Thoughts About Ross Greene’s “The Explosive Child”
I appreciate the challenges I’ve received from Lisa, Bev, and Allan regarding my classification of Ross Greene as an Old School author. I’ve re-read my copy of The Explosive Child (second edition), and I must admit a) that I did misunderstand some of his approach, and b) that he belongs in the New School camp, and not the Old School. I have changed the chart (“Parenting Authors: A Continuum”) to reflect that.
In spite of the fact that I’ve had problems with some of Dr. Greene’s ideas (see below), I’ve loved the Behavior Baskets imagery and its usefulness as a working tool for parents. I developed a handout for parents in my classes, and use it often (with full credit to Dr. Greene), and some time ago posted this handout on this site. I also appreciate more now than before his emphasis on problem-solving based on understanding and empathy, and his teaching parents to ask the child for ideas on how to solve the problem after stating the two sides of the conflict. I also like his emphasis on parents intervening at the beginning stages of a meltdown (“vapor lock”), and the ineffectiveness of back-end strategies (punishments), that typically do not work well as a teaching tool, and can cause more harm than good.
Some of the problems I originally had with Dr. Green’s approach I still have. These are what got in the way of my appreciating the value of his front-end engagement of children in problem solving as a set of genuinely New School techniques that Old School parents and professionals don’t often use. The difficulties I’ve had (which he might have addressed in a later edition) include the following.
1.His pervasive use of the term “mental debris” to describe the exploding child’s rantings. For example, “So what do I do when he starts screaming about how I’ve raised him?” the mother asked. “I’m assuming that’s just mental debris–the stuff that comes out of Danny’s mouth when he’s not thinking clearly.” (p. 213) Isn’t this demeaning?
2.Related to #1, what seems to be an almost total lack of paying any real attention to children’s ideas about their own problems, or their critique of their parents, except for when a professional does a diagnostic interview with the child. Why aren’t parents taught to pay attention to this stuff, in addition to inviting the child’s solutions?
3.His idea that “achieving an in-depth, accurate understanding of the precise factors underlying a child’s difficulties is critical to designing interventions that are well-matched to his needs” (p. 105). Aren’t there some basic parenting skills that will go a long way toward effectively addressing those needs?
4.Related to #3, his general recommendation that parents put the child and themselves through a daunting string of diagnostic exams by professionals in order to achieve the understanding they “need” in order to help their child (pp. 105-109). Is this ultra-thorough professional scrutiny really necessary before parents can be more effective?
5.The fact that (as I read his examples), while children are consistently asked for their ideas on solving the problem at hand, children’s ideas rarely play a significant role in framing solutions. The parents almost always come up with the compromise solutions, to which the children usually agree. Not that this is bad. But wouldn’t it be better to work harder at actually obtaining, and then using, the kids’ ideas?
6.His mistaken notion that parents can control children’s behavior and determine when they will have a meltdown. (“…you’re exerting more control–not less–over his behavior than before…So, instead of feeling like you have absolutely no control over your child, you’ll start finding that you actually have a great deal of control” p. 153.) Is this really true? Influence, yes; but control?
7.And finally his exclusive focus on young children. Many teenagers have these inflexible, explosive problems, too. Does this approach work with them?
Finally, the fact that Dr. Greene limits the book to his work with parents of young children, and in therapy, is certainly not a bad thing. I recognize that he’s helping many parents, children, and professionals this way, and Lord knows we need more of that! But these are limitations to a broader, “generalist,” approach to helping parents, children, and professionals.
Greene may not be trying to aim that broadly. If not, so be it. But I’d like to see him do it.
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.