What to do when they won't let it go





Today's episode is a little bit of a different, more special setup. I had a fantastic coaching conversation with a parent of a 3 1/2 year-old about a situation that they were dealing with around an irrational hyperfixation they just could not get over or let go of no matter what they tried!

Listen as I dive into this universal experience and offer some more context around these situations and what I recommend. 


  • The critical step to salvaging your sanity in these moments
  • When to introduce the logic or reasoning
  • A counterintuitive game-changer I dare you to try!


  • The lifesaver that is individualized feedback and support!


I believe in you + I'm cheering you on.
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Danielle Bettmann  0:06  
Ever feel like you suck at this job? Motherhood I mean. Have too much anxiety and not enough patience. Too much yelling, not enough play. There's no manual, no village, no guarantees. The stakes are high. We want so badly to get it right. But this is survival mode. We're just trying to make it to bedtime. So if you're full of mom guilt, your temper scares you, you feel like you're screwing everything up, and you're afraid to admit any of those things out loud, this podcast is for you.

Danielle Bettmann  0:40  
This is Failing Motherhood. I'm Danielle Bettmann and each week we'll chat with a mom ready to be real. Sharing her insecurities, her fears, her failures and her wins. We do not have it all figured out. That's not the goal. The goal is to remind you, you are the mom your kids need. They need what you have. You are good enough. And you're not alone. I hope you pop in earbuds, somehow sneak away and get ready to hear some hope from the trenches. You belong here, friend, we're so glad you're here. 

Danielle Bettmann  1:13  
Hey, it's Danielle. Positive Discipline Certified Parenting Coach for strong-willed kids ages 2 to 10. I'm here because I help defeated parents find validation, support and proven techniques to parent their strong-willed kids with more composure, more connection, more confidence and more cooperation through three-month group coaching program based on the Wholehearted framework I have developed over years of working with families one on one. If you have just found the podcast, go to failingmotherhood.com to view a playlist of our most listened-to episodes as well as where to start, if you have a strong-willed child. Today's episode is going to be a little bit of a different, more special setup. I have actually had a fantastic coaching conversation and one of our supplemental calls inside my program where I broke down a whole bunch of things with one parent in particular, they were the only one to show up to this call, so we got to really dive in deep. And one of the questions or the conversations with examples that they brought to me, is so universal, that I've been meaning to address it either in a separate training inside the program, or on the podcast because it comes up so often. And I've talked about on Instagram before and it was like I don't think I have a podcast episode just for this. So I went ahead and I asked this parent, would it be okay, do I have your permission to share an excerpt of our conversation so that we can be able to have this tangible example that we talked through to apply it to because so often in parenting information, you're getting a high level theory, or you're getting a set of ideals or scripts or things that yeah, they make sense, you want to be able to apply them. The problem is at any one given moment that you are then going to try to implement said principles or ideals or tools, there's several other variables happening at the same time. So it's always multilayered, it's always more nuanced and more complicated than the book or the post gave it credit for. So of course, you run into snags, you find your backhand. So while you get stuck, and you don't know what to do, in these particular situations that you never expected to find yourself in, they weren't specifically addressed. And all of a sudden, you're just coming up short. And in my program, not only are you learning little self-paced bits, so that builds your foundation from one week to the next so we're not taking up all of our time with teaching modules. But, as you develop these skill sets, and you're strengthening these muscles, you get to constantly ask, "Well, what about this situation?" "What about when they do this?"  "How do you do this? Because I tried and it didn't work." What do you do then? And that is where the rubber hits the road. And things finally make sense. And you genuinely get these breakthroughs because you get to apply it to this nuanced, complicated, convoluted situation you found yourself in in your actual day-to-day real life.

