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Explosive Children

Here are ten tips to deal with an explosive child

An explosive child has a big reaction to a small thing.  This can be an exhausting cycle for both parent and child.

1. Have time away from your child

Explosive children bring a high level of intensity.  Take breaks from your child and find a few moments to find your center and maybe some peace.  Perhaps this is taking time away to exercise or perhaps this is a brief text exchange with a friend. It doesn’t have to be much. Just enough to give your nervous system a break.

2. Grow as a parent

If a playful parenting approach isn’t intuitive for you, explore it.  Part of what happens for explosive children is that they get stuck in a rut and that rut leads them to an out-of-control place.  If you can disengage your child from the rut in a playful yet firm manner, your child will begin to be less of a volcano and more relaxed in the face of disappointment, injustice, or other triggers.

3. Find out if it’s a ‘can’t’ or a ‘won’t’

If your child has some unique challenges in the world such as sensory processing disorder, ADHD, learning disabilities, anxiety, or food allergies, seek resources that can support the unique needs of your child.  Find professionals within your community that can give you an accurate picture of how to support your child in their explosive behaviors.  If you have a child who blows up, find out if their physiology and brain “can’t” or “won’t” self regulate.

4. Break down challenging situations in the smallest bites possible

Tantrums and explosive reactions happen when a child’s ability to tolerate discomfort is overwhelmed.  Let’s say your child is learning to tie his/her shoes and each instance of putting on shoes ends in an hour-long conflict with tears and flailing limbs.  One way to approach this frustrating situation is by working as a team and having your child responsible for the first step of crossing the laces across the shoes.  Then you take over and slowly do the remaining steps.  Affirm your child for a job well done with their first step.  Gradually add in another step when your child is able to tolerate (many times over time) small challenges that are part of the task.

5. Increase your child’s frustration tolerance by encouraging them to notice their body’s responses.

It is best to talk with your child about this when they are calm and not having an explosive outburst.  If it’s age appropriate, ask your child to reflect if they have a slow engine or a fast engine.  With an older child, you can encourage them to use colors to identify their body/mood state.  Ask your child to scale their frustration.  Or have them draw a huge thermometer on your wall at home and have them show you where they are (don’t put a lot of work into the thermometer itself as it will likely be torn down a few times).  Help coach your child in identifying how their body responds to stress and how to use their breath and calming thoughts to self regulate.

6. Get support for your marriage/partnership

An explosive child can bring great challenges to a parenting team.  It’s very tricky to not feel judgement, shame and exasperation about your child.  Sometimes it’s hard to even enjoy your time as a family when explosions are happening regularly.  When parents are under the daily stress of having an explosive child, it can be hard to have joy and connection in your marriage or partnership. Consider starting marriage counseling as a helpful support for you both.

7.  Become a self-regulation master

Get curious about your own self regulation patterns.  Often parents who are living with and parenting an explosive child are exhausted by the unpredictable intensity of the behavior.  When are you most calm?  When are you least calm?  What settles you down?  Get curious about inviting in grounding practices, such as yoga or walking or breathing exercises.  Talk to your friends about what grounds and calms them.  Experiment to find what works for you and what doesn’t.  You will be most successful at supporting your explosive child if you are confident in your own ability to self regulate.

8. Don’t blame yourself and avoid shame

Find support from friends and family who don’t blame you for your child’s behavior.  It’s certainly possible that your parenting is contributing to your child’s outbursts but it’s entirely possible that it’s not.  Parenting an explosive child is extremely exhausting and you will need to have a team of people who can empathize with your challenges while not judging you. Consider starting individual counseling as a helpful support for you.

9. Front-load: Discuss events before they happen

Tell your child (to the best of your ability) about what will happen and what you expect from them.  Be clear, concise, direct, confident and tell them clearly what will happen if they aren’t able to work as a team with you. For example, you could say, “If you aren’t able to have a safe body with Jenny when we have a play-date, we’ll first take a break to help your body be calm.  If you still have trouble having a safe body, we’ll need to go home.”

10. Read The Explosive Child (by Ross W. Greene)

After you read it, define your red, yellow and green light behaviors.  Which behaviors are safety issues and will be stopped immediately (red light), which behaviors you will choose to let happen all the time (green light), and which are teaching moments when you will support your child in learning more self regulation skills (yellow light).

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