One book we really like here at The Yellin Center is The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross Greene, Ph.D. The book’s been around for almost 20 years and, despite its name, is a great resource for anyone who is a parent or teacher of children who experience challenging behaviors. Almost every child could use help with some behavioral expectation, whether it’s escalating sibling rivalry or difficulty stepping away from social media as bedtime approaches. Greene’s book outlines a method of collaborative problem-solving, in which children and adults work together to solve problems and curb challenging behavior while improving communication skills.
Dr. Greene starts by debunking those myths we’ve heard so many times – that kids are choosing to behave badly and they just want more attention. The mantra of the book is that kids do well if they can; when the demands of a situation exceed the skills a child has to adaptively respond to those demands, challenging behavior will occur. In other words, lots of children want to succeed and follow the rules, but they are delayed in the development of some of the necessary skills for doing so. Children with executive functioning difficulties are particularly at risk, as they often have trouble with controlling their behaviors and emotions when things start to get heated. The goal then is to figure out what skills the child is lacking and how this is resulting in a behavioral difficulty. The method, which he calls “Plan B,” walks caregivers through three steps:
- empathizing with the child by seeking out his or her perspective about the difficulties he or she is having
- sharing the adult’s concerns respectfully by noting how it is affecting the child and other people in the child’s life
- inviting the child to join in the process of brainstorming potential solutions that address the concerns of both problem-solving partners
“Plan B” helps parents, teachers, and students work on their executive functioning skills while they’re working through challenging behaviors. The book also addresses ways the process can be used with siblings, between two students, and as a collaboration among parents and teachers. Are you wondering why it’s called “Plan B”? The more traditional reward-and-punishment approach (“Plan A”) to sparking behavior change might work for a lot of students; but those who lack some of the executive functioning skills like inhibition, flexibility, and frustration tolerance need something that will help them build those skills up as part of the process. There’s a lot to learn from Dr. Greene’s collaborative approach to problem-solving, and many useful tools are available for free on the website.