Are today's parents looking for easy solutions

An article in Salon reviews a new book that called The Explosive Child. This book was written to help parents of children with bipolar disorder or other severe behavioral problems. The author suggests that parents should generally be lax with minor outbursts of poor behavior from a small child, and give in to their demands when possible, while enforcing discipline only when the child turns aggresively violent.

The reviewer, who is a behavioral pediatrician, disagrees with this advice for two reasons. First, parents who don’t discipline disruptive kids will fail to solve their problems. Instead, they will create even more severe behavioral problems later in life. Secondly, the author of The Explosive Child seems to advocate a “one size fits all” approach to dealing with behavioral issues that doesn’t actually require too much parental effort. The reviewer feels that it sets a dangerous precedent to tell parents that they don’t need to be deeply involved in the lives of their children, especially in cases of severe behavioral disorders.

So the great debate has two parts.

1.) Are parents being lured into believing in oversimplified solutions to complex problems?

2.) If so, what effects will this have on children who are raised by the methods advocated in the book?


Some of them appear to be doing so. Look at the popularity of giving drugs to children who have so called behavioral problems. While I don’t doubt that some of them did need the drugs I wonder if they were over prescribed. It sounds to me like the reviewer was concerned that drugs were being used as a quick solution.

If I may quote a section of the review.

Doing this will teach the child that she can use intimidation to get what she wants. If she can bully mommy what’s to stop her from bullying other kids at school? Either someone will eventually knock her block off or she’ll turn into an even better bully. Under no circumstance should bad behavior be rewarded.


The author of that book should be shot. He is giving parents an excuse to be bad parents. To be a real good parent, they should get involved in the lives of their children, even devote themselves to it. That’s how you raise a good child. I think too many parents these days dont pay enough attention to their kids. They are letting t.v. and other such media raise their children. If you didn’t want to devote most of your life to your kids, then you shouldn’t have had them. It’s the children who are suffering.

I think kids who are raised with such methods will be spoiled. They will expect to get everything they ask for, but when they hit reality, it will crush them like a car hitting a brick wall at 60mph.

Errr… have any of you actually read The Explosive Child? Done any reading about the explosion of diagnosis of bipolar disorder in kids today? Found out anything about Diller’s prejudices against using medication with kids?

Have you raised or worked with kids who are exceptionally difficult?

In simple words - what actually qualifies you guys to debate this? I’m seeing a lot of opinion here but if you haven’t even read the book then it’s a bit silly to debate it isn’t it?

You know…
We’re a bunch of hacks on an internet bulletin board…

If qualifications mattered we wouldn’t have any fun around here:)


I am QUALIFIED to tell you the effects this book will have on me.

It means an increase in frustration while you are waiting in the supermarket checkout line and the dweeb in front of you is being terrorizied by her kid.

It means blocking out increased screaming at Barnes and Nobles while some jackass calmly looks at magazines while his out of control kid screams and yells as he tugs on the dad’s pants.

It means choking down the urge to [ redacted ] these kids [ redacted ] of the head and tell them [ redacted ]. Then [ redacted ] the parent and telling [ redacted ].


I have read the book.

In fact, we bought extra paperback copies to give to my son’s teacher and grandmother.

I doubt the reviewer did more than scan this book. This book is not intended to be a general child rearing text. The doctor who wrote this book intended this method to be used for children with a very specific type of behavioral problem. And rather than being an approach that “doesn’t require too much parental effort”, it requires a great deal of concerted effort on the part of the parents and the child.

The author describes this group of children as “inflexible explosives.” These kids, in his opinion, have a sort of developmental delay in their thinking processes. The techniques he proposes are intended to help these children acquire the ability to behave in normal, healthy ways.

What does “inflexible explosive” mean? Basically, these children have extrememly rigid thought processes. When things don’t happen they way they expect, they have great difficulty figuring out what their options are. (Most children will acquire this ability sometime between toddlerhood and school age. These kids just can’t do it on their own. They need help learning.) They get “stuck” and often react with anger/frustration. When they do explode, many of them go into a sort of fugue state. They are not in control of their reactions, much like a temper tantrum in a toddler. Lecturing, scolding, or even just trying to “talk it out” are useless, because the child is not thinking in any sort of logical way and may well not remember anything after it is over. The more common parental responses (time out, suspension of privileges) do nothing to solve the problem. Typical punishment/reward systems, behavioral modification, etc. don’t work because they do not address the underlying issue. Parents who use a heavy handed approach with this type of child often end up with a frighteningly violent teenager.