Danielle Bettmann  4:36  
 So, I'm gonna go ahead and introduce this clip. It is a with a parent that is talking about their three and a half year old and they kind of explained at the beginning, the setup of what ended up happening and what went wrong and what they tried and then I dive into kind of some more context around these situations and what I recommend. And I hope and I imagine, if you have a strong-willed child, you've definitely found yourself in a similar situation where they get so stuck and hyper fixated on a certain thing that they cannot let go, because it's not going their way. Or you know, they're not able to do the thing that they want to do. And here is what I recommended to this parent to help them get out of that jam if and when they find themselves in that same situation again. So go ahead and take notes as I coach this other parent and just imagine what it'd be like if you were in these conversations and got to then ask your own, follow-up questions and share your own example of what happened at your house at bath time last night - and how incredibly valuable it would be to go back and forth. So that I can ask more questions, and we can really figure out what led up to it, Because then, as a follow-up in this conversation, this parent brought up like three totally different topics, we end up segwaying segwaying, right after this one into another thing about separation anxiety and how mom was gone over the weekend and then we got into topics on books, recommendations for anger, and then we got into -you know why he's, he's kind of copying friends. And then we got into this other stuff. And it was just like, so deep and practical and real life. So, if you're in that place, where books are not cutting it, you know, in your mind what you're supposed to do, but cannot get it to translate to your day to day, you are not alone. It is not just your brain, you are probably expecting way too much of your brain, because this is not how we're meant to master these skills and actually figure out the confidence piece to have like a way of being with our kids that we can truly make possible in day to day life. So if you're struggling with that at all, and imagine that this level of support would be helpful. This is the level of support you deserve. And I would love to meet you and see if we're aligned to work together. But here we go here, I will go ahead and play and it's not there might be a couple little blips because this is Zoom audio. So fair warning on that, but I thought it was it was a really good relatable topic that I hope you find well, but so here we are.

Parent  7:28  
Like last night, we had a fun day -  been building, you know, putting the holes ground for the swingset It's big enough where it was like three, three and a half feet down. I was like, why don't you hop in the hole, so he hops in the hole and he was playing in the hole and having a fun time we did that for like an hour and a half  He was just having a great time playing in dirt. Yeah, so it was great. Well come down the end of the day is like you need to take a bath and like you need to get both kids have to get washed in the bath, so got them in the house and then they didn't want to hop in the bath - Erin then finally got them in the bath and I was outside still so I  really wasn't involved at the very beginning. But then mentally  he came down to like, "I want to dirty I want to be face dirty" and kept on saying that.  He gets in this cycle of staying fixated on one thing, and we can't break them out of that we kind of did, but couldn't. 

Danielle Bettmann  8:26  

Parent  8:26  
And has a lot of fixation on stuff. And we're just like, you know, trying everything  - to - because what he wants is his face to be dirty because he - Erin, I think told him he has to get his face cleaned, you know, washed and he doesn't like that because of Eczema. I don't know if that's part of it, just sometimes the sensory stuff on that. But yeah, so he got fixated on and that's all he would say. So that's like half an hour sometimes screaming it. And so, so you he fixated on that and she couldn't get him out of that like and he's just in the tub and he's screaming about getting dirty. "I want my face dirty. I want my face dirty." And eventually like I forgot what I said I kind of like you know, "oh, you know, so tough, buddy. You had so much fun playing the dirt. I know it's so hard to stop." And I tried to use like the problem is  that it's you know, it was bath time and we can't and we're getting ready for bed and we can't be dirty. He's like "I want to be dirty. I want to be dirty in bed and stuff." And I kinda broke him out of that. But still, he was fixated on that. 

Danielle Bettmann  9:45  
Okay, so I'm hearing three kind of different discussion topics. First one is the fixation. I want my face to be dirty. How do we continue to kind of work through that hyper fixation. That sound about right?

Parent  10:05  
That sounds about right.

Danielle Bettmann  10:06  
Yeah, okay. So which one would you want to start with? Because I have them all written down. So we can go jumping around,

Parent  10:14  
I guess just start for the first one.

