Moving Beyond The Explosive Child

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by SRL, Jun 7, 2008.

  1. SRL

    SRL Active Member

    Hi All,

    I want to pick your brains on this, especially those of you who've been there, done that.

    The Explosive Child was recommended to me in those early desperate years, and combined with other interventions, etc. has worked very well. I arrived here with a difficult child whose school anxiety was very debilitating and together with a reaction to an SSRI he'd reached the point where every issue he had (including ODD) had skyrocketed. Fast forward to today and he's functioning incredibly well--medication free, straight A student, several really good friendships, no discernable differences between him and other students according to his teachers, he follows rules at school, and he's developed acceptable coping skills or alternatives for issues like anxiety and sensory. He starts junior high in fall and we had to manufacture a few goals on his IEP because we all agreed he needed to be covered during his transition, otherwise he's reached the "no educational impact" point. At home he's still a difficult kid, but a lot more manageable than those difficult early years. Occasionally he'll go into rage mode--picked up a little last summer as he was approaching 12 so I think it is to some degree hormone driven. We still make some accomodations for anxiety but they're for the most part managable--such as tag teaming going to the other kids' events.

    I want to qualify all of the above by stating that while I celebrate the progress, I never, never take the stability for granted! We've been fortunate because he's been able to make progress without the medication merry go round and given time and space and peer modeling he usually gets to where he needs to be. I dropped him off at summer music day camp this past week for the first time--new school building, mostly new kids, teachers he'd never met--and he coped really well. Parents from the other side of the fence could never understand just how momentous these experiences are.

    I have felt this past school year that it's time to move beyond TEC and into more traditional responsibilities and consequences and I've really not got off the ground with this. We've just completed our first week of summer vacation and it's really become clear to me that he knows he's getting away with stuff. (There's sort of a "go ahead and punish me and see where it gets you" kind of an attitude when he acts up these days.) I did what I had to do to get through but now I need to tackle things like chores and consquences for treatment of siblings. I keep thinking this should be simple but it's as if I'm stuck here, afraid to rock the boat because he's made such incredible progress. We're getting good results with what we're doing, but could it be I'm holding him back by not expecting more?

    Not long ago a friend asked me how I expected him to learn skills that we'd let go here and my reply was that I didn't expect him to gain everything from home. He's doing better at school in areas such as organization and following through on instructions and accepting authority and I'm okay with that--better this way than the other way around. I don't regret doing what I did, because giving up what we did allowed him the space to deal with the pressures elsewhere, but it's time to move forward.

    Ideas, suggestions, experiences?
  2. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    SRL, your difficult child's story is really a teaching foundation for many parents who have young difficult child's with similar behaviors.
    I understand what you are saying about not tipping the boat. You want function and stability but adolescence doesn't always give you that with easy child's let alone difficult child's.
    My limited experience with difficult child's says they tend to have a sense of entitlement and always have it.
    In my black and white world, it should now become "fair" with his siblings. He should have the same expectations(within his ability) and consequences. This is also good for the sibs. They see you didn't give up on difficult child but that when he is able the expectations will be more equal. (not necessarily the same)

    First I would probably speak to him and put the plan out on an intellectual level so he understands why the rules are changing. You are simply trying to keep him level with his peer group. If he wants to be "normal" then these are normal expectations.

    He will fight it at times but he will understand your purpose. He seems to process that from you.

    No teen learns everything from home. They do get basic life lessons but a lot of what we say and teach is not evident until they are in the outside world.

    You have a pretty good handle of what he needs. I would follow your instincts and most importantly don't parent out of fear.
  3. slsh

    slsh member since 1999


    First off, gosh I admire your insight and thoughtfulness. Even with thank you not here, I still find myself more often than not parenting by reflex with him (i.e. putting out fires). While I try to do things and put forth expectations in a reasoned manner, very rarely do I actually get to follow through on any of it - his defiance and my exhaustion both play into that.

    I don't have a whole lot of experience in increasing expectations, being a horrible delegator! But I'm wondering if rather than presenting it in terms of "chores", perhaps as lifeskills might be the way to go. It's not just learning how to get the garbage out to the cans without spilling it from here to Timbuktu, but it's also about the awareness that garbage needs to go, daily. It's practice. Or cleaning room - because it's just one of those lifeskills that we all need to have and be in the habit of doing regularly. It's beginning the move from child to independent adult, not because *you* say so but because this is what all teens need to/should be doing.