The reason that parents are encouraged to let some things slide is that the kids can only work on so much at a time. The author suggests a three-pronged approach. You have one group of behaviors that are unquestioningly unacceptable, behaviors that are dangerous. Those are never allowed to slide. You have a second group of behaviors that you are working on. The key is to catch the potentially frustrating situation before it crosses over into an explosion, and help the child work it through. And you have a third group of behaviors that, while they are perhaps unpleasant, you can ignore for now, so the child is not overwhelmed. This is part of a learning process for a very specific group of children, not a full time parenting philosophy. And it is expected that, over time, parents will let fewer and fewer things slide, as the child’s thought processes mature.

This post has become rather lengthy. If anyone is interested, I can continue with a more detailed explanation (here or in e-mail) but I will stop here.

I think that the problem here is hte same problem we see with Ritlain/ADHD. There are kids who undoubtably suffer from ADHD. Those kids need to be treated in a way that would be detrimental to kids wihtout ADHD. However, as there is no 100% accurate litmus test to discover who is “really” ADHD, we get a lot of misdiagnosis and misapplication of treatment, with horrific results.

I see the same problem with this book. Yes, there are kids who have this strange inflexibility in thier thought patterns. And perhaps (I am not expert) the idea of picking your battles with kids like this makes sense. However, that same approach to a kid who has perfectly flexable thought patterns will encourage them to grow up to be manipulitive bullies.

I suppose the only solution to this is that parents should a) pay at least as much time studying thier own unique child as they spend studying books about other people’s children and b) if your child gets diagnosed with anything, make sure that the doctor/thearpist/teacher that makes that diagnosis dosn’t have a hait of making the exact same diagnosis for 75% of thier patients. It seems like overdiagnosis is often caused by a therapist who just got back from a particular conference.

Another problem with approaches like these is that it is easier to do them poorly than some traditional approaches. A related example: every good teacher knows that cooperative learning (group learning) is much, much harder to pull off well than traditional teaching. At the same time, cooperative learing is much, much easier than traditional teaching if you do a piss-poor job of it. So you can have two teachers using cooperative learning techniques and one s going above nad beyond the call of duty and the other is mostly looking to get out of grading. And to the layman very casually passing through, they look the same. (Though of course, and degree of close inspection will reveal the difference). I think that the same problem arises from techniques like the book in questions: one parent may be sincere, and successful, and another may be using it as an excuse for casual parenting.

With respect to facile diagnoses provided either by parents who use the book as their primary source of information on the condition or by health care providers who devote insufficient care to ensuring the accuracy of the diagnosis: what Manda JO said.

robinh, I’m not going to question the accuracy of the diagnosis of your son (and I wish you only the best of success in securing a successful outcome), I would like to ask you a couple of questions:

  1. Does the book appear to be marketed to the general public, or is it primarily obtained through references from doctors?

  2. Does the author caution against facile self-diagnosis, or does he appear to assume that anyone reding the book has already been competently assured of a diagnosis?

kaylasdad99, my son (who is 9) has never been formally diagnosed with any specific disorder. His behavior has never been so extreme as to have required consultation with a psychologist. When I read this book, I was amazed at how well the author was describing Ben’s behavior patterns, but I was also horrified at how much worse off some of these children are. Part of the reason, I believe, that Ben has had an easier time of it is that we were able to recognize many of his issues early on. Also, it is clear that his delays in learning these skills are far less severe than those of the children described in this book. Going by what the author of The Explosive Child says, we have pretty much been doing just what we need to do. The book was very helpful, in that it gave us a vocabulary to use in working with this issue and also reassured us that we were still on the right track.

When Ben was 2, a friend recommended Raising Your Spirited Child. This book was very useful in helping me understand my son. For instance, he has always had a problem with transitions. He liked to know what was going to happen, and when. Even pleasant surprises were stressful, because he had such a difficult time going from one activity to another. Obviously, giving him warnings (i.e. “In 5 minutes, we’ll clean up the toys and have dinner.”) was important. But even something like deciding on the spur of the moment to go out for ice cream could bring on a tantrum, simply because he wasn’t expecting it.

