why” 1,052 times a day?

Carol: Yeah. Again, we were babysitting over the weekend and I was like…I didn’t feel like I had to answer every why. I’d be nodding my head, “Mm-hmm.” Why? Why?

Anne: You tell me.

Carol: Why? You will know someday.

Anne: All right. Let’s go to Type 3.

Carol: Maybe we won’t. But, I didn’t feel I had to give a response to every why that came out.

Anne: It can be a rabbit hole because he keeps asking. Let’s move to Type 3. When does a Type 3 shut down?

Carol: The word thwarted is the perfect description of when a Type 3 is thwarted.

Anne: Let me read the definition out of the dictionary. “To oppose successfully, prevent from accomplishing a purpose.” I love that. To prevent from accomplishing a purpose. A Type 3 has got the…they know where they’re headed, they got the result in mind, they’re determined, they’re pushing forward and then…

Carol: You got the engine going, you’re on your way and you’re like, “Wait a minute, you just stopped me.”

Anne: So, what does it look like when a Type 3 shuts down?

Carol: Mad and angry. I think anger is the first emotion. Going back to Type 2, they whine and they get really whiny and cry whereas Type 3 is gonna get mad. This is when your Type 3 will slug you or something because you thwarted them.

Anne: Or their brother, taking it out on a sibling.

Carol: Yeah. You thwart. And that…

Anne: Yeah. You have to look at how many times you’re saying no to your Type 3.

Carol: I would be for all the parents…the moms that post in The Child Whisperer group about their Type 3 toddlers and them being too physical, hitting, biting, one mom reported that her son hit her in the eye. Three-year-olds are never intentional. They’re not going for you like, “Oh, yeah. Watch me.” I bet there’s a lot of…

Anne: They’re expressing the anger that’s there.

Carol: Yeah, there’s probably a lot of thwarting going on. The parents thwarting them. So, another scenario that was posted was the child was very aggressive in getting into things. Well, my answer was preventative measures is your best scenario. A three and four-year-old doesn’t have the ability to reason. You can have all kinds of lectures and say, “No. You shouldn’t do that because the knives will hurt you.” Like, move the knives, lock the drawer. Take all the temptation away from their ability to access it.

Anne: So, you don’t have to [inaudible 00:16:09] thwart.

Carol: Right. Because now you’re gonna thwart them, see, thwarting, thwarting, thwarting. Anger, anger, anger.  And so as the child now grows into developing more independence and free thinking they’re going to do things at times that you’re like, “Whoa, wait a minute.”

Anne: I’ve had that experience.

Carol: Yeah. Some of these can be safety issues that you’re gonna hurt yourself. And how far someone else in The Child Whisperer Facebook group post a picture of her daughter lost a tooth and her question was reasonable in that, at what point do you have to…there is this playing out constantly of taking risks that will create injury? My answer was, “Make sure you have good medical insurance coverage.” Not all Type 3s are that way though. I don’t wanna stereotype.

Anne: Yeah. It depends on the age the child is at.

Carol: It is. And some are just bigger at that.

Anne: My daughter is not physical in that way.

Carol: She doesn’t take those kinds of risky physical challenges.

Anne: No. She is more of projects like, “I am moving forward with this project and you’re not stopping me.”

Carol: So, what happens when you thwart her? She get mad?

Anne: She says she’s gonna do it anyways. It often takes me pausing, not just saying no, no, no. Like pausing and communicating with her, cheering her without the bigger picture, hearing her out, and then we can determine how to move forward together.

Carol: Yeah. So, if you just tell her now, you’re now presenting, that’s like…

Anne: It’s like, oh, yeah.

Carol: Yeah. That’s the thing. When you’re with a Type 3 child and you just say, “No, you’re not.” It’s like, “Oh, yeah. I will show you who.” Now, that’s where their determined nature appears to be defiant because you responded with the incorrect…the most ineffective response there is.

Anne: As I’m learning. Yes.

Carol: Because that’s a thwarting, that’s a stopping.

Anne: And so as a parent you’re like, “Well, then what do I do?” And I think [inaudible 00:18:06]…

Carol: Yeah. Well, if your kid’s walking in front of a car, obviously you’re gonna thwart them.

Anne: That’s right.

Carol: Well, we’re not silly.

