I posted a few weeks ago about how Ross Greeneâ€™s book â€œThe Explosive Childâ€ provided me with some renewed energy in working with one of my sons. I finished the book a while ago, incorporated new strategies and have, in some ways, already moved beyond them.
One of the core strategies presented in the book for dealing with explosions is prevention. Greene recommends identifying what triggers them and pre-planning alternate approaches to dealing with the triggers. The general idea is that the child doesn’t want to have a meltdown either, so work with him or her to be prepared for the triggers.
They are good ideas and good strategies. However, I felt that something was missing. If I identify the cause of the trigger, I’m only guessing at it. Put another way, I can probably identify the external cause, but I can only guess at why that external event triggers a meltdown. The real cause of the meltdown is the internal reaction, not the external event. I have two choices for identifying the internal cause, I can guess or I can have my son tell me.
Guessing is pretty easy, and has some short term benefits as I can probably help avoid some of the triggering events. The benefits have limits: I may guess wrong or I may not be able to prevent all the external events.
Somewhere along the line, without fully being aware of it, I decided that I was going to use each meltdown as a window into what my son is actually feeling. I started asking more questions about how he felt, what kind of help he wanted, and what he wanted to do. I gave him options and let him choose if he was able. I let him answer questions if he could. Of course all this was packaged up with the usual techniques of back scratching and cuddling with our dog Stitch. If he couldn’t tell me what he needed, I waited.
I don’t know if this technique will help but it has the potential to teach both my son and me some lessons about the causes of the meltdowns. Hopefully we can then both learn and adapt. Tonight was probably the first time that he was able to tell me what precipitated the meltdown without placing blame on something external. Our next step will be to try to talk about it when he’s calm.
The hardest thing for me is that it’s been absolutely necessary for me to give up all preconcieved notions on how a particular meltdown will work out. It may mean my son goes to bed an hour late, eats oatmeal for dinner, or misses a planned family event. It may mean I go to work late, or not at all. I need to drop everything else and just be present for him.
Or if I can’t do these things, I need to turn to my wife and give her the signal to take over. And yes we really do have signals. Some involve words, others use gestures, and some rely on being able to dial the cell phone ‘hands free’ in the middle of meltdown.
I found an unexpected benefit to this approach. If I’m able to completely give up all my other plans and give my full attention to my son, even a meltdown is an opportunity for quality time. As we work through it together, we’re getting to know and trust each other more and more.