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Who is an Explosive Child?

Explosive ChildWho is an explosive child?  Explosive is a descriptive term for children who become frustrated far more easily and more often and communicate their frustrations in ways that are far more extreme than ordinary children.


However a simple label does not begin to capture the upheaval, turmoil, trauma that outbursts cause.  These outbursts affect each member of the family.

How do we start to help an explosive child?

The explosive child or behaviourally challenging children need us to take a close look at our own beliefs about challenging behaviours.  This is an extremely challenging task to do alone because to do it successfully you have to really question your beliefs.  Your beliefs come from how you were raised, what you think about how to deal with challenging children and what messages that you are receiving from the community.  We have so many people offering suggestions on how to handle an explosive child.

Nevertheless what happens if you are being told something different to what you believe in how to help an explosive child?  This is not easy to do by yourself as it can feel like a tug of war inside it and we usually resort back to what we already know.

However, for parents who have an explosive child, they are usually asked to apply strategies that are often a far cry from ways to which most adults interact with and discipline children who are not behaviourally challenging.  You will also hear plenty of suggestions and opinions which can be challenging for families.

Nevertheless, one of the most important parts on handling an explosive child is actually understanding why they behave as they do.  The more accurate that your understanding can be, by itself, leads to improvements in your interactions with your child, even before any formal strategies are tried.

By understanding from your child’s point of view rather than just an adult’s assumptions is half the battle in reducing explosive outburst.

Always remember that a child will be successful if they have the tools to be successful.


Blaming Parents’ with Challenging Children.

Blaming parents' with challenging childrenSimply blaming parents’ with challenging children is not the answer to help solve the problems that these children are having.  There are no parents’ that are 100% consistent in their behaviour management and families are suffering.

When looking at research, the majority of research comes from unidirectional theories which blames the inept parenting practices as the primary factor influencing the development of explosive behaviour in children. Unidirectional theory is based on the emphasis that ‘a child’s outcome is the product of either characteristics of the child or the characteristics of the adults.  For instance, he’s explosive and non compliant because of his parent’s are inept disciplinarians or he is explosive and non complaint because he has Autism.  Because it focuses on only one element of the adult – child equation, the intervention options are usually a)fix the parent  b)fix the child.

The other issue is conventional wisdom.  Conventional wisdom means  “the generally accepted belief, opinion, judgment, or prediction about a particular matter” (  Parent’s are often told that they need to be firmer, less permissive, reward or punish.  A typical type intervention is a coercive method which focuses primarily on patterns of parental discipline that contribute to the development of coercive parent-child exchanges.

In the coercive model, there are 4 sub-types of parent inadequate discipline

  1. Inconsistent discipline
  2. Irritable explosive discipline
  3. Low supervision and involvement
  4. Inflexible rigid discipline.

Parent’s are encouraged to:

  • Establish a list of target behaviours with compliance with adult directives as the primary objective.
  • Establish a menu of rewards and punishments so as to give the child the incentive to comply with adult directives.
  • Develop a currency system for example points, stickers, token to track the child’s performances and trigger the reward and punishment system. (Dr Ross Greene, The Explosive Child).

The majority of our parenting skills come from how we were raised as children and it goes from generation to generation.  A lot of parent’s reflect on how they were raised and make decisions in regards to which parts they would continue as parent’s and which parts that you do not want to continue. Have you ever thought to yourself “I sound like my mum or dad?”  For a new parent to really reflect about how they were raised brings up a lot of emotions and if you are stuck at the cross road of how you want to raise your child it is extremely challenging to do by yourself.  Blaming parents' with challenging children

Nevertheless, if the above interventions worked then why are there still challenging children?  The simple answer is there is no one fits all method for all children.  Some children are able to adapt successfully to the above method but there are so many children where this method does not work and we need to change our own thinking and approach.  Behaviourally challenging children need us to take a closer look at our beliefs about challenging behaviours and apply strategies that are often a far cry from ways in which most adults interact with and discipline children who are not behaviourally challenging.

Throughout my study in Applied Behaviour Analysis, I have always used the idea that there is always a reason for a child’s behaviour.  Behaviour simply does not happen out of thin air.  There is always a reason for it and it needs to be uncovered to reduce the behaviour.  When integrating a child with severe Autism and non verbal into a mainstream outside school hours care, we were faced with a child who continually bit the adults caring for him.  Instead of looking simply at the behaviours and giving consequences to him, we looked at all the situations that occurred before the biting happened to understand the problem.  Once we started uncovering the causes of the behaviour and started implementing strategies to solve the problems, the behaviour naturally reduced in time.  Before I left on maternity leave, we did not have any more situations where he bit staff and we had tapped into his personality.

Ross Greene in his book The Explosive Child he states “Behaviourally challenging kids are challenging because they’re lacking the skills to not be challenging.”  I do not know how many times I have pondered this thought but when I look at my experience with children with Autism and raising our own girls with Autism, a lot of it does come down not having certain skills and it creates the behaviour.

The majority of challenging children lack the skills of flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance and problem solving.  By looking deeply into these areas will help you to uncover the problems that have not been solved which will reduce the behaviour.

With my own children I have been applying these strategies when they have their meltdowns.  With my youngest daughter, she has a lot of trouble with flexibility and adapting to changes.  When she needs to adapt, her current response is screaming at me, hitting me and hiding under the table.  By understanding that transition to different activities (especially before school) is a skill that she needs help to develop, together we have come up with solutions which reduces the behaviour.  The best thing I have found for the transitioning problem is purchasing a timer with the red circle that is a visual prompt to how long she has got before she needs to do something else.

If what you are doing is currently not working, then I would encourage you to stop and reflect on what your beliefs to parenting is and realise the importance in changing your approach.  You will have people judging you and telling you all the methods through conventional methods but the difference is usually they do not have a child with challenging behaviours.  Blaming parent’s with challenging children is not the answer.

We run a Challenging Behaviour Busting program that helps you uncover all of these areas and if you want to know more simply email me at or look under Services for more information.  Blaming parents' with challenging children