The Best Thing You Can Do To Help An Explosive Child

I am going to write a doctor’s note for you stating that you have a serious medical condition. Perhaps this will help you get respite care from someone.

After months of crippling headaches, a stabbing sensation behind my right eye and shooting pains down the right side of my body, I finally went to see a neurologist.

Three MRI’s and two blood tests later, she figured out what was wrong with me.

Her diagnosis? I have two children who struggle every single day of their lives.

(Well, and I needed glasses because 42-year-old eyes don’t really work as well as 32-year-old eyes. Go figure.)

She literally wrote me a doctor’s note for rest.

I left the doctor’s office that day with one pressing thought- not taking care of me was taking its toll on all of us.

I had known it to be true for some time.

I heard myself snapping at the boys when they grew dysregulated. I felt myself crumble and cry when my youngest threw something at the wall. The more explosive the behavior, the less equipped I was the deal with it – exactly the opposite of what I knew we all needed.

It’s easy to get caught up in it all. Daily meltdowns, hourly meltdowns, all night long meltdowns are destructive in more ways than the damage our children do to the walls or the car windows.

In my case, the meltdowns had taken over our entire lives, including my own ability to care for myself. The doctor’s note was a wake-up call. My children needed me to be at my best, not my absolute, bottom of the barrel, barely scraping by worst.

Moreover, when did I stop thinking of myself as a person? A person needing basic levels of rest, care and love?

The Best Thing You Can Do To Help An Explosive Child

Part of figuring out this life is figuring out how to tackle what might be the most difficult and most important thing we can to do help our explosive children.

To really help our children, we have to care for the person they rely on most.

Self-care, when you have children who struggle with explosive behavior is not a luxury. It’s a part of the treatment plan.

Here is what I am learning about taking care of myself so that I can better take care of my children and their needs.

Accept That It Is Not All In Our Control

This is, by far, the most important thing I can share about how to really care for ourselves in all of this. It’s not a massage to schedule, or a friend to call, or a sleep routine to implement. It’s far more important than that.

In order to really be able to take care of ourselves, it is critical that we acknowledge that we cannot control everything that happens with our kids.

Sometimes, they are going to meltdown.

Sometimes, they will not be able to engage the way we need them to.

Sometimes, they will be explosive and dysregulated, despite our best efforts to help.

Part of the danger in sharing a series like this is believing that I somehow (or you somehow) can make all the tough days go away. Yes, there are so many things that can help. But sometimes, our children’s experience will be what it is going to be no matter what we do.

And accepting this is OK.  In order to allow ourselves the self-care we desperately need, we have to start here.

It is not our job to fix anything.

It is our job to help when we can and love fiercely when we can’t.

I am learning that an element of loving fiercely is making sure the person that cares for them is healthy and capable.

Just Do The One Thing

Part of me taking care of myself has been prioritizing one thing that I know makes the biggest difference in my overall well-being. For me, that is getting time away with my friends every once in a while. A dinner out, a trip to the spa, a night away at a hotel watching movies and sleeping more than usual – all of these are difficult to work out in my life.

But they are what ground me, remind me who I am and give me the time and space to breathe and feel like a person again (and not just a caregiver). I have had to get creative to manage the time and money to do this every few months, but it has been worth it for my entire family.

My husband gets his wife back refreshed.

My sons have a more patient and loving momma.

And I feel like God has showered me with grace and love through the wonderful women He has placed in my life.


Sleep is really, really hard to come by around here. It has been for 14 years and I still don’t really have great advice.

But the truth is we have to sleep. It is a biological fact.

Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture in war-torn areas. I understand why.

Without sleep, everything is more difficult. Without sleep, I am less likely to be able to stay calm and do all the things I need to do to help my children cope. Sleep is a huge element of self-care, but the one that is the most elusive for me.

The only thing I have found that works in seasons where my children are struggling at night and need me, is sacrificing everything else in order to get naps during the day.

This means the dishes will pile up and I will allow my boys to play video games for as long as they can sit still (which, incidentally, is never really as long as I hope) while I nap for 20 minutes or as long as they will let me.

This means that on the weekends, my husband will necessarily take over and I will sleep.

I find that sacrificing everything else for my own rest helps me and my children more than any other aspect of self-care.