    I do know with Wee, I'm probably more lenient when it comes to consequences because he is very easily tipped over into depression when I lower the boom. It's a balancing act with him. Grades, for example. I expect straight A's - he's perfectly capable if he would do the work. This year we started to back off a bit and it wasn't pretty. Initial consequence was he didn't get reward (item of their choice for straight A's). By progress report this last quarter, we were forced to apply more negative consequences (loss of internet and video games during the week, a *huge* deal to him). To top it off, the kid lied to me not once but 3 times in one evening about homework (#1 in basket A with non-difficult children in my house), so he lost his precious electronics for 2 weekends. Hopefully he got the message.

    But we also really emphasize why grades are so important now (to get into private HS), and why the grades will be so important in HS (to get into good college, preferrably with full-ride scholarship!!!), and why a good college is so important (so he can get a job that he wants and live the kind of life that he dreams of). It's all interconnected and while we're applying consequences here, we always try to keep the big picture in front of him - how it's not just us being "mean" and expecting him to be "perfect" but it's doing your best to prepare for the wonderful life he has waiting for him.

    So I guess in my long-winded way, what it boils down to is while you're increasing expectations at home, it really isn't about you or home in the long run. It's continuing his global education about how to live cooperatively in a community and take care of himself and those he cares about.

    Hope this makes sense - half cup of coffee on a early Sat, LOL.
  4. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    I haven't consciously thought about this in any detail, but we seem to have (at least in some areas) been moving beyond the earlier need to be super-cautious about keeping difficult child 3 from getting upset; he has learned a lot more self-control especially when dealing with people who don't take TEC on board (such as mother in law).

    But in other areas, he still needs to be handled with kid gloves. What has happened in our relationship with him (and the other kids) - we tend to be less authoritative for its own sake, and more communicative/respectful in general, providing we also get shown respect. Remember, this is after using TEC for some time and having worked the other way for long enough for him to learn that this is how you show respect.

    Now we're coming back the other way at times, and when he 'forgets' or is a bit upset and getting 'mouthy', I will sometimes chide him for it. Again, I'm also assessing his mood and mind-set, so I'm not just diving in blindly. If I think he has simply been thoughtless or hasty, I have no qualms about gently reminding him about his manners. These days I don't have to be all that gentle, as long as I'm clearly not belittling him for his forgetting.

    I do a lot of this instinctively. I now correct him where I feel it's needed or feel he can take it.

    But I'm still using TEC in all this. It's just that he's made so much progress, that a great deal more is now Basket B. And when you think about it, a kid who can cope with a loaded Basket B and no longer melts down as easily, is increasingly resembling a easy child.

    Remember - Basket B is where we will work on those behaviours but not to the point of provoking a meltdown. The thing is, I've got handling difficult child 3 down much finer now and we rarely provoke meltdowns these days, which gives me the room to push him harder to get results.

    Things have had to permanently change in some areas - we can never go back to the authoritative parent/submissive child. We have to maintain collaboration, equality and mutual respect. It is still very difficult to instill understanding that the older generation is to be listened to and wisdom valued more, purely because we are older and more experienced. For difficult child 3, we are all equal and should be heard equally. Unfortunately, society is not as equal as all that.

    So the next major lesson he has to learn - in some areas, in some situations, some people should be listened to and paid more attention than others purely because they are more qualified. This means that when he needs to know how to use a lathe, for example, he needs to understand that some people are better equipped to instruct him than others, and therefore should be respected MORE on the topic. For example, he should pay more attention to his father than to his 9 year old friend, when it comes to understanding how to use a lathe.

    Anything that he either doesn't understand, or can't grasp, or refuses to consider - we need to work on that. But we cannot try to use our own force of will to get him to comply - not that we ever could. All we can do is discuss, explain, hope he sees us as more expert in this area and therefore take our point of view on board maybe a little more than he would have otherwise.

    Again, we have to also consider how best to 'sell' to him the ideas we need. If we're talking about grades, we need to keep in mind that under TEC rules, he is no longer to be considered an item to be moulded to our will. It never worked that way, so why should we try that now? What we have always had to do - try to help him understand so he himself can choose the path to take.

