Monday, October 28, 2013

Parenting Book Review: The Explosive Child

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Ross Greene - ©2005

If you have one, you already know it. My daughter Boots, isn't quite as extreme a case as some of the kids described in this book, but she falls into the categories of inflexible with low frustration tolerance.

This book teaches parents how to work with these special case kids, for whom traditional punishments and rewards method of discipline simply doesn't work. Their kids want to do well, they know you disapprove of their actions, but they can't seem to control their emotional outbursts and behavior towards you, siblings and friends when they're frustrated; which for these kids is a lot.

Boots will have a meltdown when she puts her sock on upside down, or she can't find her shoe, or Berzo approaches her when she's playing, or if she isn't able to go to the store right-this-minute for whatever it is she needs. Her brain circuitry overloads and shuts down. When the smoke clears, Boots is red faced, embarrassed and sorry.

The author is compassionate, not only to the child's plight but the parents' as well. He describes three conflict resolution strategies, Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Plan A describes the approach in which parents impose their will backed by scary consequences. This is the way most of my generation was parented. Plan C's approach is to let the child have their way to avoid an upset. Which is the way many of us parent today. Then he unveils, Plan B. This step involves both the parent and child putting their concerns on the table, then finding a "mutually agreeable solution." Wherein parents act as a "surrogate frontal lobe", in effort to stimulate development in their child's.

There is much more that goes along with this. For example, parents need to allow the child to be the first to propose a solution, knowing it's not likely to be agreeable. The parent affirms their child's willingness to put forward a solution then calmly points out that not all concerns were addressed. The child tries again. Then the parent asks if they could make a proposal, and so on and so forth. It takes effort and self-discipline on part of the parent to not just default to Plan A and use authority to push it through, -Kaboom!- but to step back and teach your child to navigate these problems—a necessary skill which will be exercised every single day of his/her life.

The book also covers many common parent concerns, such as, what happens in the "real world" when others aren't going to be using Plan B? The author responds with, "I don't expect your fighting with her a lot will help her live in the real world. On the other hand, I do expect that helping her stay calm enough to think clearly in the midst of frustration will be very helpful to her in the real world. If you think about what the real world demands, it's a whole lot more about resolving disputes and disagreements than it is about blind adherence to authority." Indeed.

I'm a big fan of Conscience Discipline as described by Becky Bailey in her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline.  Happily, this methodology fits right in with her plan. This is simply more focused on spirited kids with low frustration tolerance for the purpose of stabilizing their frequent blow-ups.

And—it works. When I have the self-discipline to use it, it really, really, really, works. Not only is my home more peaceful, I'm teaching my daughter how to be assertive, calm, how to consider everyone's agenda and to propose solutions that meets everyone's needs. As soon as she sees she's not going to be forced to eat Plan A, and Plan C is definitely not going to happen, she embraces Plan B and surprises me with her creative solutions.

After all, we all need to have some say in the course of events in our life.  Childhood is the only time we expect people to be happy prisoners of benevolent dictators. I hated it when I was growing up, but being naturally passive and easy going it was easy for me to internalize my feelings. Not so with Boots.

I'm glad she's challenged me to seek out these skills.  Learning to be calm, assertive, and to consider everyone's concerns equally (including my own) when seeking a solution to a dispute?  Yes, please!

I love you kiddo.

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