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The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children

4.6 25
by Ross W.

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We've all seen them: children who explode when they're told to do something or when things don't go their way. The ones who completely lose control and become verbally and physically aggressive. Spoiled, stubborn, manipulative children. Right?

Not so fast. These labels suggest that the behavior if such children is planned and intentional, and


We've all seen them: children who explode when they're told to do something or when things don't go their way. The ones who completely lose control and become verbally and physically aggressive. Spoiled, stubborn, manipulative children. Right?

Not so fast. These labels suggest that the behavior if such children is planned and intentional, and popular reward-and-punishment strategies are typically used to teach and motivate them to behave more appropriately. But for a significant number of these children, the standard approach doesn't always work. Such children are easily frustrated and extremely inflexible. They get "stuck" over seemingly simple requests, benign issues, and sudden changes in plans. They may be very anxious, irritable, and volatile. They may have difficulty telling you what they're frustrated about or thinking through potential solutions to problems. In clinical terms, they may be diagnosed with any of a variety of psychiatric disorders, including oppositional-defiant disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette's disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder. If this sounds like your child, you're probably feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, guilt-ridden, exhausted, and hopeless.

Now there is a new way for you, your child, and your entire family to find help. In this groundbreaking new book, Dr. Ross Greene, a child psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, makes a compassionate argument that the difficulties of these children stem from developmental deficits in two critical skills: flexibility and frustration tolerance. He asserts that if such children could do well, they would.

Drawing upon recent advances in the neuroscience, Dr. Greene describes the factor that contribute to "inflexible-explosive" behavior in children and why the strategies that work for most children aren't as effective for inflexible-explosive children. Then, with the help of "snapshots" from the lives of children, parents, and teachers with whom he has worked over the years, Dr. Greene lays out a sensitive, practical, effective, systematic approach to helping these children at home and school, including:

  • reducing hostility and antagonism between the child and adult
  • anticipating situations in which the child is most likely to explode
  • creating an environment in which explosions are less likely to occur
  • focusing less on reward and punishment and more on communication and collaborative problem-solving
  • helping the child develop the self-regulation and thinking skills to be more flexible and handle frustration more adaptively

In Explosive Child, you'll find ways to regain your sanity and optimism and rebuild the confidence to handle your child's difficulties completely and lovingly. With Dr. Greene's compassionate, expert advice and insight, you and your child will rediscover newfound hope and a relationship you can both feel good about.

Editorial Reviews

By teaching parents how to communicate with an inflexible son or daughter who feels there is no way out other than to throw a fit, The Explosive Child miraculously helps families unlearn the habits that lead to incendiary behavior. The book equips parents with the necessary skills to defuse and even prevent the intense situations that all-too-frequently arise with a volatile child.
Edward Hallowell
All parents should read this book, especially those with children who are out of control. Ross Greene presents a loving, rational, and research-based approach to dealing with problems that most parents have either felt were their own fault or were unsolvable. I could not recommend this book more highly.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.13(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Waffle Episode

Jennifer, age eleven, wakes up, makes her bed, looks around her room to make sure everything is in its place, and heads into the kitchen to make herself breakfast. She peers into the freezer, removes the container of frozen waffles, and counts six waffles. Thinking to herself, "I'll have three waffles this morning and three tomorrow morning," Jennifer toasts her three waffles and sits down to eat.

Moments later, her mother and five-year-old brother, Adam, enter the kitchen, and the mother asks Adam what he'd like to eat for breakfast. Adam responds, "Waffles," and the mother reaches into the freezer for the waffles. Jennifer, who has been listening intently, explodes.

"He can't have the frozen waffles!" Jennifer screams, her face suddenly reddening.

"Why not?" asks the mother, her voice and pulse rising, at a loss for an explanation of Jennifer's behavior.

"I was going to have those waffles tomorrow morning!"

Jennifer screams, jumping out of her chair.

"I'm not telling your brother he can't have waffles!" the mother yells back.

"He can't have them!" screams Jennifer, now face-to-face with her mother.

The mother, wary of the physical and verbal aggression of which her daughter is capable during these moments, desperately asks Adam if there's something else he would consider eating.

"I want waffles," whimpers Adam, cowering behind his mother.

Jennifer, her frustration and agitation at a peak, pushes her mother out of the way, seizes the container of frozen waffles, then slams the freezer door shut, pushes over a kitchen chair, grabs herplate of toasted waffles, and stalks to her room. Her brother and mother begin to cry.

