The book The Explosive Child by Ross Greene was recently recommended to me. It is, according to its subtitle, a new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children.
At first glance, I didn't really feel like I especially needed this book. My 8yo who has ADHD does tend to be very tunnel vision (if you want to call that inflexible) when he gets an Idea. And my 4yo does explode in temper numerous times a day, but I have noticed that when I respond gently to his explosions, he calms down fairly quickly, once he realizes his concerns and needs will be met. Homeschooling allows us the flexibility and time to work with frustration and inflexibility, so I didn't think it would be so relevant.
Boy am I glad I read this book.
I love a book that tells me a truth that resonates deep in my heart. That when I read it, my soul whispers yes, that is true. That clarifies something I suspected or vaguely felt, but now that I read it, I can see absolutely that I didn't really understand that truth before, and now I see the world differently, and a little bit more accurately.
The Explosive Child did that for me.
It starts with the premise that the classic way of approaching discipline: conditioning. Where you reward the behavior you want to see, or punish behavior you want to stop. Personally, I'm a pretty big fan of conditioning. But this book talks about the cases where conditioning doesn't seem to work. Where the threats and punishments and reward charts don't seem to be effective.*
The first huge lightning bolt is the notion that the explosions and tantrums are not actually all the time and unpredictable. They are, in fact, highly predictable once you put some thought into it. That, itself, is a game changer.
Then the book explains the most startling and simple concept that shifted my entire perspective.
Don't get bogged down on the disturbing behaviors. That means the tantrums, the kicking, biting, punching, pinching, screaming, knocking over furniture, hitting, etc. We've been misunderstanding the problem. I thought the problem is that my child pinches and bites and shrieks when he's upset. That is not the problem. That is the behavior that he exhibits.
So what is the problem?
The books sends parents to a checklist on a website and gives directions to uncover what the actual problems are. But let me list a sampling:
- has trouble with transitions
- has trouble coping with frustration
- has trouble thinking straight when angry
- has trouble verbally expressing strong feelings
- difficulty adapting to changes in plans
- difficulty managing time
- difficulty seeing consequences of actions
- difficulty seeking attention in appropriate ways
You can immediately see a huge paradigm shift. The problem is NOT the behaviors. The problem is whatever skills the child is lacking, and the solution is to help them navigate these issues.
The book has turned a frustrating, hopeless situation completely around. And the solution is much more compassionate and productive than I could have imagined.
The rest of the book walks us through how to have productive conversations with our child so that we can uncover specifically which difficulties they are having with the tasks that cause the meltdowns. One of the features, brainstorming with your child, I am familiar with and have practiced from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen by Faber and Mazlish. But the reframing of difficult behaviors so that I now see them as an indication of lagging skills is something that I think every adult who deals with children can benefit from. I can hardly believe I didn't understand this before now. And I'm sorry I didn't. Because every child who has lagging skills and therefore is exhibiting "difficult" behavior deserves our compassion and our help.
* I have to admit, it did cross my mind many times with my ADHD child that normal means of discipline were practically ineffective with him. (I used a different approach, which I can detail at another time, which I was pretty happy with.) So it was intriguing to read about an approach that acknowledged that "normal" discipline wasn't working with some kids.