Enjoy Your Other Children

Sometimes, when one of my boys is having a particularly difficult time, part of self-care is getting time alone with the one who is not struggling.

There is something very special about taking an hour and going to ice cream to reconnect with a child who is being left out in the midst of explosive meltdowns and aggression.

It’s good for my son and it’s good for my momma’s heart to just do something sweet and “normal.”

I absolutely consider this an element of my own self-care.

Leave Anyway

There will be times that your child is clinging to you as you walk out the door.

There will be times that your child is melting down and raging as you grab your keys.

There will be times that you cry in your car all the way to the spa because your son was so dysregulated but you left him anyway, knowing that you could help and your husband probably won’t be as capable.

My advice?

No matter how much guilt you feel, no matter how much the hypervigilance is making your heart pound, no matter how much you are worried about your child’s explosive behavior in your absence –

Leave Anyway.

We have to, have to, have to take care of ourselves. We are human beings. We are not caregivers or therapists that go home at the end of the day. There is no finish line in this life we lead. We have to find short breaks along the way.

Please allow me to say this again –

Self-care, when you have children who struggle with explosive behavior is not a luxury. It’s a part of the treatment plan.

All the other recommendations and tips for parenting explosive children in this series will not matter if you are not equipped to do them.

You are a person, independent of your child.

You are more than the meltdowns, the mothering, the cleaning up, the doctors’ appointments, and the therapies.

You matter.

Please take good care.

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  1. Thank you ! This is exactly what I needed to read today as I contemplate taking a few days away ALONE!

    1. It’s just something we have to include in our priorities (and so much easier to write about than actually do!). 🙂 I hope you enjoy a few days of rest.

  2. Oh friend, this is SO, SO, SO good!!!!!! I find myself in a similar situation. A really hard year led me to letting my diet slip drastically and apparently one’s body can only function under extreme stress being fueled by high fructose corn syrup, coffee, and wine for so very long until it begins to fight back. So now I find myself fighting a raging infection and on a detox diet. It’s sad that this is what it took for me to make this aspect of self care a priority, but I am so very thankful for this ‘kick in the pants’!

    And yesterday, after a ridiculously hard school drop off that involved a thrown chair, broken items, and leaving my boy raging as I rushed to make it to my own psychiatrist appointment (another form of self- care I’ve finally given into,lol!) –with a two year old in tow– my ‘tiny reward’ of an iced americano was just the little happy boost I needed to face the rest of my day with a little more pep in my step.

    Thank you for continuing to write and saying all the things in my head that never seem to be able to form into concrete thoughts. Your words are a blessing and a grace in my life!

    1. Thank you so much, Melody. I am wishing you an easier drop off today and plenty of iced americanos!

  3. Thank you for this!

  4. Dina Bassett says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  5. While I don’t have an explosive child, I do have 15 yr old triplets (one blind and autistic) and a 14 yr old. Self-care takes a back seat for most moms, I think. It’s just easier to ignore our own needs in the face of our children’s most of the time.
    My husband gave me a gift cards for a massage on my birthday back in November. I finally went last night. Hey, only 5 months later! On the table I ended up in tears from the pain of tightness and compensating for a bad foot (didn’t think of what it was doing to me). The massage therapist asked if there was a way for me to come back a few weeks in a row. I had never done that before. it’s usually a once-a-year treat. This time? Yes, I’m actually worth it. I had been saving to use that money to hire a cleaner to help when we move. But you know what? I’m spending the darn money and time away for a few weeks to take care of myself! (and I feel a little defensive in the process. Ugh.)

    1. I realized after I reread this that it sounds like I’m downplaying the need for explosive-child moms to self-care by making it sound like “oh, all moms don’t take care of themselves”. I did NOT mean it to sound that way at all, and I’m sorry that it did. Y’all have a experience that I have not lived and I absolutely support the idea of “get the oxygen on yourself first”.

      1. I didn’t read it that way at all, Tina. I think the truth is, every mom – with or without children with special needs – can fall into this trap. I am so glad you are getting that massage!

  6. I remember when my first child was a couple of weeks old and my SIL mentioned “self-care” to me and I had no idea what she was talking about 🙂 I always need reminders and encouragement and, really, permission to do it. Thank you, Shawna!

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