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Review of "The Explosive Child"

By Ross W. Greene
Harpercollins, 1998
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Oct 31st 2000
The Explosive ChildEven though The Explosive Child has over 300 pages and 14 chapters, it elaborates an extremely simple set of ideas. Some children have great difficulty regulating their anger, and make the lives of both their families, their class mates, and themselves a misery. In many cases it does no good to punish these children; they do not need to be taught a lesson, and they are not being manipulative. It is often far more productive to decide on a few high priorities for the child, such as her safety, and to not battle over other issues. Learn to anticipate and avoid what will cause the child to become angry. Find ways to diffuse potentially explosive situations before they happen. Help the child to learn to compromise and to express her frustration in verbal ways rather than physically destructive ways.

This is a smart yet approachable book. The author, Ross Greene, ingratiates himself with me even before page one by quoting Aristotle: "Anyone can become angry, that is easy ... but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way ... that is not easy. " (This must be from the Nichomachean Ethics). Most of Greene's writing is not particularly sophisticated in its style -- it is rather colloquial and straightforward. He uses phrases like "meltdown" and "brain freeze" to describe the psychology of children with explosive rage, and most chapters have plenty of sample discussions between parents, himelf, and children, to illustrate his points. Furthermore, he doesn't address larger social issues or trends in the treatment of children for behavioral problems. The focus is narrow: he provides new ways for parents and educators who have been struggling with difficult children for years to think about seemingly intractable problems.

Maybe most remarkable is the way that he does not distinguish systematically between different mental disorders. Although he mentions ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and other conditions such as ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), Tourettes, depression, and bipolar mood disorder, he describes his techniques as applying to all of them. He has no reservations about the use of medication when appropriate for children, and says that his methods can be used in conjunction with medication. But fundamentally he is a family therapist and he is concerned with finding ways for families to interact with each other more successfully.

Greene's approach is not a simplistic "one size fits all" solution. Rather it is a methodology for dealing with difficult cases. It could even be useful reading for parents of "normal" children if they find themselves in arguments and fights more than they would like. Although a little repetitive, it made a great deal of sense. I can't say whether his methods work -- that's the job for the scientific appraisal of child psychology -- but they certainly seem to be worth trying.

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