Does the "Explosive Child" approach really work? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 7 Old 05-14-2014, 11:07 PM - Thread Starter
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It feels like if it's not one kid, it's the other.  


My son, almost 6, has turned into a terror at school.  He's very defiant, just won't listen to the teachers sometimes, and has been physically violent with other kids.  He's been difficult since about 3 days after he was born, when he woke up from his newborn sleepiness and became a really irritable baby.  It's been obvious from a very, very young age that he has a huge need/desire to be "the boss" and be in control.  He doesn't like other people telling him what to do, doesn't like transitions, can't tolerate what he sees as "injustice" and can have very out-of-control tantrums.  The tantrums have gotten a lot better at home as he's gotten older, but he still has them.  When he was a toddler people kept telling us it was because he was frustrated because he couldn't communicate his wants/needs, but that just wasn't true for him.  He was a very early talker, but a toddler is not always going to get want he wants even if he can express it.  Nothing "they" say about average kids seems to fit him.  He didn't crawl, he scooted on his butt.  He didn't "pull-up" to first stand up, he just stood up.  He was much less active and rumble/tumble than my daughter.  But he's never had any delays and never seemed like he would meet criteria for any "diagnosis."  He may well be "gifted" but that whole terminology bugs the heck out of me and even if he is, he's not so gifted that he hasn't had anything new to learn in kindergarten.


I have read a whole bunch of books about defiant children.  He doesn't seem as bad as a lot of the examples, which I'm really thankful for, but some of our history as a family fits with what they list as contributing factors.  My partner, who gave birth to him, had pretty severe post-partum depression and things were really bad between us for a while.  He had just turned 2 when I was diagnosed with cancer and the house was topsy-turvy for a year while I was treated.  He had parenting from all sorts of relatives flying in to help, and I was pretty much out of the picture a lot of that time, then very short-fused when I was trying to get back on my feet.  All through his first few ears, my partner and I definitely had trouble agreeing about limits with him.  I don't think he's had the most consistent parenting, but we are really trying to work together now and mostly we're on the same page.


I really don't want him to get kicked out of his charter school.  Luckily he has not had a full-blown tantrum at school, but he has hit a bunch of kids, bitten 2, and stabbed one with a pencil.  He always thinks/says it is self-defense.  He generally gets along well with the other boys in his class, and he has always had 1 or 2 good friends each year in preschool and and also this year.  This is the first year he has had serious behavioral problems outside the home.  


So many of the books seem to focus on rewards systems with tokens or points, but he just doesn't seem able to keep those in mind when he's upset about something.  Our daughter, who is 7 and has ADHD (very sweet child, she does not have behavior problems other than attention) does do well with things like that.  Time outs do not seem helpful in the long run, although sometimes he can get himself under control and talk about what's going on during one.


We are in the process of trying to find professional help, but so far haven't found a good person.  I am so tired of the process of trying to find "the right person" - it's been a hard past few years with my health issues and my daughter's issues and it just seems like we're always looking for one specialist or another - but we're trying.  The first guy did not work out (seemed to be talking from a script).  So we're trying to learn what we can on our own in the meantime.


I read the "Explosive Child" and it really seemed to resonate, but the techniques have been minimally successful so far.  A lot of times I won't know what set him off to begin with and he won't say until way, way after the fact.  It doesn't work to identify that he's mad and ask what's up, he just gets madder or refuses to answer.  I can't read his mind.  Tonight he was an utter beast and it turned out to be because I asked him to strip his bed and he thought he had already done it (he didn't realize all the layers that needed to come off)).  We didn't get that one figured out until after the tantrum - couldn't figure out what he was even having a tantrum about while it was going on and I would have never guessed it was because of the bed.  That's so typical - he'll hold a grudge and be progressively more defiant and it will be impossible to figure out what exactly started it.  So how do I do plan B if I can't figure out what's going on and he won't engage with talking about it if he's in the process of being really defiant?


So a long-winded question, do those techniques ever work?


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#2 of 7 Old 05-15-2014, 04:40 PM
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Subbing in to hear what others have to say about this approach.  Your son sounds similar in many ways to my DD - high needs since birth, "different" in some way I can't quite pin down, although I've read a lot of the books and descriptions of various disorders and they never seem to quite fit.  I don't think there's anything wrong with her...and yet...I'm always wondering if there's something wrong with her.  Her defiance and tantrums have gotten somewhat worse since she turned 4 recently, which led me to look into "defiant child" books and techniques and I just read the Explosive Child.  We've been having limited success with it, primarily during times when I can predict a meltdown.  Today, for instance, we were approaching a transition leaving a friend's house, and I knew she would have a major meltdown.  I talked to her about it in private, something like this:


Me:  We're going to have to leave soon, and I know sometimes you have a big fuss when we have to leave.  What's up with that?

Her:  I'm going to miss my friend.  I don't know when I'll see him again.

