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Book Review: "The Explosive Child" by Ross W. Greene

Does your child responds to routine problems with extreme frustration - crying, hitting, screaming, biting, swearing, spitting, kicking or destroying furniture?

Then this book is for you.

Most likely you tried many approaches to this behaviour already - rewards for good behaviour, punishments for bad behaviour, time-outs, talking, teaching your child to name emotions, shaming ...

But you might have realized that no standard parenting method that works for other kids, really works for your child. On the contrary harsh discipline in those situations often leads to more drama.

I have a highly sensitive explosive child. He often reacts frustrated and explodes in situations that are challenging for highly sensitive kids like uncomfortable socks, a change in plans or a sibling disturbing him when playing. And while he explodes in crying it's impossible to talk to him and help him.

Standard parenting methods do not work with him.

I tried to teach him to name his emotions but little success so far. Plus I am sometimes falling into the trap to resort to think "Kids do well if they want. And I am the parent and they should listen to me." Well, that philosophy never goes down well with my kids ...

So I am always looking for methods that will help us to have a calmer home.

And I came across this book.

The book doesn't even mention highly sensitive children but it provides a list of characteristics that are typical for explosive children, and many items on this list hold true for highly sensitive children. Like black and white thinking, inflexibility, difficulties with an overload of sensory input etc.

The book has an underlying philosophy that your child wants to do good but lacks the skills to behave in a more appropriate manner in challenging situations.

Contrary to many other books, this one does not focus on teaching children to name their emotions or to find an outlet for their anger like hitting a cushion. While I personally believe teaching naming emotions is very important, it's incredibly hard to teach someone who tends to react explosively to simply stay calm and say "I am frustrated.". Even as adults we often cannot stay calm when angry or frustrated. Plus just naming your feeling still doesn't solve the problem why you became frustrated in the first place.

The book puts the behaviour of the child out of the focus and instead looks at solving the situations your child finds challenging.

It helps you to create a list of the situations that your child finds challenging and frustrating, like getting dressed in the morning, making math homework, playing lego together with sibling etc. You will soon realise that it's a couple of reoccurring situations. Therefore they are predictable and also preventable. Your strategy will be to prevent those situations.


Preventing means, you need to find a solution for those situations - together with your child. You start by talking with your child about those situations.

There's a formula for the discussion with your child which they call PLAN B, collaborative problem-solving. The video below explains it.

1. You show empathy and with questioning, you try to understand what the reasons are that your child has a problem with a certain situation. ("I see you have a problem getting dressed in the morning. What's up?")

2. Then you both state your concerns (Child: "I get frustrated with my socks, they scratch and I don't want to wear them". You: "I understand but I find it important that your feet are covered so that you don't get cold" )

3. Then you brainstorm solutions together (E.g. Turning socks around so that the seams are outside, buying seamless socks or wearing house shoes at home instead of socks.).

4. The solution has to be doable and needs to meet the child's needs and adult's concerns.

5. You apply the solution and see how it goes from there and if needed adjust your solution.


The book doesn't promise a quick fix. It's a long process for a more calmer house and with an explosive child, the definition of a "calm house" cannot be too perfectionistic.

The problem probing stage is the hardest as your child will often simply say "I don't know." I love how the book helps with this stage by giving many examples and question strategies.

Also, the first solution might not turn out to be the best, so it's a process to find the best solution to a challenging situation. Furthermore, life changes and I find my child reacts differently to the same situation depending if he's hungry, tired or over-stimulated.

But the approach works. It's gentle, respectful and leads to less drama. It's really for any child. I just found that my 5-year-old is more able to come up with solutions than my 3-year-old. The approach needs some maturity from the child. I also see that it teaches my older son to come up with solutions himself. Sometimes now when his little toddler brother explodes in a toddler crisis, my older son will brainstorm what could help his brother to calm down. Plus I am also learning some calm problem solving techniques.

Kids do well if they can, and so do parents.





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