The Explosive Child: A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children
Ross W. Greene, Ph.D.
The Explosive Child by Ross Greene has been on my reading list for a long time. I regret that I didn’t get to it earlier, though reading it now, when many of the other difficulties in our household have been ironed out, has been good timing.
Greene, who is a clinical professor of psychiatry, starts with a simple thesis that many families with sensitive, twice-exceptional, ADHD, learning disabled, or emotionally volatile children figure out over time: the usual parenting strategies don’t work with these kids. Many of us have taken a journey in this regard. We start out looking for help from standard parenting manuals, friends with typical kids, or even professionals. They have great ideas, but for some reason our kids are different.
Greene speaks directly to parents who feel like they’ve tried everything, and he points out that most of the solutions we’ve heard about boil down to two approaches. What he calls Plan A is otherwise known as authoritarian parenting; this is the “Because I said so” approach. Greene notes that even milder-sounding terms like “consequences” are a form of Plan A, because they don’t take the child’s point of view into account.
What he calls Plan C is the opposite: just giving in and letting explosive kids get their way. This permissive approach often seems easier in the short term, and Greene acknowledges that sometimes it’s a necessary part of getting through the day. Though most parenting books don’t advocate permissiveness directly, they do often counsel parents to offer understanding and support to their children in the midst of a tantrum, without giving any guidance for addressing the root causes of the behavior, as typically developing children will usually outgrow tantrums without intervention.
Greene’s interest is in helping parents put together a plan that not only addresses the root of the problem but also helps the child learn valuable life skills in the process. Neither Plan A nor Plan C fulfills these criteria, and in fact, both approaches can damage a volatile child’s chance of developing into a healthy functioning adult.
Greene’s Plan B isn’t easy. First of all, he acknowledges that it pushes a lot of common parenting buttons. Most of us harbor deep suspicions about letting badly behaving children “get away with it.” Also, we have immediate goals, such as wishing our children to be polite in public, that Plan B will put off for a more distant time while we work on our own responses to our children’s behavior. And, he admits, Plan B can be hard for our extended community, such grandparents, teachers, and adult friends, to buy into.
But the great thing about this book is its watertight argumentation: no matter what your resistance to moving to this new—difficult—mode of dealing with your child’s explosive behavior, Greene has a thoughtful, empathetic response.
I can’t vouch for the longterm success of Greene’s approach in my own parenting life, as I just read the book and am working slowly to implement changes in my own responses to common situations in our household. But I can say that as I read this book, I kept saying, “yes,” “yes,” “yes,” as Greene outlined the difficulties of raising a volatile child, and solutions that are at once sympathetic, humane, practical, and based on the longterm goal that we all have: raising happy, well-adjusted adults.