July 19th, 2015

planet

[book] The Explosive Child: Understanding frustrated, inflexible children

Out in the world in a pile of donated books I found this book called The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children and I thought oh, I've got one of those! Of course I do love Josie, but starting from about four days out of the womb she's been a tough kid who tends to completely lose her mind over very trivial issues.

This is the kid who flips out if she can't find the exact outfit she wants to wear. She can't look for her shoes because she's too busy throwing a tantrum about the fact that they're not in her immediate view, right now. She loves to draw, but will crumble up a throw a paper if she messes up a single line. At mealtime she has to have the plate she wants.

And there was my favorite time that she threw a tantrum because her graham cracker didn't break exactly along the perforated line.

I've read lots of parenting books, thanks to Josie.

In my mind, I try to roll with a lot of this because I want her to be an independent, opinionated woman who stands up for what she wants. I'm pretty sure this will happen. But I also want her to deal with the world and learn that not everything can go perfectly all the time.

This book reminded me in many ways of The Happiest Toddler On The Block by Harvey Karp. Both authors argue that what we're dealing with isn't EVIL CHILDREN but developmental issues. In Happiest Toddler, the issue was mostly around language - toddlers get frustrated with life and a lot of adults go into "now remember when we talked about sharing..." mode where they want to lecture in paragraph form their expectations, and a little person who's brain is in anger mode just cannot process that, they don't feel heard and they get more and more upset.

Same with older kids. The developmental issues aren't all about language, although that's a big one, there are other skills that contribute to problem solving and flexibility. The idea of The Explosive Child is that we have to help our kids understand that 1) their concerns are being heard and 2) there is a way out of this.

So if your kid asks for pancakes and you make her pancakes and then she says "I wanted sprinkles in the pancakes not on them!" a lot of us adults want to fire back with an equal amount of inflexibility... "tough shit kid, eat." and the kid explodes.

Instead, this book recommends
1) Stating the child's concern back to them You want sprinkles in your pancakes. How come? What's up?
2) Stating your concern, honestly I'm worried that we'll waste the pancakes I already made and we don't have time/ingredients to make more right now.
3) Working together on a solution What could we do?

Maybe you'll end up freezing the pancakes for another day. Maybe you'll agree to put sprinkles in the pancakes tomorrow - that's a big thing, don't be vague about timelines, be certain, these kids need structure.

A lot of adults might read this and think it's more important for the kid to learn that he's a kid and you're an adult and you get to be the boss and if he doesn't like it, he gets punished. But that doesn't work for developmental skills. It would be like punishing a kid for not getting his multiplication test right, when you know there's an obvious way to work on this. Punishment might work for motivation, but a lot of these kids do want to communicate, they want to be in a happy family and work out their problems, they just can't.

I worked with a guy once who said that when people get angry at a meeting, the thing to do is go to the whiteboard. Start writing down everyone's concerns, so it's clear they're all out on the table. We treat each other like that as adults... but it's still not automatic for everybody, many people in this world have a first priority of "make sure I'm heard". So it will be good for a kids' future if you train them in the process of hearing everybody out, then being flexible about solutions.

As for my own kid - reading this book did make me appreciate that my child is really pretty well behaved, maybe because from the start I avoided the "I'm the boss" style of parenting that does not set an example of cooperative problem solving. Many of the examples in this book are about kids with serious, diagnosed issues - they get violent, they explode and can't calm down for hours, etc. Watching Josie this week I saw several examples of her calming herself down, we don't have to completely talk her through it. It helps if we give her time. And when I think back, she's done better this year than last year and the year before that. I'll give her credit.