I read it so you don’t have to: The Explosive Child

The Explosive Child by Ross Greene (not of Friends fame) is a parenting book I’ve heard recommended for ages, but had never got round to reading. My child isn’t really explosive, I thought to myself. Maybe a little volatile. Maybe prone to random violence. Maybe impossible. But not actually, you know, combustible. Not entirely composed of dynamite. Just, say, 60%.

Just read it anyway. Or read this and see if you’d like to read it. It provides a good technique for finding solutions to problems between two people, especially when one of them has not yet developed coping mechanisms for, you know, life as we experience it.

The subtitle is “A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children.” It’s not new any more, of course, since it was first published in 1998, (though this is the fifth edition, from 2014, that I got from the library), but it’s newer than spare the rod and spoil the child, or many other tried and tested (and failed) methods you may have heard of. If you’ve read How to Talk so Kids Will Listen , this complements what’s in there quite well. If you’re a fan of gentle discipline, forge ahead without fear.

Anyway, I’m going to run over the basic points here, in case you don’t have time for a whole book in between picking up the pieces and mopping up the detritus that your non-combustible child causes.

  • Children do well if they can. Your child is not making trouble to make your life hell, or getting into trouble because it’s fun. They’re doing it because they can’t do any better.
  • The reason they can’t do better is not because they’re spawn of satan. (I’m paraphrasing here, you understand.) They simply lack the skills to be able to. Mostly, this is because their brain is still developing. The part at the front of their brain that enables them to be patient, to roll with the punches, to have emotional fortitude, isn’t really online yet. Instead, their lizard brain at the back kicks in and they respond to frustrating situations with, you know, explosions.
  • Rewards and punishments don’t work with these kids because they’re not helping the kid solve the problem, they’re just focused on avoiding the result – the explosion. Instead, we need to help them learn to solve problems.
  • We need to do this collaboratively, not by telling them what to do. Telling kids what to do works with some kids, but with others – say, my not-entirely-made-of-TNT child – it just gets their back up and makes them more certain that they’ll do anything but that. So you need to approach it with them, as a team, and let them participate in coming up with the solution. The more practice they get doing this, the better they’ll be, and their front brain part (technical term) will grow.
  • It’s best to do this proactively, not in the heat of the moment. So the idea is that you identify problems, figure out what lagging skills are the root of it, and try to plan to fix that the next time it comes up.
  • There’s a website! If you go here you’ll find lots of stuff that goes along with the book – and you don’t really need the book to use it. You can use the ALSUP checklist and guide to help you find what skills your child is lagging in that are contributing to their meltdowns. You can use the Problem Solving Plan as a flowchart to help you have conversations that identify the problems and find solutions. The Drilling Cheat Sheet gives lots of scripts to help you find out what’s really going on. (If you’ve read How to Talk so Kids will Listen… or Siblings without Rivalry it all looks pretty familiar.)

And this is roughly how, ideally, a conversation is meant to go. Of course, it might not. The book goes into all the various iterations of what might happen and how you get it back on track, but very basically…

– I’ve noticed you have difficulty doing x. What’s up with that?

-Well, I hate y.

-So you hate y. Anything else?

– And it’s really hard because of z.

– Ok, so you hate y and z gives you trouble. Anything else?

– No, that’s it.

– Let’s think about how we can solve this problem. I wonder if there’s a way to avoid y and make z easier. Do you have any ideas?

Then you come up with some ideas, together. The solution has to be realistic and mutually satisfactory. If it turns out not to be realistic after all, you come back and find a new solution, as many times as it takes.

The more often you have these conversations and work together to find solutions, the better your kid gets at doing it, and so they start building those skills that they were lacking, and your life becomes inestimably better.

That’s the theory, anyway. It’s worth a shot. Let me know how you get on. I’ll be gazing into calming waters and breathing deeply.


Calming waters, deep breaths

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