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9 Tips for Parenting an Explosive Kid

When I published Parenting an Angry Child, I received an overwhelming response.  Parents want to talk about this and I want to continue the conversation.

One of the comments on that post was from a fellow blogger Shawn Fink who wrote Abundant Mama, and what she wrote included a number of tools for parents.  I asked if she could expand a bit.  Here is her guest post.

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{Welcome Shawn :: Abundant mama}

I am the mother of twin girls both raised the exact same. One can be very angry. The other is as calm as calm can be. My angry girl is only angry at home. She is awesome in school and elsewhere.

When I read the post by Alissa, I felt instant relief. I had been suffering in silence.

I had been writing a lot about dealing with an angry child but I hadn’t confessed that that’s why I was doing it. Her special personality is why I have written so much about peaceful parenting on my blog Abundant Mama.

Because I felt like I had been doing something wrong.

Then the problem got intensely worse this summer.

My husband and I tried everything but traditional behavior doesn’t work. Not rewards. Not praise. Definitely not consequences. Definitely not time outs. Definitely not time ins. Nothing.

I handled this problem like all the others by digging into research to learn all I can learn. Once I did that I quickly realized she needs my help to learn how to cope with her problems and leading her to greatness has become a personal challenge for me.

It has been six weeks and I am happy to report that she is showing a dramatic decrease in her explosions and she is cooperating much better. The few explosions she’s had in the last week were short lived and she was easily calmed down with distraction. This is a huge improvement.

My response is key. If I say nothing and just wait until she’s calm to address the issue, things are calmer. I encourage her to make the right choices – but we let her make those choices. This is not the traditional parenting but she’s an exceptional child and needs things to be different. Holding off on responding to a behavior issue that could be a trigger to an outburst is not always easy, especially when trying to get out the door in the mornings, but it is necessary. Plus, she and I are a lot alike so we butt heads a lot anyway. We no longer discipline but we do let natural consequences teach her some valuable lessons.

Use a hand signal.
When she starts to sass me I immediately put my finger to my lips and puff out my cheeks. It’s a very clear signal to her that I am not going to engage in that argument with her. I came up with this idea for myself — so that I would remember not to debate with her — while spending a day at a silent retreat ironically after a very rough morning with her. Magically, this hand signal has become a universal sign for us both to just walk away and stop. She almost immediately responds with silence and cooperation. This step is quite possibly the most important step in this list. But, like with most angry children, this cannot be overused or the child may come to resent it.

Log the outbursts.
This has been key for me. I have a notebook in the kitchen where I write the date, the time, the way the outburst started, how it evolved, our response, and what we, the parents, could have done differently to change the outcome of the situation. Once I started this, I quickly realized all of her outbursts were before a meal or before bedtime. I also realized that in some of the incidents I could have handled the situation better. As a result, I have learned to parent more effectively.

Give her a pass. I made a deal with myself. If her outburst happens before a meal when she’s hungry or before bed when she’s tired, I forgive it entirely. Guess what? I’m giving a lot of passes. As soon as I started doing that, I started having more empathy for her because I know that it’s because she’s hungry or tired and not because she’s trying to hurt me intentionally.

Meet her needs. This angry girl needs smaller meals all day rather than three main meals. She needs to snack often. She needs to eat. I found a direct correlation between feeding her often and her behavior being more balanced. So, I carry snacks everywhere and I now just trust that she knows when she needs to eat. It is what it is. She also needs more sleep despite her pleas to stay up late and skip napping.

Show empathy.
If I’m not brushing her concerns to the side, she’s more likely to calm down faster. She wants me to understand her and her frustrations. And while I always cared about her needs, I wasn’t showing that to her by sitting with her and helping her work through those very big feelings she gets.

Work on the real issues when she’s calm. She’s so clearly needing to master things such as patience building, understanding the feeling of disappointment, kindness for others and problem solving. I thought she had mastered all of these things before until she turned 6 and then it just went out the window. We’re back-to-basics. So, we’re reading a lot of books – things like My Mouth is a Volcano, Peaceful Piggy, Moody Cow. We’re reading a lot of poetry, too. See below.

Pick your battles. In The Explosive Child you learn about the basket approach to parenting. I like Basket C a lot – you know when you get to ignore some of the annoying behaviors. I like it because when I did that I felt like I had seriously been empowered. I could relax a little and begin working on one problem at a time. I didn’t feel so overwhelmed. Plus, many of those tiny things really aren’t a big deal in the long run so I’m OK with looking beyond them to concentrate on the bigger things.

Read together. We’ve read a poetry book that is helping her cope as well as well as get a different perspective on the world and how she fits into it. The one she likes is called “I Like Being Me,” by Judy Lalli. There are a couple poems in there that she relates to including one about being cranky. Also, another poetry book called Poems Children Will Sit Still For helped her realize her favorite word is yes after reading a poem called My Favorite Word. Now that she understands that she wants everything to be yes but that is not possible, she seems more cooperative and ever so slightly patient. I also got out the book “My Mouth Is a Volcano!” by Julia Cook. She’s very upset this is a library book and wants her own copy – she loves it that much.

I finally feel like we’ve turned the corner. Is she cured? No. Just this morning she has begun button pushing that if I were to respond to would result in an explosion – her word, not mine. But, the fact that she’s talking about the problem, admitting there is a problem and trying her best to handle her anger is a fantastic start.

Hugs to all the parents out there dealing with this. It is not easy but we can nurture and love these children.

Shawn Ledington Fink is founder of Abundant Mama and her current work is focused on helping people create a more meaningful life based on their values and strengths.She is the host of The Brave Yes Show and a Coach. Her popular articles delve into self-care, burnout, overwhelm and identity. You can find out more here.

More resources on dealing with anger in your family:

Alissa Zorn stands near a pond with an orange shirt on wearing a black button down over that.
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Alissa Zorn is an author, and founder of the website Overthought This. She's a coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa is certified through the International Coach Federation and got her Trauma-Informed Coaching certification from Moving the Human Spirit. She wrote Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection, and is always following curiosity to find her next creative endeavor.