Sometimes new information comes into our lives and we start to see the past through different lenses. 

Specifically in my own childhood, I remember times of “misbehavior” and understand now that there was a deep need in me that was not being met so I decided to meet it myself in my unhealthy childish ways. 

Parenting Expectations from Society

This is hard to face as a parent. The story in my head is this: my children must behave.  The expectation of society, perhaps particularly in the South, is that my children behave well at all times and listen to authority.  This will prevent them from embarrassing themselves, or from embarrassing their family. It will save them from the shunning and shaming that our society uses to control public behavior. But here’s the thing. What if my kids are not capable of that? What if they are struggling with such a big and overwhelming emotion that they cannot control their external appearance? What if they have neural diversity that bypasses the neurotypical methods of self control?

If you’ve ever been to a mall, or a grocery store in the late evening, or on an airplane, you’ve seen kids going through this in public. I sure have. We call it a “tantrum”. And in the South, we hear comments like “That kid needs a good spanking.” We see the tight, embarrassed faces of the mother or father as they forcefully whisper to their kid to get it together. I’ve been that mama.

Young girl in a pink coat and snow hat yells up toward camera

Photo by Stephen Andrews:

A New Perspective

Author and Psychologist Ross Greene has several books on this topic. The Explosive Child is a great one to start with.  His core principle revolves around this idea: Kids do well if they can. If they can’t, why not? What skills do they not have? Do they need help? Is the environment they are experiencing overwhelming their system? Are they getting their needs met? 

Here’s an except:

“Often people ask, “How do I know if my child is explosive?” There’s no blood test, of course. “Explosive” is just a descriptive term for kids who become frustrated far more easily and more often, and communicate their frustration in ways that are far more extreme (screaming, swearing, spitting, hitting, kicking, biting, cutting, destroying property) than “ordinary” kids. 

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of the term. First, ‘explosive’ implies that the outbursts of these kids are sudden and unpredictable and – this may be a little hard to believe at first – that’s not true most of the time. 

Second, while many behaviorally challenging kids explode when they’re frustrated (screaming, swearing, hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, and so forth), many others implode instead (crying, sulking, pouting, having anxiety attacks, and being blue and withdrawn or cranky and irritable). So, the title of the book notwithstanding, the strategies described herein are applicable to kids who are exploding, imploding, or some combination of the two. The term I’ll be using to refer to all of them is “behaviorally challenging” (also not an ideal term, but maybe the best we can do).”

The Explosive Child – by Ross Greene

What Now?

Young boy with an upset face and black curly hair and father with glasses lay head to head relaxing in bedroom.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto:

When I see unwanted behavior in my own children, this is an opportunity for me to see my kids as they truly are. Beautifully and wonderfully complex and trying to tell me something in their childish ways. When I take the time to listen, things go pretty well. Not always. But we are learning this together and stepping out of the old patterns and habits that I learned as a child. Then being with these children goes from a duty to a joy. My kids begin to feel seen, and heard, and known. They slowly learn the skills that help them self regulate. They begin to know themselves and can communicate when things are about to go off the rails.

p.s. This seems to also work with other adults. Amazing what happens when someone feels seen and heard and known and has the skills to deal with a hard situation.

This method of parenting is not a magic wand. This takes time and learning. It’s work that we can give you the support to do with your family.

Need some help with this work? Reach out and we can help you set up and appointment.

Categories: Parenting


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