Why Is My Child So Explosive?
When my son kicked the windshield, I didn’t think it would break.
I was wrong.
Apparently, the force of losing all rational thought and ability was enough to crack it from end to end.
He was crying, flailing and screaming at me.
“I can’t do it. Mommmmeeeeeeeee. I can’t. I can’t go in.”
We were in the parking lot of his doctor’s office – the very doctor that we needed to see for the increase in his aggressive and violent behaviors.
He had climbed into the front seat as soon as the car stopped and began physically fighting me.
Scratches up and down my arms and on my face, I tried not to cry as feelings of pure defeat and desperation washed over me.
Then he broke the windshield.
We both were stunned.
My son looked at me, suddenly much calmer and said, “Well, I guess now I have to go in.”
He opened the door, got out of the car and calmly walked into the office.
I have two boys.
A fourteen-year-old and an eleven-year-old.
One loves computers and video games.
The other adores animals and the outdoors.
One is quiet, the other can be boisterous and loud.
My two boys are very, very different from each other.
But there is one thing they have in common.
They are both explosive children.
Over the course of the last ten years, I have been trying to figure out how to react, how to respond, how to discipline, how to show compassion, and how to have boundaries around my children’s behavioral challenges.
In the beginning, I listened to all the well-meaning voices.
If you would discipline him more…
He just needs a good spanking….
If you weren’t going through a divorce….
He’s manipulating you…
He knows he can get away with it. That’s why he does it.
I listened and I tried it all.
And none of it, I repeat, none of it worked.
In fact, it got worse.
It’s what led us to smashed windshields in parking lots.
Please know, an amazon link is included below.
It wasn’t until I finally learned more about my children’s neurological function that it began to make sense.
Part of it was understanding their respective diagnoses.
But most of it has been trial and error, watching and learning, praying and crying, and more trial and error.
Please know, I am not an expert in anything, except my children.
I am not a doctor or a therapist.
I can only share my experience and encourage you that you are not alone.
Experience has taught me that it is impossible to help your child with explosive behavior, without really understanding why he is explosive in the first place.
The truth is, it’s hard to start here as a parent. We are told by the culture that we live in (constantly) that our child’s behavior is reflective of our ability as parents.
Quite frankly, it feels personal.
And yet, in order to understand the reasons why our children are melting down, it is essential that we set aside any preconceived notion of how this is supposed to be, and instead focus on what is.
The first is:
“Behaviorally-challenging kids need us to take a close look at our beliefs about challenging behavior (beliefs most people don’t question unless they’re blessed with a behaviorally challenging child) and apply strategies that are often a far cry from ways in which most adults interact with and discipline kids who are not behaviorally challenging.” p.5
The second is:
“Behaviorally challenging kids are challenging because they’re lacking the skills to not be challenging.” p.9
Our children are not explosive to get their way. They are not acting out because they have been spoiled. The are not trying to manipulate us.
There is always, always, always an underlying reason for the explosive behavior, even if we can’t yet see it.
Accepting this is the first and necessary step in determining how best to help our children.
Once we do, understanding why our children are explosive becomes much, much easier.
Why Is My Child So Explosive?
I certainly cannot speak for your child. But I can share what I have learned (so far – this is still quite the work in progress around here).
Here are the top contributors to explosive behavior in my family:
For various reasons, both of my sons struggle with communicating their needs. My oldest has trouble finding words to describe his body and mind. My youngest has unintelligible speech at times, particularly when under stress.
No matter what the reason, communication issues in our home often contribute to explosive behavior.
Sometimes, my boys feel they simply have no other way to communicate their intense, overwhelming needs.
Executive Function Deficits
I know my youngest son is only a minute or so away from melting down when he says he is bored. Boredom for him is not like the usual “Kids need to be bored in order to be creative. ” When my child says, “I’m bored,” what he means is “I am getting anxious because I don’t know what comes next.”
Time and space seem endless to my child because he lacks the executive function to manage his time.
This gap in ability creates stress and often contributes to an explosive reaction.
Another example happened just yesterday with my oldest son. He had a homework assignment to complete with vague directions. He sat in front of the computer for almost an hour trying to figure out where to start. When I came in and asked him how it was going, he completely lost it.
Once he calmed down, I was able to help him figure out the steps to take, but on his own, he was simply unable to get there.
Sensory Input and Overstimulation
This is a big one for both of my children. Because they have sensory processing issues related to noise, smell, light, textures and movement, there are times where their bodies and brains simply become overwhelmed with sensory input.
For example, in a crowded, loud room, my boys both experience a kind of torture that I would not wish on anyone. After a few minutes in this overwhelming environment, a very real “fight or flight” response kicks in and explosive behavior soon follows.
Anxiety is an undercurrent in every single stressor listed above. It also contributes to explosive behavior all on its own for my boys, particularly for my youngest.
When he begins to feel anxious, for any reason (school, bedtime, doctors appointments, etc.) he very quickly escalates. Because he has an anxiety disorder, he feels an overwhelming threat and fear that I am not sure I will ever completely understand.
As the very real panic sets in, he almost always has a challenging episode.
These are the most common factors that contribute to explosive behavior in my home. Yours may be entirely different, but I do want to make one important point that I think is true for all of us.
As hard as it is to parent an explosive child, I have no doubt that it is significantly more painful to be an explosive child.
Understanding why the behavior is occurring is only the first step in helping our kids.
Next week, in part three of this series, I will share how I am learning to calm the explosive behavior in our home.
I am a mom, just like you, trying to figure this out.
Let’s do it together.
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Shawna Wingert is a special education teacher turned educational consultant, and mom of two brilliant boys who have learning differences and special needs.
Shawna has also written four books: Everyday Autism, Special Education at Home, Parenting Chaos, and Homeschooling Your Child With Special Needs. A passionate advocate for individualized education, Shawna is frequently featured on Today.com, Simple Homeschool, Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers and The Mighty. She can also be found supporting parents online at her own site, DifferentByDesignLearning.com.