The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children

The Explosive Child is ostensibly a book for adults dealing with “kids who become frustrated far more easily and more often, and communicate their frustration in ways that are far more extreme than ‘ordinary’ kids,” yet any caretaker or educator can make great gains using the mindset and methodology of Ross W. Greene, Ph.D.

explosive child

His central tenet is “kids do well if they can.” Internalizing this philosophy is important, Greene explains, because an adult who believes a kid will do well whenever they want to will use “conventional reward and punishment strategies aimed at making him want to do well,” strategies that often backfire both pragmatically and emotionally. Parents who instead understand that “challenging episodes occur when the demands being placed on [a child] exceed his capacity to respond well,” are more likely to “solve problems collaboratively and proactively rather than unilaterally and emergently.” They’re also better at choosing their battles (in Greene’s words: removing “low-priority demands and expectations”).

In clear, well-organized text Greene walks us through the process of identifying the lagging skills (e.g., frustration tolerance) and unsolved problems (e.g., difficulty making transitions) that lead to undesirable behavior. His three-step process includes: the Empathy Step or “gathering information from your child to understand his concern or perspective about a given unsolved problem,” the Define the Problem Step which entails “communicating your concern or perspective about the same problem,” and the Invitation Step “when you and your child discuss and agree on a solution that is realistic (that is, you and your child can actually do what you’re agreeing to do) and mutually satisfactory (it addresses the concerns that you[ both] voiced).”

For each juncture, Greene offers up specific phrasing, such as “I’ve noticed that …” and “My concern is ….” He details common pitfalls (like using “maladaptive communication patterns” including overgeneralization and sarcasm) and what to do when the process goes off the rails in one way or another. Ready for the coolest part? By engaging your kid with Greene’s method you indirectly teach the very skills that will enable them to meet behavioral expectations without it.

Though The Explosive Child is written with an eye toward verbal, school-aged children, much of the approach works with toddlers and in adult relationships. My sole complaint is that Greene goes overboard in the accessibility department. “I know I’m being a little redundant here,” he writes, “but this is important.” And he’s right about that last half, but there’s so very much repetition in The Explosive Child that I wished I could click an “I get it” button on my Kindle that would advance to the next new information. That said, I happily and easily read every word in this valuable take on parenting—and I recommend you do too.

This review originally appeared in Golden Gate Mother’s Group Magazine.

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