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Recommended Reading for Parents

 

The Explosive Child - A Review

Authors: Ross W. Greene
Publishers: Quill
 ISBN 0-06-093102-7


I first read this book when my explosive one was about eleven years old following an episode where she had come home from school and as she headed up the stairs to change her uniform I told her she needed to wait about five minutes as I had an electrician in her room fixing some wiring. There ensued at least an hour of screaming, crying and kicking at doors! She has always been what I call very volatile, but at this stage I was getting a bit worried.

Having read the first chapter “The waffel episode” it introduces an eleven year old girl, Jennifer, who is inflexible, explosive. One morning at breakfast time she checks the freezer and finds six waffels. She decides she will have three for her breakfast this morning, and the other three the next morning. Her mother comes into the kitchen with her younger brother and asks him what he wants for breakfast. When he says that he wants waffles, Jennifer explodes, saying he can’t have them, slams the freezer door, pushes over a chair and storms out of the room. The mother and brother begin to cry. I thought to myself “my girl is an angel by comparison!”

I have often said before that hindsight is a wonderful thing. And it is! Even while I am writing this I am saying to myself perhaps it was Jennifer that was the angel by comparison to my daughter and not the other way around! Still at the time I liked to believe that she wasn’t that explosive!

The second chapter “Terrible beyond two” really struck a chord with me. My explosive one had the terrible two’s, everyone told me she would grow out of it. She also had the terrible three’s, still everyone told me she would grow out of it. When she threw a big wobbly in a local shop at five over the colour of an ice pop and I ended up walking out of the shop with her screaming and holding onto the metal bin that had been inside the shop (metal bin came half way home with me) I began to get a little niggling feeling that this was not something she was going to grow out of!

The author points out that different childrens skills develop unevenly, when childrens’ skills in a particular area lag well behind their expected development we often give them special help. For example if a child has difficulty with reading we will give them extra help to develop that skill. Some children no matter how much they try and how much their parents and teachers help them are just not built to be great readers. Flexibility and frustration tolerance are also skills we expect to develop in children as they go past the toddler years. The author says a major premise of this book is that these children do not choose to be exlplosive and non compliant any more than they would choose to have a reading disability, but are delayed in the process of developing the skills that are critical to being flexible and tolerating frustration (or have significant difficulty applying these skills when they most need to.

The author is not convinced that punishment works with these children, on page 95 he says “what I’ve learned over the years is that some children become so overwhelmed so quickly by their frustration that their capacity to maintain coherence in the midst of frustration is severely compromised. I’ve seen that these children are also compromised in their ability to gain access to information they’ve stored from previous experiences and think things through so as to formulate a well organised, reasoned response to frustrating situations, and as you’ve read, I’ve come to believe that the in flexibility and explosiveness evidenced by these children often have a neuro biochemical basis. Meaningful, immediate, consistent consequences may not be ‘just what the doctor ordered’ for these children.

On page 95 there is a cartoon of a child who appears to be drowning, two startled people indicate this to the lifeguard. The caption says, “we are encouraging people to become involved in their own rescue”. A child is showing every sign of drowning, you could assume that the child was simply pretending to be drowning as a means of seeking your attention, in which case it would be appropriate to ignore him, if you were right, ignoring him would probably get him to stop pretending to be drowning, of course if you were wrong he’d drown.” Green goes on to say “your child is drowning in a sea of frustration and inflexibility, you are the lifeguard. If your child could swim he would.”

Green lists 10 common characteristics of inflexible explosive children.