Danielle Bettmann  10:17  
Sure, the "I want my face to be dirty" So, it sounds like you guys were in that mode of trying everything because it lasted so long. I'm sure you tried a couple of different ways of trying to relate to him or explain the problem and that kind of thing. Those hyper fixations are very, very common with kids with this temperament. Definitely something that I would see a lot, especially for his age. And it's not anything that shows that there's like a gap in his logic or anything, even though he's just trying to beat you know, beat this point to a pulp, where you're like, Okay, we heard you the first time. For some reason they have like this, they're just like in mud. And they're just spinning their wheels. And they just like, can't kick themselves out of the mud. They are just like, in the zone. And it feels like nothing you do, lifts them up out of it, so that we can move on and snap out of it. 

Parent  11:33  
That's a good way to describe it.

Danielle Bettmann  11:34  
Yeah, yeah. So it's, it's important to recognize that that's happening, once you realize, okay, this is like the 20th time he said this, he's clearly spinning his wheels. He's in mud, you know, like just even thinking that or saying that out loud, to your partner, so that you can both be like, are you seeing what I'm seeing? Yep, he's definitely spinning his wheels, again. That's really helpful for your own sanity in that moment, to not continue to drive yourself down, where you basically wear yourself down where you're in the mud too You know, you can very quickly almost like, become usurped into the strength of his reaction is so strong that it just kind of sucks you in, where you have to almost like pull, physically pull yourself away a little bit to be like, Okay, I see that you are stuck in the mud. Okay, I'm not going to join you there. So, sometimes that does take, "I hear you bud, let me go grab something from the kitchen" and walking away so that you can just, like, have a little bit of silence to be like, what? Okay, what is going to help him? What am I supposed to do right now, because without sometimes just that even 30 second gap, you start throwing spaghetti at a wall, and then all of a sudden, you know, you're five minutes in coming up empty, and you start to really get frustrated or resentful. And then you're never going to find the thing at that point, because your brains already starting to slide. So you're gonna walk and be like, "Ah, I hear you, I hear you. I gotta go grab something from the kitchen. I'll be right back." And you leave. And then you come back. Okay, tell me more about this dirty face. And you basically, it feels counterintuitive, because when you are trying to pull somebody out of the mud, like, you want to stay as far away from the mud as possible, and you want to just like yank them out. But in this case, you want to almost like sit on the edge of the puddle. And be like, splash me with all the mud, you can -  go. I want to like, like overemphasize and hear you out. And how much mud? Would you cover your face and mud? Would I be able to see your eyes? Would you be able to talk? How dirty would you make your face? And you're almost trying to like, create this fantasy of overdoing it or like living it out so that we can finally come to the other side with some closure and move on. Because in his mind, he's just like, I want this reality I can't have I don't know how to tell you any more. How much it means to me, how important it is, how great, amazing this idea is in my head. And I'm just going to keep saying it. And so you want to be able to basically say, "Tell me more", and then ask a bunch of questions. "Oh my gosh, what is this the dirtiest Your face has ever been? Hasn't been dirty hasn't been dirty like this before? Would you wear it? You know, would you keep your face dirty for school? Why would you want your face so dirty? I can't even see it. You know, Could I could I kiss and hug you, you're so dirty." You know, like, and this whole time, you're still sitting next to him in the bath, not making him wash his face. But you're asking more questions. You're basically saying like, "How could your face get even dirtier? What could we put on your face to make it even dirtier? We could put peanut butter on, we could cover it in, you know, chocolate chips." And it's, it's you're spending the same amount of time having this conversation as you were when he's screaming it at you. Or you're trying to relay this logic and reasoning. Right?

Parent  15:40  
So, you're joining along with them in the conversation is what you're trying to do? 

