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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.

Posts from This Journal by “books - parenting” Tag


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 19th, 2015 07:32 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I've heard that book mentioned in groups/forums but hadn't looked at it.
Most of the parenting books I read have similar advice-- empathize and either provide choices or problem solve together, etc. The thing they never mention is that if a kid really is upset empathizing or communicating in a certain way or whatever doesn't calm them down; they have to be calm in the first place to communicate. Most of the parenting books I read make it sound like if you mirror back their feelings it will somehow calm them, but I've never found that to be the case.

I didn't like Happiest Toddler because I thought he was a bit too frivolous with the "send them to their room" "let them cry themselves to sleep" and so on.

That's funny though that you found a book that makes your kid sound easy. Usually parenting books are like "If your kid is still waking you up 4 times a night..." and I'm like "You mean 10 times a night? LAME EXAMPLES."
Jul. 19th, 2015 08:47 pm (UTC)
This entry really resonated with me. Thanks so much for sharing!
Jul. 19th, 2015 09:29 pm (UTC)
I didn't read the whole book but read excerpts of it while I was going mad with D's tantrums and explosions. I enjoyed the "parenting highly spirited child"! And it runs along similar lines. Our home is more peaceful and I find myself being a better person overall too!

At the core, we all want to feel heard. It makes sense. I found that D appreciated at least our attempt to address whatever problem was at hand. And now she solves problems, talks through issues and works things out. But I also realize the rest of the world doesn't do that as many do have the mind set - "I am the adult, so I have to be listened to!"

I never got that attitude. I found my role is to help guide her by setting the example, of how we treat each other, and this book (spirited child & excerpts of explosive child) helps give ideas about how one can do that! I guess, it gave me reassurance that I wasn't way off the mark! Gave me confidence!
Jul. 19th, 2015 09:35 pm (UTC)
You know an incident recently at a museum that gave me reassurance that this book/line of thinking is great, is when D came across another kid her age throwing a fit and unable to play with others with the museum items - he was pushing, shoving, hitting and his parent/guardian was nowhere around. She sat next to him, used gentle words and showed what he could do and how he could do it. The boy didn't listen of course, but come second/third time around, he listened and tried and they played well together!! I think I nearly cried (with pride)!
Jul. 19th, 2015 09:55 pm (UTC)
What did you think of Happiest Toddler? We loved his baby book and it's recommended everywhere, but I haven't heard as much about his toddler one.
Jul. 20th, 2015 12:07 am (UTC)
He has another book along the same lines about getting along at school that I thought was much more helpful and which talks about kids wanting to do well, and disobedience not being about "bad kids", but kids who are being asked to do more than they can.
Jul. 20th, 2015 12:23 pm (UTC)
The "repeat back the child's concerns to them so that they know they're being heard" advice, in various forms, has always stuck in my craw a bit, in part because I, personally, find it hard to know how to do this would becoming condescending: "You want X, is that right? Yes, I can see that you want X. Isn't it sad that you want X and you can't have it." Gaah! I would be so irritated if someone did that to me while I was upset.

Additionally, I wonder how effective it is in actually helping the child believe that you understand what they are upset about. The part of me that sympathizes with the tantruming child always says "But if you REALLY DID UNDERSTAND about my desire to take my sparkly marshmallow home from nursery, you'd let me do so. You aren't doing so. You clearly don't understand HOW VERY IMPORTANT this is to me. So quit telling me you understand that I want my marshmallow, but that you're not going to let me have it."

Maybe it's just me; or just me and my kid. Certainly the advice must work for some, or it wouldn't keep being repeated! But it's definitely advice I have trouble implementing.
Jul. 20th, 2015 06:05 pm (UTC)
Happiest Toddler has reduced the angst/noise level/frustration in my household from 11 to about a 3. I definitely have a spirited child. She's always been a bit challenging, but then one day, around the time she turned 2, it was like she was possessed by the devil. Everything became a battle - even things she liked doing previously, like taking a bath. There was so much screaming and crying and we just didn't know what to do. The recommendation to tell your child why they're upset has honestly saved our sanity. It either stops the meltdown completely or takes it down a lot of notches. And here's how I know it's working - sometimes it takes me a couple of tries to guess why she's crying so hard, and occasionally it's not the reason I thought it was. The crying/screaming doesn't stop until I guess correctly. And sure, it's not always something I can fix (like the time we had a 20 min scream fest because her cracker broke and mama couldn't fix the cracker). But seriously - I really recommend the book.
Jul. 21st, 2015 03:51 am (UTC)
Sounds like you're on a good track! I do recommend a consultation with a developmental pediatrician though, better to be safe than find out there was an issue you could have been handling differently.
Jul. 21st, 2015 11:17 pm (UTC)

It sounds like you're making the best of a tough situation.

Jul. 31st, 2015 02:26 am (UTC)
It sounds like a brilliant book and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on it, thanks!
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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