You do everything the experts advise. You set up rules and rewards and consequences and you’re as consistent as possible. But still, your child melts down, throws a tantrum in front of everyone, screams and yells, and you’re left embarrassed, judged, angry, and thinking that you don’t know what you’re doing. Maybe it’s not that you’re doing anything wrong.
Kids with special needs can be difficult to parent. So often, well meaning - or maybe just nosy - friends, relatives and even your own parents may not understand it. “If you’d only…, be tougher, be less tough, do what we do, whatever,...your child would be as well behaved as mine.” But that advice only works for their children. It may not work for yours.
The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children, by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. may be exactly the help your family needs. Greene presents a different theory behind the meltdowns, the idea that children behave well when they can. And when they don’t manage to hold things together, through tantrums and worse, it’s not that these children don’t know right from wrong, or that they don’t know that their parents are the boss. Kids throw tantrums because they don’t have the skills to behave better.
Greene posits that weaknesses in “flexibility and frustration tolerance” can trigger these meltdowns. These “pathways” to meltdown include “executive skills, language processing skills, emotion regulation skills, cognitive flexibility skills, and social skills.” That’s a pretty complete list of what a lot of children with ASDs or ADHD may be struggling with. And, the “triggers” to these tantrums are probably pretty predictable as well.
Further, Greene states that continuing to fight, struggle, set a line in the sand, put your foot down, can be just doing more of what wasn’t working in the first place. Greene’s plan involves moving beyond the extremes that parents often choose: either insisting on the adult’s way (Greene terms this Plan A) or giving in to the child (Plan C) to a Plan B, involving collaborative problem solving. In collaborative problem solving, the parent is really functioning as a “surrogate frontal lobe” and helping the child develop those skills necessary to manage tough situations. Greene looks at triggers to explosions, and develops plans to be proactive in avoiding meltdowns, as well as coming up with quick emergency plans for when explosions are about to happen.
Of course, every child is different, and it’s difficult to fit an individual, or a family, into a prewritten book. But Greene give numerous examples, asks some tough questions, and really helps the reader envision how this different way of looking at parenting challenging kids may be the answer. His writing is so clear and methodical that it easily moves the frustration of parenting into a logical, problem solving arena. I encourage parents to read this book carefully, think about your own family dynamics, and try these techniques out for your own family.
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.