When he was about 2 1/2, I came home from shopping with a small toy I happened to pick up. I pulled it out of the bag and offered it to him. He refused to take it and became agitated when I tried to cajole him into doing so. Remembering what I had read in the Spirited Child, I suggested that, if he wanted to, he could just look at it in the packaging. Amazingly, this suggestion was just what he needed. He accepted the gift and examined it through the plastic for ten minutes or so. Then, apparently having gotten used to the idea that I had unexpectedly brought home a gift, he asked me to open it.

In this way, we have made allowances for him and allowed him leeway in social situations. For instance, it is generally considered impolite for a child to wander away during a birthday party. But we understood (and explained to the other parents) that this sort of event was very stressful for him and that taking 5 or 10 minutes alone might allow him to enjoy the experience and avoid a meltdown. We not only allowed it, we encouraged it. By the time he was 6 or 7, he could recognize the feelings of stress on his own and choose to take a “time out” without our having to suggest it. I do not consider this to be “spoiling” or “coddling.” I consider this to be allowing a child to learn and grow at the pace in which he does best.

Ben is also physically hypersensitive in many ways, which is common in the explosive children that Dr. Greene describes. He wears cotton clothing almost exclusively (he can pick out a poly/cotton blend by feel), until recently had to have all the tags cut out, takes a long time to get his shoes tied just the right way, gets stressed out by loud noises and crowds, etc. (All of which apply to me, too, so this part was easy to understand.) Because we were able to recognize this about him, and were willing to allow him to work up to things like parades and birthday parties (instead of trying to force him to enjoy them) he has gradually built up an almost normal tolerance for many things that were completely out of the question only 4 or 5 years ago. For instance, he didn’t just tolerate the fireworks this year, he actually enjoyed them. This was a big step.

One way that Ben’s rigid type of thinking manifested itself was an extreme reluctance to try new things, especially in public. He was (and is) very concerned with making mistakes. When he was 4 we enrolled him in preschool. We knew that he would have a very difficult time in kindergarten if he didn’t have an opportunity to practice first. We found a program that focuses on children with various special needs and learning delays/disabilities. They also accept a number of “normal” children (of which Ben was one, not having any sort of formal diagnosis.) With only 7 other children in the class, and 2 teachers who were used to children with differing needs and abilities, he was able to learn how to behave in a school setting in a very relaxed atmosphere. For instance, he would never sing a song aloud until he knew all the words perfectly, or play a new game until he was sure he knew all the rules, but no one tried to force him to join in until he was ready. Understanding that he processes things differently has helped us to help him. If we had tried to force him to behave just like his sisters we would probably have created the sort of anxious, out-of-control child that this book describes.

A big part of the inflexible-explosive personality is a tendancy to black-and-white thinking. These kids have great difficulty seeing any sort of grey areas. That is part of why even small changes or seemingly insignificant problems so easily frustrate them.

In the example that the reviewer refers to

the situation is not quite as it seems. It looks like this 11 year old girl is being selfish, spoiled and bratty and her parents are being asked to give in. In reality, it goes something more like this: The girl makes herself waffles for breakfast. She notes that there are enough left for another serving, and she plans to have them for breakfast again the next day. When her brother reaches into the freezer and takes out the box, her only thought is “He can’t have them. I am going to have them tomorrow.” And she has a tantrum. She doesn’t do this for attention, she doesn’t do it because it is fun, she doesn’t do it because she is spoiled. She does it because she cannot come up with any other options. It does not occur to her that she could decide to have something else, or that she could ask her mother to buy more. What the parent is asked to do here is to recognize that she has hit a snag (the author refers to this as a “vapor lock”), and to intervene (before she explodes) and help her find a solution. This is very different than giving in. It is also very different than putting your foot down and ending the discussion. Neither of those two options will help this girl acquire the skills she needs.

As to your questions, kaylasdad99,

1.The book is available at the bookstore. Parents who are feeling frustrated with their children might pick it up. But any parent of a “normal” child is going to quickly realize that these children are expressing extreme and out-of-the-ordinary behaviors that do not apply to their own child and, perhaps, say a small prayer that they don’t have to deal with that.

  1. This book doesn’t offer a specific diagnosis, but instead looks at a group of children with a particular tendancy in their thought patterns, some of whom have other diagnoses (such as ADD or bi-polar disorders) which exacerbate the issue.