    With grades - we ask what his ambitions in life are. We form a list of possibilities and always make it clear that the list is not set in stone. Then we work through the list and discuss how these goals could be achieved. We have to make sure it seems sufficiently possible and realistic to him.
    For example, difficult child 1 originally wanted to get into university and study animal behaviour. I would have loved him to do this as well. But his graduation marks were just not high enough, plus he has to work much harder than other students, just to write an essay.
    To get into uni, there are other pathways (evening college to build alternative qualifications and then springboard into uni as an advanced student) but partway through this process difficult child 1 made his own decision - this was not going to work. I was resistant but finally had to accept that he was entitled to make his own life choices.

    So now difficult child 1 has decided to try for an apprenticeship in carpentry. It's not what I would have chosen for him, but at least he's working towards something and the amount he's doing now indicates that he enjoys it, and his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) means he's fastidious about accuracy and workmanship. Further down the track there may well be aspects to the career path that can also make good use of his intellect.
    He is finding his own way.

    All we can do - equip them with a realistic and positive sense of self, plus a good work ethic. This cannot be imposed form outside, but must be something they adopt for their own reasons. If we have a good working relationship with our kids (thanks to TEC) then we have a BETTER chance of helping them learn to self-motivate.

    TEC puts us back in touch with our kids in a more collaborative relationship. But collaboration takes us permanently out of the driving seat. However, when we are talking about the entire life span of the individual, at some stage they need to have the capability and confidence to make their own decisions. All we can do is use the collaboration to ensure those decisions, even if they are not what we would ideally want, are at least wise decisions.

    If, after all your discussion, information and consideration your child consciously chooses to NOT put good grades high on his priority list, then you need to step back and accept this. Not easy. If your child is putting things high on his priorities that are not constructive at all (such as highest priority on drug-taking, sleeping and avoiding work) then you have deeper problems and TEC has not been able to do its full job because of these. Time to call in the cavalry.

    But think carefully. Ask him. What are his true priorities? Has he decided that rather than a college career, he just wants to get out and get a job, any job, and maybe make bigger decisions in a few years' time? For a difficult child, this may actually be a wise decision.

    Have faith in what you have achieved in your child and listen to what his goals now are. You may have done a better job than you think.

  5. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    Hey, SRL!! If you've read any of my posts you'll already know that I am no expert at this. But my 2 cents on this is that your difficult child is hitting the teen attitude and what I have found with mine is that some of this is best learned through natural consequences.

    There are times my punishments are minimal for things because I know the reaction from peers or other people outside of home or "the bike being torn up and unusable" will have more effect on him and is more apt to teach him a lesson than me being the "bad guy" which only leads him to concentrate on blaming me and being angry at me instead of realizing that his choice didn't get him the result that he wanted. This doesn't work for true difficult child behavior, but works well when it is typical "too big for my britches- I already know everything" behavior. If the behavior is directed at me- like being sassy for instance, then I'm not going to take him someplace or help him with something he wants.

    Somtimes though, even though it seems like the behavior is stemming from a bad attitude or just being obnoxious, it really is coming from not knowing a better way to deal with things. I only came to the board last year so I never knew of The Explosive Child when difficult child was younger. I still use the concepts and they have been ghelpful- of course the application is tweaked. But, once when difficult child was refusing to get out of bed and go to school, I thought it was typical teen behavior. But after calming myself down and going back and getting difficult child to open up, it turnss out that middle school peer stuff was really bothering him and our difficult child's want to fit in so badly and sometimes they think bad behavior is the way to "be cooll". We talked about choices and that there are more choices than being a geek or being " a bad kid" at school. So, it is hard to gage sometimes what is going on with difficult child and I keep making efforts to keep him opening up.

    Hope this helps a little....
  6. smallworld

    smallworld Moderator

    SRL, I personally don't plan on giving up on TEC. I really like the philosophy behind it and use it for my major difficult child son and for my daughters, even though they border on easy child. I think practicing the skill of collaborative problem solving can reach well into adulthood and can be used with friends, relatives, spouses and work colleagues.

    TEC doesn't mean leniency and letting everything go. Natural and logical consequences can still be employed. But to my way of thinking, focusing on solutions instead of consequences helps kids take ownership over their problem behaviors and learn from their mistakes.

    If you are feeling "stuck," I think it means you need to move more Basket C items into Basket B where you can work together with your difficult child to improve behavior. But I offer two caveats: Only work on one item at a time, and don't do it too close to starting middle school. It's wonderful that your difficult child is doing so well, but middle school can be a time of intense upheaval.

    I hope you are able to increase expectations in a way that feels comfortable to both you and your difficult child. Good luck.