Working with explosive children isn’t easy. Ask anyone who’s tried it. It’s like walking through a mine field. It’s not clear what might trigger a blast. A simple request or harmless comment by a peer may result in an unexpected outburst or a prolonged disruption of everyday activities and routines. These negative outcomes are discouraging. Preventing them requires knowing how to detect potential flare ups and short-circuiting negative behavior.
Detecting Potential Flare Ups
Some children are more vulnerable to emotional flare ups at certain times of the day. Arrival time can be hard for children who are worried about siblings or parents left at home. Special subject classes like music or physical education may trigger negative behaviors in children with a limited tolerance for change or stimulation. The fear associated with dismissal can cause some children to act out or display aggressive behavior.
Check in with children often. Find out how they are feeling. Let them know that you are interested in them and that you value their opinions. Encourage them to tell you when they need a break. Use rating scales or polling devices to determine if stress levels are at or beyond their comfort zone.
Short-circuiting Negative Behavior
Once a flare up occurs it’s in every one’s best interest to calm things down. Children with explosive behaviors often can’t do that on their own. They need adult help to regain control of their feelings and behavior. Here are three strategies to try:
Use Reverse Psychology
Explosive children love a good fight. Engaging an available adult in a power struggle is a great way for them to drain off angry and frustrating feelings. Refuse to cooperate. Agree with them instead. Acknowledge how badly they are feeling. Offer to help them find a better way of expressing it. Let them know you are on their side.
Create a Distraction
Explosive behavior can assume a life of its own. It’s hard to stop being angry without losing face. It sometimes helps to direct children’s attention somewhere else – preferably onto high interest activities or favorite self-soothing ones. Revisit the behavior later on when things are back to normal. Help children make a plan to repair any damage their behavior may have caused. Agree on a strategy they can use to avoid future outbursts.
Conduct an Autopsy
A social autopsy is used to uncover the cause of a flare up. It involves adults and children working together. Children are asked to reconstruct the events leading up to the current problem. It’s the adult’s job to listen closely and identify any distortions or misunderstanding of what took place.
Autopsies are best performed when children have calmed down. Repeated often enough they teach children to check for understanding before assuming the worst about a situation. And they provide adults with an inside look at the cognitive distortions that drive children’s explosive behaviors.
For more information about conducting social autopsies see www.RickLavoie.com