I think too many parents these days are hung up on what disorders their children have. They expect their kids to be totally in tune with the world, and know what’s going on. That’s not the case, though. Kids are in their own world. Until they hit puberty or lose their innocence in some other way, they won’t have any idea of the world around them.

I also think kids need to be outside more these days. Alot of kids just sit around, watching tv, playing games, etc. I’m sure if you ask any competent doctor, he’ll tell you that.

And if your kid has ADD, don’t just fill him full of drugs, make him exercise!! I’m sure most parents could use a little themselves.

Fair enough, robinh, and thank you for your candor.

Again, I wish you the best of luck in successfully dealing with your son’s condition until he’s blessed with a less dysfunctional set of neuro-physiological responses.

Wow. Thanks for the profound insights! I’m thrilled to learn that I must have been consulting incompetent doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and so on and so forth. Makes it all so much easier and incidentally it could save me thousands each year.

So OK I’m taking notes here. You reckon all I need to do stop worrying and send my kid outside to play? Kids don’t have disorders in the place where you live?

Nope I just got to the really scintillating piece of advice! I should take the drugs! Wow.

I’m stunned.

Truly stunned.

Seeing as how this is Great Debates and so far ssj_man2k all you have offered us is your opinion unsubstantiated by anything even remotely resembling research or sound medical practice I’m going to ask you to back up your assertions.

It’s been proven that the best cure for ADD is exercise. And it just seems like these days every parent thinks his kid has a disorder cuz they act like a kid, and they need all these drugs to cure it.

Excuse me, not cure, treatment.

Other aspects of your umbrage-taking aside, I’m pretty sure ssj_man2k was suggesting that the parents could use the exercise, not the drugs.

(Please forgive me, I can’t help myself.)

But you might try taking a chill pill.


Proven, huh? Well, ssj_man2k, I’m going to have to ask you for a cite on that. My brother had a ferocious case of what is now called ADHD. He was also a very physically active child – much more so than average, even in the '70s. He never “just [sat] around, watching tv.” In fact, he never “sat around” doing anything for much longer than 10 minutes, because 10 minutes was about as long as his attention span stretched without medication. So, as I said, I’d need to see a cite before even entertaining the idea that exercise is a cure (or even a treatment for) ADHD.

Ahh yes kaylasdad - I think once one actually deciphers the incoherencies contained within the post one could extract that meaning :wink:

Me take chill pill? Not bleeding likely! I’m more than interested in different points of view WRT how to manage difficult children and whether meds are needed or useful but strangely enough in GD I don’t feel out of line asking for actual cites and evidence other than some random person’s opinion. I can get enough random opinions on how to manage my kids on any given day without needing to accept this kind of baseless nonsense in GD.

ssj_man2k? Cites please?

Sorry dude, but I’ve never heard that exercise is the best treatment for a chemical imbalance of the brain. Maybe where you come from, everything is solved with a little exercise. “Obsessive compulsive?? Go run around the block twice.” “Think you may be schizophrenic? Do 50 situps and call me in the morning”.

Anyway, I think I’d like to see a cite for this too.


You mean, all this time I’ve been spending all this money on Ritalin, I could’ve just gone outside and played and I’d be cured?!?!

Well kiss my own ass!

Here’s one point that should be brought up about diagnosing behavioral disorders in children. Most people, including parents, see questions about behavioral disorders in terms of black and white. Each child either has a particular disorder or they don’t, and there’s no middle ground. In real life, though, all such disorders exist on a spectrum from mild to severe cases. Thus it can’t always be clearly defined whether a child “has” a certain disorder.

For example, both my brother and I were diagnosed as being slightly autistic when we were four. We both went through therapy and medication for several years. It worked perfectly for my older brother, who became s real social butterfly. For me things didn’t go very well, and I didn’t develop good communication skills until high school. However, one of the problems that my parents had when talking with friends, relatives, teachers, or anybody else about our autism was that people rarely understood the problem. As soon as the word “autistic” was mentioned, it conjured up images of children who couldn’t speak, were unwilling to meet new people, etc… Most people just couldn’t understand the idea of a mid case of autism.

So I think that’s something that needs to be considered when asking whether certain disorders are overdiagnosed.

Oh, one final thing: Ross Greene, the author of The Explosive Child, has written a letter in response to the article.