Jennifer's family members have endured literally thousands of such episodes. In many instances, the episodes are more prolonged and intense, and involve more physical or verbal aggression than the one described above (when Jennifer was eight, she kicked out the front windshield of the family car). Mental health professionals have told Jennifer's parents she has something called oppositional-defiant disorder. For the parents, however, a simple label doesn't begin to explain the upheaval, turmoil, and trauma that Jennifer's outbursts cause. Her siblings and mother are scared of her. Her extreme volatility and inflexibility require constant vigilance and enormous energy from her mother and father, thereby lessening the attention the parents wish they could devote to Jennifer's brother and sister. Her parents frequently argue over the best way to handle her behavior, but agree about the severe strains Jennifer places on their marriage. Although she is above average in intelligence, Jennifer has no close friends; children who initially befriend her eventually find her rigid personality difficult to tolerate.

Over the years, Jennifer's parents have sought help from countless mental health professionals, most of whom advised them to set firmer limits and be more consistent in managing Jennifer's behavior, and instructed them on how to implement formal behavior management strategies. When such strategies failed to work, Jennifer was medicated with innumerable combinations of drugs, without dramatic effect. After eight years of medicine, advice, sticker charts, time-outs, and reward pro-grams, Jennifer has changed little since her parents first noticed there was something "different" about her when she was a toddler.

"Most people can't imagine how humiliating it is to be scared of your own daughter," Jennifer's mother once said. "People who don't have a child like Jennifer don't have a clue about what it's like to live like this. Believe me, this is not what I envisioned when I dreamed of having children. This is a nightmare."

"You can't imagine the embarrassment of having Jennifer ‘lose it' around people who don't know her," her mother continued. "I feel like telling them, ‘I have two kids at home who don't act like this — I really am a good parent!' "

"I know people are thinking, ‘What wimpy parents she must have ... what that kid really needs is a good thrashing.' Believe me, we've tried everything with her. But nobody's been able to tell us how to help her...no one's really been able to tell us what's the matter with her!"

"I hate what I've become. I used to think of myself as a kind, patient, sympathetic person. But Jennifer has caused me to act in ways I never thought I was capable of. I'm emotionally spent. I can't keep living like this."

"I know a lot of other parents who have pretty difficult children...you know, kids who are hyperactive or having trouble paying attention. I would give my left arm for a kid who was just hyperactive or having trouble paying attention! Jennifer is in a completely different league! It makes me feel very alone."

The truth is, Jennifer's mother is not alone; there are a lot of Jennifers out there. Their parents quickly discover that strategies that are usually effective for shaping the behavior of other children — such as explaining, reasoning, reassuring, nurturing, redirecting, ignoring, rewarding, and punishing —don't have the same success with their Jennifers. Even formal behavior management programs — sticker charts, contingent rewarding and punishing, and time-outs — and commonly prescribed medications have not led to satisfactory improvement. If you started reading this book because you have a Jennifer of your own, you're probably familiar with how frustrated, confused, angry, bitter, guilty, overwhelmed, worn out, and hopeless Jennifer's parents feel.

Besides oppositional-defiant disorder, children like Jennifer may be diagnosed with any of a variety of psychiatric disorders and learning inefficiencies, including attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorders (bipolar disorder and depression), Tourette's disorder, anxiety disorders (including obsessive-compulsive disorder), language-processing impairments, sensory integration dysfunction, nonverbal learning disability, reactive attachment disorder, and Asperger's disorder. Such children may also be described as having difficult temperaments.

Meet the Author

Ross W. Greene, Ph.D., is the originator of the Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS) model described in this book, an approach he has researched extensively, along with colleagues throughout the world. Dr. Greene served on the faculty at Harvard Medical School for over 20 years, and is currently Founding Director of the non-profit Lives in the Balance and adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Tech. He consults extensively to families, schools, and therapeutic facilities and lectures widely internationally. Vast free resources on the CPS approach can be found on the Lives in the Balance website (www.livesinthebalance.org).