Danielle Bettmann  15:43  
Yes, so at the same time it took to try to explain the problem and try to explain, you know, the next step in the bath routine and just get all this resistance, you're leaning into it. You're saying, "how else could we make your face even dirtier? What's the dirtiest you could possibly think of your face being?" And it doesn't make any logical sense, right? Counterintuitive, because you're not making any progress towards it. But five minutes of leaning in. I mean, like, "oh, my gosh, you would be the dirtiest kid in the whole world. I couldn't even be in the same room with you, it'd be so stinky." Just something where you're like, now we've hit a point of just silliness. Right? The ideas we're talking about are so bizarre. That would never happen in real life. So then it's easier. It's almost like that's the ledge of getting out of the mud is like, Okay, now we're talking about it. And it could never happen in real life so now I have I have less, I have more acceptance of reality, knowing the things we're talking about, are not even feasible. As opposed to when I was clinging on to the reality of what I thought I could have or be really feasible. And I'm just like this close to having it. You've now edged into this Fantasyland, or we're talking about, you know, the most ridiculous over the top silly ways to be dirty. And now that's kind of our springboard into oh, wouldn't that be crazy. And now it is time to wash your face. And it feels like that jump is very hard to do. When you think I'm almost promising him this reality of like, you know, a home makeover for the next three hours. But you're not, you're giving him the gift of feeling heard and understood. You're giving him the gift of like playing out this fantasy with somebody who's like, present in the moment with him for this little bit of time. And that is just as good in his mind at the end of the day as getting to keep his dirty face. So when, when you lean in, and you get to this point of kind of silliness fantasy, then it's a lot easier to make that transition into, oh my gosh, we'll have to you know, when's the next time we can play in the dirt? Should we?  I have to do some more digging for the garden this weekend. Let's - let's play you know, dirty face again on Saturday. Right now, it is time to wash our face. Would you rather use this wash cloth or this washcloth?

Parent  18:26  

Danielle Bettmann  18:26  
"Do you need my help? Are you gonna do it by yourself?" You know, a couple of those quick choices. So that it gets his brain on to the next thing. And he's, you've already given him that springboard. He's ready to kind of make peace with the reality. And, you know, at that point, you can, once he's washing his face, "oh my gosh, I'm so glad I can see your face. All those germs. You know, we don't want to keep those I can't let you keep those on your pillowcase. That would be gross." You know, you can still kind of make a few of those logical points, but it's not going to be the swelling compelling or, you know, swaying his mind compelling thing where when you laid that fact down 10 minutes beforehand, he would be like, "Oh my gosh, you're so right,  let me wash." You know, like you're still in that mud and you're just not going to make any headway.

Parent  19:15  
Gotcha. Gotcha. Yeah. And yeah, I think it was after the face that his face got washed or something. That's where he flipped. So I mean, I guess the next thing was to get out of bath basically. We just couldn't get him out of the bath. So I guess I'll relate. But yeah.

Danielle Bettmann  19:33  
One topic to the next and just stayed - stayed hyper fixated, just switch topics. 

Parent  19:40  
Yeah, I don't know what - what, how, we I mean, we just kind of well, because I did say "hey, but tomorrow we can play in the dirt.  We've got to make some more holes and stuff because I was working on the swing set and all that", so that kinda like started turning the ship but still was fixated on that so that kind of makes sense because we do see that in him like you do a fancy thing if you can relate to it, like, oh, there's a hamster. Let's go catch it. You know, let's be hamsters catchers or something.

Danielle Bettmann  20:25  
Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Failing Motherhood. Your kids are so lucky to have you. If you loved this episode, take a screenshot right now and share it in your Instagram stories and tag me. If you're loving the podcast, be sure that you've subscribed and leave a review so we can help more moms know they are not alone if they feel like they're failing motherhood on a daily basis. And if you're ready to transform your relationship with your strong-willed child, and invest in the support you need to make it happen, schedule your free consultation using the link in the show notes. I can't wait to meet you. Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I believe in you, and I'm cheering you on!



Tuesday, Sept 27th at 1:00 PM CENTRAL

Confidently parent your strong-willed child without caving in or dimming their spark so you can finally break free of power struggles, guilt + self-doubt!