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The Explosive Child

by Ross W. Greene

In The Explosive Child, Ross Greene tackles the difficult problem of how to help children who have temper problems. He doesn't deal with children according to their diagnosis, whether that be Aspergers, ADHD, bipolar mood swings, or something else. Instead he uses this book to talk about inflexible-explosive children as a group.

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Doctor Greene begins by outlining the stages we all go through when we get into a rage. When children begin to get angry and unreasonable, he terms this "vapor lock", like the engine of a car when it is about to stall. He is quite good at inventing jargon to describe the problems of difficult children. Unless this state is averted it will be followed by a meltdown, when the child freaks out and may not be able to think straight.

The author discusses the assumptions that adults make about their children's behaviour. People often assume that a badly behaved child is being manipulative or naughty, and would benefit from a firmer hand. But Greene points out that this low tolerance for frustration is often the result of a lack of understanding rather than too much cunning on the child's part.

Traditional methods of discipline and behaviour management may be unsuccessful with some children. Greene deals with why things go wrong, and what can be done about it. He's not against medication, and he details some of the drugs that are commonly prescribed along with their benefits and drawbacks.

The author has a three-category approach for dealing with outbursts, ideally before they occur. This requires adults to quickly decide which method to try, and treat the child accordingly. This is explained in a lucid and easy to understand manner. Most of the focus is on communicating better, and teaching the child how to deal with anger less destructively.

If your child is without much speech, and/or he has a learning disability, you will already have spotted the flaw in this approach. For the parents of certain children with autism some suggestions will be difficult to put into practice. Nevertheless talking things through rationally isn't the be-all of Doctor Greene's method. If that is not much of an option there are still elements in this book that will be helpful to read about. Not least of all, when the author debunks the idea that a parent should always punish bad behaviour, whether or not it does any good.

This is not a traditional behaviourist approach, but that's not to say that it's incompatible with other methods. Having a system of agreed-upon rewards for good behaviour could integrate with ABA, for instance.

Greene's approach is a gentle one, and it makes sense. It may not work for everyone, and it clearly requires patience, commitment and the co-ordination of all the adults a child will meet. If your child is easily frustrated and prone to violence or obscene outbursts then this book is worthy of your attention and could prove to be a great help.


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