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Thursday, September 23, 2010

My "Explosive Child"

Our daughter Scarlett is a very smart, kind and loving girl.  She rarely causes trouble and is an all-around wonderful kid.  Like everyone else, she sometimes gets frustrated.  However, that is where things get a little different.
Sometimes she becomes so frustrated that she quite literally loses all capacity to think clearly.  She will scream, kick, hit and, for lack of a better term, lose her mind.  She will continue on in this manner for up to an hour before she comes to her senses again.  These episodes seem to occur when she is particularly tired or hungry, but not always.  Thankfully, she seems to only have this trouble when we are at home.  We were not sure if she was having this trouble as an "anxious attachment" problem, discipline problem or something else.
While desperately searching for something to make sense of this behavior, I recently ran across a book written by Ross W. Greene called, "Explosive Child".  In this book, Greene explains how children are sometimes deficient in the areas of frustration tolerance and flexibility.  In other words, these children are unable to handle and verbalize their frustrations in a manner which is both constructive and acceptable. 
By teaching caretakers and children how to use Collaborative Problem Solving (sometimes referred to as CPS), these "explosions" may be diminished, shortened, and many times stopped altogether.
My own parents just told me what they expected of me, and I did it. But here is what happens with an "explosive" child -
Child:  "I don't want to go to school!"
Parent:  "Well, you 're going. Get in the car." 
Child:  KABOOM! 
Laying down the law is not necessarily a bad thing, but then, most kids don't have trouble with frustration tolerance and flexibility.  As a child, even I became frustrated at times and stomped off to my room, but never to the extent of hitting, screaming, etc.  Other parents take the laid back approach of giving in whenever the child demands something.
Child: "I don't want to go to school!"
Parent:  "So don't go. No biggie."
Again, not always bad - depending on the circumstances. 
The CPS model starts with empathy and parroting back the child's concern. Then you put two concerns out for discussion - the child's and yours.  Finally, you ask for solutions from the child and hopefully come up with one that is mutually agreeable.  If not, then you go back to square one.
For example,
Child:  "I don't want to go to school!"
Parent: "You don't want to got to school?  You usually love going to school.  What's up?"
Child: "It's boring."
Parent: "It's boring?  What about it is boring?"
Child:  "I'm tired and don't want to go!  I'm just tired!"
Parent:  "You're tired.  I see.  I don't want you to feel tired.  Is it safe to say you don't want to be tired?"
Child:  "Uh huh."
Parent: "Well, how can we solve this problem?  You don't want to feel tired, and neither do I.  What do you suggest?"
Child:  "Sleep later!"
Parent: "Well, that is one idea.  However, sleeping late would make you tardy to school.  That would make the school and your parents unhappy.  Can you think of another solution?"
Child:  "Maybe go to bed earlier?"
Parent: "That sounds like a good idea.  Shall we give that a try?"
Child:  "OK."
These are oversimplified examples, but you get the idea. 
We have started working on this with Scarlett just recently.  It is too early to see if this will work in the big scheme of things, but already I think that I can see a difference in being able to head off explosions.  There is hope.  And that is enough for right now.


MamaOfTwo said...

Oh my goodness, Laura. You and I should sit down and talk. Maybe get a coffee (and some privacy) and call each other!

I didn't know you were dealing with this with S. We have been dealing with this with M. since she was about 4 or so. I've learned some things to do or not to do, but am still learning.

Really - we need to talk!!! I am buying the book, BTW. Thanks for telling us about it!

Love, M.
Your support-system buddy!

Proudmama said...

We definitely need to talk. I recommend the book. We've been dealing with this for awhile...even before coming home with Jackson.

I see a Mocha Java Chiller run in my future with my cell phone at the ready!