Your Explosive Child
Written by: Rachel Ealy, M.Ed, LPC-Intern
“Challenging kids are lacking the skills of flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance, and problem solving” – Dr. Ross Greene
Anyone with children or those planning on having children in the future, I highly recommend The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross W. Greene. Why? Because it has helped me gain a new perspective and a better understanding of children that tend to be more challenging. This resource also provides tools for parents to help their child(ren) gain the skills necessary to know what to do rather than being told what not to do. This blog will give a summary of the information provided in the book, which will help guide you as you discover your child’s ‘lagging skills’.
Step 1: Discover and understand why your child is challenging; also known as lagging skills
Step 2: Discover and understand when your child is challenging; also known as unsolved problems
Oftentimes, parents of challenging and difficult children say that their child is manipulative. Dr. Ross Greene’s game changing idea, and my biggest take-away, is that children are not manipulative, they “do well if they can” (p. 11). This means that when children are exhibiting difficult behaviors, they are lacking the skills needed to help them be more flexible, handle frustration, and to problem solve.
In order to begin the process, Dr. Ross Greene provides a form known as the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems found at https://livesinthebalance.org/sites/default/files/ALSUP%20060417.pdf
· Begin by finding your child’s first lagging skill. For example, “difficulty persisting on challenging or tedious tasks.”
· Identify the unsolved problems associated with the lagging skills; there may be more than one. For example, “difficulty completing multiplication homework; difficulty writing out assigned spelling words,” and so on.
· Find the next lagging skills; then identify the unsolved problems associated with that lagging skills, and so on. Dr. Greene does not recommend checking off the lagging skills and then returning to the unsolved problems.
· Whenever you identify an unsolved problem begin it with “difficulty,” for example “difficulty doing math homework.”
· Eliminate adding behaviors your child exhibits during this time, for example “screams and cries when asked to complete homework,” in order to defuse defensiveness when collaboratively working with your child.
· Be specific and do not clump unsolved problems in to one category. For example, “difficulty doing multiplication homework,” instead of, “difficulty completing homework.” If your child is having difficulty completing all homework, separate each subject or assignment into a different unsolved problem.
· Eliminate your own personal theories about the cause of the unsolved problems. This will only create tension when working with your child to solve each problem
· Eliminate adding solutions in defining the unsolved problem. For example, “difficulty laying out school clothes” would be more appropriately stated as “difficulty getting dressed in the morning.”
Another significant point to remember is the importance of helping your child solve problems collaboratively. This will help your child understand that you are in this together and that they have a say, which can be motivating and empowering to a child.
Remember, the list may be exhaustive and you will not solve all of the unsolved problems in one day. Problems that cause unsafe behavior should be at the highest priority. Dr. Greene recommended starting with the top 3 unsolved problems and working down from there.
The Explosive Child reviews Plan A (parent solving problems unilaterally), Plan B (parent and child solving problems collaboratively), and Plan C (setting aside an unsolved problem, temporarily). Since Plan A involves problem solving unilaterally, it is explained in more depth as to why this can be harmful. Plan B is the focus, and Plan C is utilized to help parents prioritize since, as stated above, all problems cannot be solved at once. Plan B has 3 steps:
1. The Empathy step: gathering information from your child in order to better understand your child’s perspective.
2. Define the Problem step: communicate your perspective about the problem.
3. Invitation step: collaboratively discuss and agree on a solution that is realistic and mutually satisfactory.
**Proactive Plan B means trying to solve the problem before the problem comes up again. Another fantastic idea presented by Dr. Greene is to make an appointment with your child to discuss problem solving. I find this to be an important part of the Empathy step. Parents, step in your child’s shoes and remember what it is like when your boss barges in your office to talk and you are not prepared; it probably feels chaotic and hectic. Scheduling an appointment with your child allows them to be mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared and it communicates to your child that the process is truly collaborative.
Dr. Greene provides a list of helpful strategies for “drilling,” or gathering information, in the Empathy step so that you, as the parent, can have a clear understanding of your child’s perspective.
1. Reflective listening: paraphrasing what your child said to you as well as using
clarifying statements such as “can you say more about that.”
2. Asking who, what, where, when questions.
3. Asking why the unsolved problem happens sometimes and not others.
4. Ask your child what he/she is thinking when the unsolved problem is occurring.
5. Break the unsolved problem down into parts to help clarify what component of the problem is causing difficulty.
The Define the Problem step involves discuss with your child your perspective or concerns regarding the unsolved problem. In order for the process to be collaborative, both the parent and the child need to be able to express their concerns. This step typically begins with, “my concern is…” or “the thing is…” For example, “my concern is that your grades will start dropping as a result of not doing your homework.”
The Invitation step is where both the child and the parent begin brainstorming ideas and possible solutions that address both parties concerns outlined in the first two steps. Parents, try inviting your child to the step by saying, “Let’s think about how we can solve this problem” (p. 120). Remember, this step may need to be revisited if suggested solutions do not prove effective. That is okay! Not all possible solutions will be viable.
“Plan B isn’t something you do two or three times before returning to your old way of doing things. It’s not a technique; it’s a way of life” – Dr. Ross W. Greene
The remainder of the book provides more detailed information on each step, helpful vignettes, and questions posed from parents adapting to this new way of life. It is extremely important to remember to be patient and encouraging through this process, and that it is a process. It will not be completed over night; it takes a long time to shift perspective. Think about how long you have been trying to solve problems in a different way, or ignoring the problem hoping your child will grow out of it. It’s been a few years, right? Give yourself some grace through the process and know that you cannot be perfect either. Mistakes will be made on both sides, but the important thing is you are trying something new to help you and your child have a better quality of life. If you would like some guidance through the process, I would be glad to help. Please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Greene, R. W. (2014). The explosive child. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.