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Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've never written a review before, but after reading this book last night (yes, the whole book in one sitting), I had to write to other desparate parents out there to tell them they won't regret buying this book. We've been dealing with 'explosions' from my 5 year old son since we moved to a new town 11 months ago. I finally took him to a child psychologist a few weeks ago and after describing his behavior, she recommended this book. I stayed up really late last night reading the book and it describes my son to a TEE. I couldn't believe how accurate it is and it made me feel so much better to read about other children who act identically to him. AND to learn that it's not my parenting, it's a learning disability (according to Dr. Greene, these children have yet to learn how to deal with frustration, thus it's a learning disability but nothing that can't be taught). What's great about looking at my son's explosions this way, as opposed to him 'being difficult' or 'manic' or 'defiant' is that I'm approaching it much more calmly and compassionately. As Dr. Greene puts it, I have to be my son's frontal lobe until he can learn to verbalize and problem solve. The book offers some great, great, great insights and advice. I already implemented one of the suggestions this morning, less than 12 hours after reading the book, and it totally worked to diffuse what was turning into an 'episode' or 'explosion'. It ended up that my son did not get his way, but in the end, it seemed to him like he did because we solved the problem together. Normally, if my son doesn't get his way, he has a violent explosion. But by using the methods in this book (specifically Emergency Plan B), I was able to calm him down, talk rationally about the problem, and come to a satisfactory resolution for both of us. I can't wait to share this book with my husband, my son's grandparents and his preschool teachers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book for understanding an easily frustrated, explosive child. One of the key phrases in this book that I loved is "Children do well if they can." It emphasizes that an easily frustrated child is necessarily trying to make things difficult, but that they do not possess all the developmental and cognitive tools to process information and find more plausible solutions. It is our responsibility as parents, teachers, or other adults that work with children to help to teach these children more productive ways of dealing with life's challenges. I highly recommend this book!
amakua More than 1 year ago
If you have an "explosive child" like I do, then this is VERY helpful and gives great insight. He helps you understand how to deal with your child's behavior in a sensible way. I'm still reading it and it has already helped me better understand where my little one is coming from. I recommend the book to all who have a child like this and doctors and therapists also, to not mis-diagosis them and give them meds that won't help.
SR3 More than 1 year ago
This book has brought light to me about my daughters temper tantrums. I promise that you will understand your child so much better if you actually read this book and use the techniques. I felt like a parent that could not do anything right but now I feel like I'm helping us both. My daughter would all of a sudden go crazy or I would say something that would trigger her but either way it was bad. She would have short tantrums (5 to 10 minutes) and long tantrums (30 minutes and comatosed afterwards). We would never know how long it would last and it was always just involving her (she would not harm anyone else). And we had tried everything. So I have a friend who is a behavioral doctor that I begged to see my daughter because I truely thought their might be something very worng with her. And as a parent you fell so stupid not being able to help. My doctor friend saw her and told me that nothing was wrong that was going to hurt her, but she was probably delayed in the emotional development part of her brain. He then told me to read this book....The Best Thing I Have Ever Read!!! It really helps!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although this book is written for children with extreme problems, I have found it helpful even for children who are a little more difficult than average. It is an understanding, empathetic, and loving approach to helping (rather than punishing) children who have problems with behavior. It is very effective not only in improving behavior, but in improving trust and the parent-child relationship. As Dr. Greene says, 'Children do well if they can. If they can't, we need to figure out why, so we can help.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
Parents of children like those Dr Greene describes will recognize this book as the first ray of hope in a long dark tunnel. His approach is extremely unique yet natural. His method yields immediate results in reducing family friction while setting the stage for long term heeling. An unequivocal must read for everyone.
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Wonderful new innovative evidence based model! All parents should give this a good read
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LianaL More than 1 year ago
A helpful book for parents seeking effective strategies for dealing with their challenging children. As a social worker, I often recommend this book to my clients who are looking for easy to use, effective parenting strategies. Liana Lowenstein, MSW Author of, "Creative Interventions for Troubled Children and Youth"
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I don't usually turn to parenting literature to solve problems at home, but when my three year old's outbursts started to escalate I began to desperately search for a good approach. This book provides a well developed framework and a flexible strategy for helping my whole family address our daughter's explosions. Instead of her explosions ruining her (and our) whole day, we have managed to reduce their frequency and intensity. This is a great guide for all parents, not just children with chronic explosiveness. All kids/adults go through some phases when they are inflexible, and this book is helpful for everyone.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is helpful for parents with difficult children. It addresses the causes of oppositional behaviors, temper tantrums, etc.. There is plenty of good practical advice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book helps parents to understand their children's behavior. Very readable and informative.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has changed my way of thinking about a child who is frustrated and cannot transition easily ; it helps one see what is important and encourages giving up on methods that work with all one's other children but are of no help with this one; very encouraging and practical