If you have the money or the time to read just one book this year on parenting your special needs child make it The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene. This book has changed how I handle discipline issues, but more importantly for some parents it can change how they view their special child. And Dr. Greene’s techniques are not specific to a diagnosis. They are meant for any difficult child.
Dr. Ross Greene is a child psychologist, an expert on how children’s minds work. But early in his career, he noticed a growing trend of what he called behaviorally challenged children and young people. These children did not respond to traditional discipline methods like praise and punishment (i.e. carrot and stick). These children were prone to irrational outbursts that were disruptive to family life…and their own well-being. Yet these children seemed powerless to stop their outbursts.
And according to Dr. Greene’s revolutionary theory of Collaborative Problem Solving, they are; powerless to stop these outbursts. As Dr. Greene puts it, ‘children do well, when they can.’ This concept alone is worth the price of this book. It can revolutionize your relationship with your child. If instead of blaming him for his behavior, thinking of her as manipulative or screaming ‘why do your always mess up,’ you can begin to see that for some children they lack the social skills to do better.
This portion of the book rang true to me from the start; it was something that I had been trying to tell my former husband and the teachers for years. My daughter knew right from wrong and was basically a good kid. It was just that sometimes she could NOT control herself. She is extremely caring and compassionate. At moments, she will offer her toys or cookies to other children willingly. But then something will happen (we will talk next week about what I think that something is) and she becomes a different person grabbing things away from others, crying and at the extreme kicking and biting. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to explain to the school that ‘Emily can’t help it sometimes.’ And all their color coded reward charts in the world could not help. When she reached her limits, she was uncontrollable.
And for the first time, I had someone who agreed with me. Someone who understood that sometimes even when children know right from wrong, even when they want to be ‘normal’ and please people, they just cannot do it. And to make things better, this guy is a child psychologist, an expert. I was hooked on this book from then.
But it gets better. Like I said, for these children, traditional discipline like reward charts and time outs do not work. Their little hearts want those stars so badly. I can’t tell you the times that Emily came home crying after school because she was on the ‘red’ circle at school. It became a source of self-esteem issues, but she was still powerless to do the one thing it took to avoid it (usually picking up toys at the end of a long day). When we began homeschooling rewards charts were one of the first things to go, because for some children they just don’t work.
But if those methods don’t work, what do you do? Is it hopeless? Is there anything that does work? Enter Dr. Greene’s Collaborative Problem Solving. Dr. Greene begins with the analogy of sorting your child’s problems like you sort clothes for the laundry. Basket A is the traditional authoritative/assertive parenting style…’because I said so.’ It simply will not work, but nonetheless it is still one option. Basket (or Plan) C is more liberal. It says I know my child should not eat three chocolate bars in a day, but given everything else that is ‘off’ in his life I just don’t have the time/energy to handle this issue too. This idea can be a real life saver…or sanity saver for you and your child. Without this concept, you would spend the whole day nagging her about one thing after the other. Putting her toys away, doing her homework, cleaning her room, taking a bath, going to bed. Life becomes nothing more than a battle of wills. As it is for too many families. Plan C gives you permission to say…we’ll get around to that later, after we have dealt with some bigger issues.
So then how do you deal with issues? The answer is an amazing little thing called Plan B, the heart of Collaborative Problem Solving. Plan B is about identifying those one or two (no more than three at a time) problems that are most important for your family at the moment. Then PROACTIVELY sitting down with your child to solve them together. What a revolutionary idea? It gets better though Dr. Greene gives you a basic step-by-step script for how to do this too.
But rather than tell you about that here, you can visit Dr. Greene’s charity Lives in the Balance (www.livesinthebalance.org). You see the most beautiful thing is that this book and theory is not about just making money for Dr. Greene (as it is for so many ‘experts’). Dr. Greene is passionate about helping these explosive children and the families that are stretched so thing by loving them. He has put all that you need to understand the basic of Collaborative Problem Solving on this website, including videos of him explaining the theory, charts to help you identify social skills that your child may be missing and a step-by-step flow chart of Plan B problem solving.
But of course, the real question is…does it work? All of that is not worth anything if it is just another of the dozens, hundred, or even thousands of behavioral modification theories that are marketed to families coping with special needs children. The answer is…it does work. But it is just that W-O-R-K. Dr. Greene himself says that this is not an easy process. It can take several attempts at Plan B to solve a single problem. And you are still left with that huge basket of Plan C issues in the corner left to be dealt with. But this is a discipline method that maintains your child’s self-esteem and your sanity by recognizing how hard your job is as the parent of a special needs child. And it offers hope long –term because this method is itself building those social skills your child needs to face issues as a teenager and as an adult.
So rush out…for your copy of Dr. Greene’s The Explosive Child. It is even available on Kindle. I purchased it there; even before I had a Kindle (they have a free program that will allow you to read it on your computer). At the very least, check out Lives in the Balance for yourself (www.livesinthebalance.org ).
On Friday, there is a bit of a change of plans. Instead of looking at unschooling as I had said we would, I am following up on this idea of reframing of our children’s behaviors and our expectations by looking at what was my best Mother’s Day in years…and why. Then next week, I will review the book that gave me some of the answers of ‘why’ my daughter could not control her actions, what brought her to the breaking point…The Out-of-Sync Child.