Plan B Parenting For Explosive Children


Photo credit: MichaelLaMartin / Foter / CC BY-SA

Parenting is really tough. I mean really tough. But the truth is, it’s tougher for some parents than it is for others. This is for a wide variety of reasons, some that the parents could avoid, and others that have to be dealt with in a very different way.

I recently was recommended a book from a friend who knows my kids, and knows our parenting struggles. We have a very difficult time with my middle son, whose personality can be described at best as tough, and at worst as explosive. It feels like he’s in trouble all the time, bending or breaking rules, acting up in school, fighting with his brothers and basically making peace in my home nearly impossible.

We have blamed ourselves, we have blamed him, we have blamed my wife’s divorce and we have blamed plenty of other things too, but whatever we tried, did not work.

So I was totally open to a new approach, feeling worn down by our previous failures. That’s when I read The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children.

What′s an explosive child? A child who responds to routine problems with extreme frustration-crying, screaming, swearing, kicking, hitting, biting, spitting, destroying property, and worse. A child whose frequent, severe outbursts leave his or her parents feeling frustrated, scared, worried, and desperate for help. Most of these parents have tried everything-reasoning, explaining, punishing, sticker charts, therapy, medication-but to no avail. They can′t figure out why their child acts the way he or she does; they wonder why the strategies that work for other kids don′t work for theirs; and they don′t know what to do instead.

This book is for parents like me, who have children like I do. And here are a few really important points that changed how I approached him.

1) Children do well if they can: My kid isn’t above scheming or planning rebellion, but what he is, and most kids are, are individuals who do well if they can. This means a lot to me, because I no longer immediately assume he ‘just wants attention’ or ‘is trying to get his way’ all the time, even though sometimes it’s true. Kids don’t want to get in trouble, they do well if they can, but it’s a lot harder for some to figure this out.

2) Inflexibility and intolerance: One of the foundations of the book is understanding that if you have a child that fits the above description, many times a reason for this is that they are delayed in the process of developing the skills essential for flexibility and frustration tolerance. So you ask them to do something simple and they explode, plans change and they act out, something goes wrong and everyone around them has to pay. Acting terribly isn’t excused, but it’s easier to understand and maybe easier to avoid in the future.

3) Knee jerk diagnosis can be the wrong thing: I’m not saying some kids don’t need some meds to balance them out or keep them focused, what I am saying is that these days, we, as parents, lean towards that a little too quickly sometimes. Saying that a child “has ADHD” or “has bipolar disorder” or “has obsessive-compulsive disorder” gives us no information whatever about the thinking skills a child is lacking that we adults need to help him develop.

4) My reaction towards explosions: I am not super emotional, but I recognize that when my kids are, they are probably at their breaking point. Explosive kids are different though, and I had to learn it’s unfair to respond more empathically to my other kids, who cry when they are hurt rather than explode, even though the two behaviors often emanate from the same source.

5) Plan B: There is more to this than I’ll be able to say here, but Plan B parenting has changed the game for me. The basic premise is this.

Plan A
Parent: It’s time to clean your room.
Child: I don’t want to!
Parent: Fine. (gives up)

Plan C
Parent: It’s time to clean your room.
Child: I don’t want to!
Parent: Too bad, you have to do it, and you have to do it now!

Plan B
Parent: It’s time to clean your room.
Child: I don’t want to!
Parent: Ok, you don’t want to, why not? (empathy)
Child: Because I’m in the middle of this video game.
Parent: Well, how about I give you five minutes and then it’s time to clean?
Child: Ok.

I KNOW it’s not as simple as this, but neither is the approach. If you feel like these things might be helpful to you as a parent, take a look at The Explosive Child, I know it’s been a help for me.


3 thoughts on “Plan B Parenting For Explosive Children”

  1. Parenting IS tough, so is being a kid. My 8 yo can be an explosive child – I can be an explosive parent, and while these techniques generally work when I’m able to do it, they don’t always. They also don’t always work at all. My child has a food intolerance – I do too. Strawberries, grapes and tomatoes. She loves them, and they all come out around Christmas time (we’re in Australia). They are very cheap and they are everywhere. She eats punnets and punnets of them all, and because they are ‘healthy’ foods, no one thinks to say no to her. But they make her oppositionally defiant. Rude, obstinate and explosive. It can sometimes sneak up on me without realising why we are fighting, but as soon as one of use recognise it (she self restricts these foods now, because understanding why she gets so mad, she doesn’t like being like that, so only has a handful – most of the time, she is only 8 after all). If you go back a generation or 2, foods were more expensive, and seasonal, these fruits were all treats, not something a child could get a bucketload of in one afternoon. Not everything natural is good for you, and not everything good is great for everyone. Thank you for reminding me of Plan B, I had forgotten it recently and for pointing out that there are also many other possibilities as to the source of the problems.

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