Last week I grabbed The Explosive Child from my local library book shelf. I was browsing the parenting titles looking for a specific book on bullies and this one just jumped out at me. I guess the universe provides what you need. As I picked it up I was hesitant because I don’t like books with Dr. Phil-esque advice about finding their currency and punishing your kids until they shape up. But I read through the first chapter, aptly named The Waffle Episode. I knew I would take the book home after I quickly acknowledged that yes, the waffle episode or similar, was something that is very familiar to me.
The book addresses how to understand and approach parenting easily frustrated or chronically inflexible children. Some outsiders may see a child like that and call them bratty, tyrannical, a little monster, or something similar but what this book addresses is that some kids are “explosive” not by choice or because of bad parenting but because they are mentally incapable of handling frustration. Frustration tolerance and flexibility are skills that we learn as we develop and some kids have a delay or handicap where these skills are concerned, just like a child might have a learning disability. Calling a child a brat insinuates that they are deliberately being antagonistic or willful. With these children there is nothing deliberate about their behavior. They know what you expect of them and they know when they are doing right or wrong but when they get frustrated they don’t have the skills to stay calm or think rationally… they just implode.
Common advice from therapists who deal with these children is to use a punishment and rewards system. But Dr. Greene’s advice in this book is to not go down that path because it doesn’t work for these children. As he says, they are black and white children living in a grey world. They know what you expect of them and they would love to have the rewards and avoid the punishments but they are chronically incapable of meeting your expectations when they don’t have the skills to handle frustration. A rewards and punishment system is just giving them ammunition of sorts… a whole lot MORE to be frustrated about. Conventional parenting ideas usually revolve around the idea that children will do well if they want to. Dr. Green’s believes “children will do well if they can”. LOVE it.
So what do you do with an explosive child? Well, there are three paths outlined in the book that parents can take… Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Plan A is an authoritarian “my way or the highway” approach. Plan C is a very passive “whatever you want, I give up” approach. Plan B involves negotiating and resolving conflict together with mutually beneficial solutions. It involves modeling for them the EXACT behaviors and skills they haven’t mastered yet. You teach them how to deal with frustration without explosions and how to see “options” in their black and white mindset. You also have to understand that it is a disability and that you cannot take things too personally. When your child screams “I HATE you!” they are acting on impulse and didn’t know a better way to say… “Mom I am really upset right now about something mean someone said to me at school today and you lecturing me about my messy room was the last straw.”
It is a wonderful book that gives solid advice and stays focused on “helping” the children not punishing them for something they can’t control. It also shows clearly how the parental reaction can be water that douses the fire or an accelerant that ignites it even further.
I recommend it to all moms struggling with explosions, including children who have an ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) diagnosis.