Me:  You're going to miss your friend, yeah.  But I'm afraid that if we don't leave now we'll get stuck in busy traffic on the way home.  Is there something we can do to make leaving easier for you?

Her:  I want to know when I'll see my friend again.

Me:  (Smacking forehead) So you'd set up another playdate with his mom before we go?

Her:  Yes.


And we did.  And she left.  With absolutely no fuss.  It was like a miracle.  But, you're right, with the unpredictable stuff, or if I accidentally use "Plan A" without thinking about it, she starts in on tantrums REALLY fast and then it's impossible to get a word in edgewise.  She'll even do this if she perceives an answer to a question that she doesn't like even when I know she's misunderstanding me and she really WOULD like the answer.  I just can't get her to hear me enough to clarify.  It's frustrating.  I tend to use more of a "non-intervention" approach to once the arguing and full-fledged tantrums start.  We haven't had to deal with any school situations yet, but I think that would be really hard. 


Hope you get some good advice from btdt moms. 

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#3 of 7 Old 05-22-2014, 02:03 PM
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Yes, the techniques do work but often they need to be tailored to the child. With my DS, he is almost 14, we never ever say the word "mad". If we ask why he is mad, he blows up even more. The key is to state, "you look really stressed out". I don't know why, but that always gets him to talk. Saying "mad" is a trigger for him and he becomes defensive. Also my DS has an expressive/receptive language disorder. He can talk, he talks all the time, he has a great vocabulary, but he has word finding issues among other things. The more stressed he gets the harder it is for him to express himself so he either shuts down or blows up. You really do need to find the right professionals to help in this situation and I understand how daunting that task can be, BTDT!  Where do you live? Parent to Parent can often put you in touch with an educational advocate who will have a wealth of resources including a list of really good professional help. 


One thing in your post really raised the red flag to me for the expressive/receptive language disorder, "he won't say, until way after the fact". Try changing "won't" to "can't" and then there's the language disorder. It sounds just like my son. The school use to accuse him of being defiant because he would "refuse" to talk when they questioned him about a situation that was stressful to him. Then they labelled him as bad because they perceived him as refusing to comply instead of being unable to comply. When he would get home he could tell me all about it because he was not stressed out anymore and had time to calm down. 

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#4 of 7 Old 05-22-2014, 02:44 PM - Thread Starter
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Pattimomma, thank you, that thought had never occurred to me.  

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#5 of 7 Old 05-22-2014, 06:51 PM
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I am a huge fan of Collaborative Problem Solving, and The Explosive Child book. But to me, its biggest value is as a shift in the adult's frame of mind, rather than a prescription for particular solutions. Pattimomma got it spot on when she mentioned the difference between "can't" and "won't".


What looks like defiance, lack of cooperation, unfocused rage, and general nastiness changes dramatically when you come to see the behavior as a lack of skills - language, focus, planning, insight; all the executive function skills described in the book. This explains why incentives and consequences have so little impact with these kids.


Imagine if your boss told you to read Hebrew - I am assuming you don't already read Hebrew ; ). Rewards and punishments wouldn't teach you what all those sqiggly lines mean. Without a teacher of some sort, or at least a good teach-yourself-Hebrew book, you would not be likely to figure it out, no matter how much you wanted to please the boss, get the raise, avoid getting fired. Our kids just aren't capable of figuring out for themselves some of these higher order skills, at least not yet.


Kids may or may not be able to talk about the problems proactively. The scripted conversations the book suggests sound awkward to me. But the general idea that "kids do well when they can", and if they aren't, they haven't yet learned the skills to handle certain situations, was a major changing point in my relationship with YoungSon. It completely erased the concept of blame, and allowed me to see him as delayed in certain spheres, rather than defiant or "bad". The kid is now 18, and has outgrown most of the issues that were such a big deal 10 years ago. The Explosive Child point of view is how I survived those years.

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#6 of 7 Old 05-24-2014, 07:53 AM
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Think about eliminating gluten from his diet as well (maybe you already have). Some of the behaviors you describe remind me of my ds2 before i removed gluten from his diet. I can also tell immediately if he had some (for eg at school) by this same behavior. He becomes obnoxious, cant tolerate transitions, picks fights, wakes up grumpy, always sees things in the negative, is constantly complaining, crying,is prone to swear and hit, also repeats himself alot. My other son reacts to gluten in a more subtle way, but tends to shandle conflict with high pitched screaming, makes silly noises alot, and becomes obsessed with watching trains/or moving objects.


They are not like this without gluten! Its amazing!


They have different personalities and gluten impacts them differently.

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#7 of 7 Old 06-18-2014, 11:42 PM
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My 8yo son sounds exactly like this and he has sensory processing disorder, SPD. "The Out of Sync Child" is considered the bible of SPD. Reading it will give you lots of info and help you find an occupational therapist that focuses on sensory issues rather than fine motor. Hope this helps
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