Anne: Yeah. I found I have the most success when we come together. And sometimes it’s inconvenient because I’m in the middle of something and it’s like, “Okay. Now, I have to figure this out.” I can’t just say no and be done with it. We communicate, we talk, and then we determine how to move forward with it.

Carol: Yeah. You could even say, “I see you’re really determined to do that and I would like to know why and I cannot support that choice. So, we need to figure this out together.”

Anne: And just using [inaudible 00:18:38].

Carol: So, for you, so you’re owning it now. Rather than saying, “No. You can’t.” You’re saying, “Uh, that’s not a choice I can support for you.” You’re owning that as your…but you haven’t stopped him yet. And so you’re now negotiating. So, it’s that stopping in their tracks that’s so…I know that feeling so well. It’s just like, “Don’t stop me.” Let…at least I’m willing to negotiate here, but it’s this thwarting, the stopping, and then the anger belts.

Anne: Getting shut down, especially if it’s happening over and over again.

Carol: You can tell, even what I’m doing right now.

Anne: I know. You’re getting really passionate about this.

Carol: I’m shaking my fist.

Anne: Don’t get in this lady’s way.

Carol: [inaudible 00:19:16]. I’ve got so much of it [inaudible 00:19:20].

Anne: This will happen less and less as you create the space for your Type 3 child to not be thwarted on a day-to-day basis. I’m having these interactions with my daughter when she’s ready to make slime and it’s gonna make a giant mess in the kitchen and I’m not ready for that. Otherwise, she can go in her room and she can do art projects and she can change things…

Carol: Right, there’s another project.

Anne: …around in her room, like it doesn’t have to look a certain way. So, there are spaces that she definitely has.

Carol: She’s got three other options that will satisfy her expressing her physical creativity that aren’t…

Anne: But if you feel this is happening over and over and over again, you need to look at your child’s space and environment and where are they able to just be free and to move without being thwarted.

Carol: We’re gonna be linking this podcast a lot to every Type 3 toddler scenario that gets posted in the Facebook group because those are the most common posts, “My three-year-old Type 3.”

Anne: That is a like tricky stage.

Carol: Pad your walls. I don’t know what to tell you. Not all. This is a stereotype that we hear from the moms that have very high movement.

Anne: Especially, on those days. It’s an intense energy, so even if it just is happening here and there, it’s just like, “Whoa, this isn’t like my other kids.”

Carol: The more thwarting that’s going on, the more determined they are…

Anne: Yeah, [inaudible 00:20:31].

Carol: …and the more they’re going to give you to deal with. That said, they’re giving you more because they feel so stifled.

Anne: So, the parenting practice this week. Notice if anything is shutting your child down.

Carol: So, this is the irony, Type 3 children don’t get shut down, they push harder. There’s that one variable, so we need to make a point. The other three will shut down.

Anne: Until they get shut down, they’re scared.

Carol: And be more resistant. Type 3 will go in overdrive and do-overs.

Anne: [inaudible 00:21:02].

Carol: Interesting, huh? So, see, for the Type 3 child, it should be the one thing that provokes your child to do-overs, thwarting. But the other three go into more resistance mode while Type 3s push harder. Fascinating.

Anne: That is fascinating. So, notice if anything is shutting your child down or pushing them into overdrive for the Type 3 and correct that to support them in being motivated in a more natural way true to their type.

Carol: And involve them in that correction. Most of your children are old enough to be able to have conversations and if you’ve not read parts of or the entire section for their type, I encourage you to take time this week, I’m gonna add that to the parenting practice. Educate your child who they are so they have a working knowledge of their own expression so they can start to consciously manage it and be on the same page with you because all of us have an opportunity to be more mindful about who we are so we make healthy choices with it, knowing our tendencies to make unhealthy choices with who we are. And this is exactly what your children are doing. They’d like to know why they get shut down or why they do-overs. They ultimately don’t want an upset parent tagging them as the difficult child or the problem child for this period of your life. They want your affection, they want your kudo, your compliments, your reinforcements, and affirmation. Every child is looking for that. So, inform them and then make the corrections with their contribution doing that.

Thanks for listening. For more support, go to thechildwhisperer.com or you can purchase the book, subscribe to our weekly parenting practice email and find a transcription and audio of The Child Whisperer Podcast.

Anne: If you’re listening on iTunes, thank you for leaving a review. If you have a parenting question, please send it to [email protected].

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