Posted by: whimsigal | June 21, 2007

"The Explosive Child"

A while back I wrote a post addressing an issue we’ve been having with our youngest son. It seemed like out of nowhere he began having daily meltdowns and violent tantrums and I began to question whether unschooling was the right thing for us. Well, this week I read a book called, “The Explosive Child” by Dr. Ross Greene and it helped me realize many things, most importantly unschooling is the best way to approach this situation.

Looking back, I can see now that there were many signs that Ryan was unable to cope with frustrating situations on his own. He would hurt his friends, break toys, and throw temper tantrums even at the age of two. I wrote it off then as typical two-year old behavior. But when it extended beyond that parameter, I attributed it to other things, a spoiled child, a needy child, a child with a bad attitude. He was unfairly being pigeon-holed into something he wasn’t and the real thing affecting him was being ignored. Our strict stances on certain issues only fueled the fire and increased his level of frustration which in turn caused him to erupt. He had/has no idea what to do when the wave of emotion washes over him like a tsunami and the only thing he can do is lash out. After reading Dr. Greene’s book however, I can see a light shimmering in the darkness for him. Dr. Greene does an excellent job of breaking down the triggers that lead to an “explosion” and how to head them off at the pass. He also gives great advice on how to handle things if they have inadvertently gotten out of control. As a result, we have been able to be more mindful in the way we treat Ryan and have been able to connect with him in ways that I thought would never be possible.

Case in point. Yesterday was Iain’s birthday and he got a Wii. I was very worried about this because it seemed like something that could upset any sibling let alone someone like Ryan who has trouble dealing with emotions anyway. My fears were confirmed later in the day when Ryan began to meltdown because he wanted to play the Wii while Iain was in the middle of a game. I had missed the signs that he was getting upset so we were immediately thrust into an emergency situation. He was very angry, screaming, stomping his feet. He went into our playroom and shut the door and then proceeded to kick it again and again and again. I went into the room and tried to talk to him and was able to calm him down quickly. It was a miracle. When he was calm, I told him that I thought he did a great job of getting his emotions under control and you know what his response was? “momma, you don’t have to tell me that.”

He’s right I shouldn’t have commented on it but I thought he would appreciate the praise. Instead I think it made him feel embarrassed. I won’t do that again. 🙂

Dr. Greene seems to substantiate the point that too many rules are hard for most people to deal with let alone an explosive or, as some people prefer to call them, spirited child. Radical unschooling is the natural way to deal with this.

Anyway, if there is anyone out there who feels hopeless or even afraid of your child’s outbursts I would encourage you to read this book. It will really open your eyes not just on dealing with a child with special needs but in dealing with people in general. It really is a great book.



  1. Thanks for this post, Evie.
    I’m currently making my way between praising my children and letting them find their happiness in their own rites (and rights).
    It is a difficult struggle for me, finding a balance between “no praise” and expressing a genuine happiness for them.
    Maybe the difference is in the intention?
    What I mean is, if it’s genuine, it’s all right, but if you’re trying to encourage a repeat the ‘good’ behavior it’s manupulative?
    Not sure.
    Anyway. (mayhaps I need to get out Unconditinal Parenting again.)
    Thanks for the thoughts, and it was helpful to ponder this thing again from your own family’s situation and words.
    A still thinking Steph.

  2. If I could give my children one skill it would be the ability to find happiness within themselves and not search for it in externa, sources. TO this day I still seek my parents approval and I’m close to 40. You’re so right about there being a fine line between praise and manipulation and we, too, are still trying to find out where it is.

    Thank you so much for your comment. You have been missed!

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