Do You Have an Explosive Child?
My oldest child can be an explosive child. He can go from 0-100 if he is met with any kind of disappointment. Before I had a label for it I thought I’d never see the light at the end of the tunnel. I also thought that force would lessen the behavior. I was wrong. Author of The Explosive Child, Dr. Ross Green, describes explosive children as “kids who become frustrated far more easily and more often, and communicate their frustration in ways that are far more extreme (screaming, swearing, spitting, hitting, kicking, biting, cutting, destroying property) than ‘ordinary’ kids.”
If you can relate to this statement, you have probably had more than your share of explosive behaviors from your child(ren) and are looking for ways to parent this child without joining them in their screaming and swearing. And believe me, I know it’s hard because I’ve certainly been pushed to the brink more times than I’d like to count. If you know you know! In any event, below are seven tips for parenting an explosive child in a gentle or conscious way.
Tip #1 Accept Your Child
The first step is accepting your child as they are. Please do not discount how incredibly important this step is. Once you accept that your child is explosive you can begin to proactively manage some of these explosions. Despite popular belief, the explosive child does not enjoy their explosions. They don’t sit around and plot these explosions with the sole purpose of upsetting their parents or caregivers. They truly can’t help it.
So if you operate with the belief your child is, “bad, stubborn, manipulative, lazy, and/or entitled” you will continue to battle explosions. Even the use of the word “explosive” to describe your child helps to shift your perspective. Try using it.
Remember, your child is not exhibiting explosive behavior out of spite, so helping them understand what you see and hear and why you think they may be acting this way will help them recognize the signs as well. Despite popular believe, the explosive child does not enjoy their explosions. They don’t sit around and plot these explosions with the sole purpose of upsetting their parents or caregivers.
Tip # 2 Connect with your Child
It’s important to know that your child doesn’t enjoy exploding. Everybody feels angry, frustrated, disappointed, etc. The difference with explosive kids is that they do not have the skills to manage these feelings.
Your child needs your help. The more you connect with your child, the easier it is to take steps to plan how you will navigate their explosions. Spend time getting to know your kid. Understanding your unique child is key to this process.
Example: I spoke with a fellow mom of a Neurodivergent child about their child’s explosive behavior. The child is now 12 and far less reactive, but in their younger years (3 to 6 years old), this child would have explosive episodes. When the mom talked with the child afterward about the behavior they experienced from the child – screaming, hitting, biting, kicking, etc. – the child was shocked to learn they had done this. They had no recollection of the behavior after the explosive event. It took several episodes before the child started to believe their behavior was so extreme, and even notice it in themself, before they attempted to control the worst of it on their own.
Tip #3: Plan Ahead
My 9 year old Neurodivergent son does not like change. Even something such as moving furniture can and will cause an explosion.
Because I know this about him. When we made plans to move the furniture (after the first explosion), we talked about it ahead of time. And together we came up with a plan to write our couch a goodbye letter. We moved the couch while he was out of the house and when he returned he was still upset, but it only lasted a minute or two.
Tip #4: Collaborate
This option is best for children who are beyond the toddler stage.
You: It’s time to eat, turn off the TV.
Child: I don’t want to! You always ruin everything! I hate you!
You: (After the child has calmed down) It looks like you get really upset when I ask you to turn off the TV and eat dinner. Why does it upset you so much?
Child: (After an extended conversation) explains that they need a warning before a transition.
Parent + Child: Decide they will use Alexa to set 5 minute warnings before transitioning.
The same parent in the example under Tip #2 states that her child now verbally requests that they get a warning before transitions or requests. That even as a middle schooler, they still struggle with requests that require immediate action, like, “Please put your basket of laundry away.” The child explains it as being similar to interrupting a phone conversation. They need to mentally and physically end what they are currently doing to physically move on to the next task or it sets off immediate strong emotions and frustrations that result in an outburst or defiance.
Tip #5: Avoid Power Struggles
Avoiding power struggles doesn’t mean you eliminate any and all things that will cause an explosion. Some things you will decide can be eliminated because they can be, but a lot of things can’t be avoided. For instance if you are the single parent to an explosive child who has explosions when you go to the grocery store, it’s not likely you can avoid eating to prevent an explosion.
However, believing that you can eliminate explosions by simply being more firm and punitive is a recipe for increased explosions. Avoid power struggles by not matching an explosion with an explosion. You must remain calm and level-headed in the face of an explosion. You must view each explosion as a learning opportunity that should be followed by a collaborative discussion about ways to mitigate explosions around that issue going forward.
Tip #6: Be Consistent
Your child may not want to collaborate at first. They may not even be able to tell you WHY they get upset. The more you connect, the more you talk. The more you engage the child in collaborating around solving the issue, the more you will be able to manage explosions. Once the explosions arrive there is little you can do about them aside from waiting it out patiently. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes consistency. It is possible.
Tip #7: Read The Explosive Child
I’ve used this book to guide this post so grab this book and thank me later. Click on the book cover for the link. For more Conscious Parenting books click HERE.
Do you have an Explosive child? If so, share your tips below
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