  1. The child has difficulty managing and controlling the emotions associated with frustration and has difficulty thinking through ways of resolving frustrating situations in a rational, mutually satisfactory manner. Thus, frustration (caused by disagreements, changes in plan, demands for “shifting gears”) often leads to a state of cognitive debilitation in which the child has difficulty remembering how to stay calm and problem-solve, has difficulty recalling the consequences of previous inflexible-explosive episodes, may not be responsive to reasoned attempts to restore coherence, and may deteriorate even further in response to limit-setting and punishment.
  2. An extremely low frustration threshold. The child becomes frustrated far more easily and by far more seemingly trivial events than other children of his or her age. Therefore, the child experiences the world as one filled with insurmountable frustration and has little faith in his ability to handle such frustration.
  3. An extremely low tolerance for frustration. The child is not only more easily frustrated, but also experiences the emotions associated with frustration more intensely and tolerates them far less adaptively than do other children of the same age. In response to frustration, the child becomes extremely agitated, disorganized , and verbally or physically aggressive.
  4. Remarkably limited capacity for flexibility and adaptability; the child often seems unable to shift gears in response to commands or a change in plans.
  5. The tendency to think in a concrete, rigid, black-and-white manner. The child does not recognize the gray in many situations (Mrs. Robinson is always mean! I hate her!” rather than “Mrs/ Robinson is usually nice, but she was in a really bad mood today”). May apply oversimplified, rigid, inflexible rules to complex situations; and may impulsively revert to such rules even when they are obviously inappropriate (“We always go out for recess at 10:30 I don’t care if there’s an assembly today, I’m going out for recess!)
  6. The persistence of inflexibility and poor response to frustration despite a high level of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. The child continues to exhibit frequent, intense, and lengthy meltdowns even in the face of salient, potent consequences.
  7. Explosive episodes may have an out-of –the-blue quality. The child may seem to be in good mood, then fall apart unexpectedly in the face of frustrating circumstances, no matter how trivial.
  8. The child may have one or several issues about which he or she is especially inflexible – for example, the way clothing looks or feels, the way food tastes or smells, the order or manner in which things must be done.
  9. The child’s inflexibility and difficulty responding to frustration in an adaptive manner may be fuelled by behaviours – moodiness/irritability, hyperactivity/impulsivity, anxiety, obsessiveness, social impairment – commonly associated with other disorders.
  10. While other children are apt to become more irritable when tired or hungry, inflexible-explosive children may completely fall apart under such conditions.

Green points out that one of the most important things you can do to help your child explode less often is to approach his difficulties pro actively rather than reactively. In chapter three the author refers to a book by Dr. StanleyTurecki “The Difficult Child” He defines temperament as the natural, inborn style of behaviour of each individual and adds that this style of behaviour is innate and not produced by the environment. I can vouch for this as when my explosive gift was twelve weeks old I first noticed a real mood swing! I was hanging decorations up on the Christmas Tree early one evening. I had turned the pram towards the tree so that she could see what was going on. After a little while I heard snarling from the pram. It was like something out of “The Exorcist” I was almost afraid to turn around! It continued for quite some time, and nothing I tried would sort her out. I noticed from that day on that come five o'clock in the evening and a bad mood set in! Even to this day five oclock in the evening is not a good time to be around her!

Green points out that a combination of anxiety and irrationality causes some children (the lucky ones) to cry, but a substantial number of them (the unlucky ones) explode.

The book is peppered with real life dramas where the author gives examples of case histories and how to deal with these kids before they explode. He uses what he calls basket cases (to help you decide what category the behaviour goes into) and road maps for you to work on with your child during a calm time to prepare your child for the next time he/she feels frustrated.

The basket cases work like this. There are three categories, baskets A, B and C. Into basket A you put behaviours which are worth inducing a meltdown over, there cannot be any negotiation. Safety goes into basket A and in the early stages of working with the child safety is almost the only issue in basket A. Into basket C goes the behaviours that for the time being aren’t even worth mentioning, such as swearing. (Green maintains that swearing and name calling are just mental debris and are said in the absence of being able to say, "Help I can’t cope!")

Into basket B goes all the other behaviours which can be negotiated. Basket B helps you teach your child the skills of flexibility and frustration tolerance. It contains behaviours you’ve decided are important, but not worth inducing a meltdown over, so instead you help him/her think and how to negotiate compromise.

A road map is a mental script that can provide a child with a way to think more clearly and stay calm in the midst of situations that might otherwise cause him/her to be irrational or explosive.

I tried this method a little with my daughter and it did work. I asked her if she knew when she was beginning to feel frustrated about something, she wasn’t too sure, but I was. Her eyes would light up, she would go a little red and her voice always raised a pitch. I explained this to her and said that when I noticed her becoming frustrated I would say to her “I need you to go to your bedroom and get me (some item or other)” That would be her cue to disappear to her room and beat her pillow up if necessary and wait until she felt calmer. I explained that this would be especially helpful to her if other people were in the house as it would save her the embarrassment of melting down in front of them

Reading this book again at this stage I know had I had the time back then to really concentrate on it, I would have been much more successful in helping her to meltdown less often and to negotiate situations in a better manner, I also know, and this is not to dishearten anyone who has an explosive child, that although she threw her last big tantrum at home when she was eighteen, she has now moved on to throwing tantrums at her boyfriend. I caught her one day in the throes of frustration over something simple and having stormed off to sort it out as she called it! I found myself texting her with the details of how to negotiate this one calmly. I then found myself reaching for this book, and I know I will pass it on to her and ask her to read it herself now.

An excellent book, that helps you understand the explosiveness, shows you ways to deal with it and teachers you how to teach your child how to be more flexible.

Reviewed by "Fidget"

 

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