What’s going to happen when he’s older and able to do more damage?
Someone is going to get hurt.
What if the neighbors call the police?
I can’t do this for the rest of my life.
We don’t have the money for another window repair.
At what point do I call 911?
I never thought I could be afraid of my own son.
It is painful for me to admit this, but it’s true.
I have had every single one of these thoughts, more than once, over the past few years.
If you don’t have an explosive child, these thoughts may surprise or shock you.
If you do, my guess is this list feels heartbreakingly familiar.
Having an explosive child is devastating – for me, for my husband, for our entire family.
And the one question we ask ourselves, the doctors, the therapists, and the internet over and over again –
How do I make it stop?
Not just for my sake, but for my suffering child.
Calming An Explosive Child
I need you to know that I am not an expert.
Anything I share is from my own experience, trial and error, tons of prayer, tons of tears, and more trial and error.
I have two boys, both brilliant, funny, and loving.
Both can also be explosive.
For more than ten years I have been struggling to find ways to help my children avoid meltdowns and aggressive behavior.
Here is what I have learned so far.
1. Plan For The Behavior
In our family, the best way to calm explosive behavior has been to plan for it ahead of time.
Here are some examples of what’s worked.
Asking How I Can Help
When my youngest son is having a good day, he and I will sit down and draw together.
I ask him what it feels like when he is feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Sometimes, he draws pictures of himself angry. Sometimes, he draws pictures of the things that make him mad. Sometimes, he just stops drawing entirely and talks.
I ask him what he thinks might help when he is starting to feel explosive.
He usually says play with his dog, play in the water, or talk about snakes and take deep breaths. (We’ve had this conversation enough that it is now a kind of routine.)
When the next explosion occurs, I have his expressed options available to offer as coping skills.
My oldest is a little trickier. He is not as verbal as my youngest and is not really able to communicate how his mind and body feel mid-meltdown.
Instead, he and I talk about what he needs me to do when he is feeling overwhelmed.
Again, he does not respond well to open-ended questions, so my conversation with him usually involves him choosing between two options.
Would you like for me to stay close to you, or do you need to be left alone?
Do you want me to rub your back with deep pressure, or is it better if I don’t touch you at all?
Do you want to put on your headphones, or should I just try to keep the house quiet for a bit?
Please note: For both of my children, there is an assumption that there will be another explosive episode. My goal in these initial conversations is never to communicate that a meltdown cannot happen again. I have found that telling my children we need to stop this type of behavior just caused more explosive behavior (as soon as they felt it coming on, they panicked, grew more anxious that they would not be able to stop and then exploded). Eventually, when my boys were able to feel some success in calming themselves down (with my help), we saw a decrease in the overall number of meltdowns.
I encourage them in these conversations. This is not about discipline or enforcing rules, it’s about coming up with solutions to a very difficult problem. I assure them that I am on their side and that I know we can work together to come up with some things that might help. I tell them I love them, no matter what.
These conversations happen frequently. It’s like a check-in to make sure we are on the same page.
Rearranging The Environment
This past summer, every single time my son lost control, he would knock over the chair in our living room. After about the seven-thousandth time picking the dang chair back up and looking at the scratches it left on the wood floor, it finally occurred to me to just move the chair to another room. I also added more pillows and a throw blanket to the couch. I figured if he was going to throw something, at least it would be soft.
The next time my son lost control, there was no longer any furniture to toss. He paced for a bit and then calmed down faster than before.
The same is true for remote controls, electronic devices, and even our TV. After having all of them broken more times than I can count, we now try to keep them out of sight when not in use.
It keeps us from having to replace expensive equipment, and my sons calm down faster if there is less to fuel their explosiveness.
(Incidentally, I saw a cute brass kick-knack the other day on clearance and thought about buying it. I quickly reconsidered when I realized how much damage it could do if one of my sons became dysregulated. You may think this is extreme or even enabling my sons to never learn to control themselves. I respectfully disagree. I did not feel bad about not being able to buy a silly little brass alligator. I felt good about the prospect of all of us having an easier time if one of my sons were to have a meltdown.)
2. Set-Up Predictable Routines
Oh my goodness, this one is easier said than done, but it has been so effective in our home.
Because my children often feel like their bodies and minds are out of control, it makes sense that knowing the day will flow in an expected and controlled manner helps them stay calm.
When our days are chaotic, I can see the decline in my boys’ ability to cope.
When our days are predictable, my boys relax a bit and are much more emotionally regulated.
3. Seek Professional Help
Finding the right therapist, doctor or combination of the two can make a real difference in our children’s lives.
In our home, it has helped significantly, but not completely.
I’ve learned that professional treatment is just one aspect of mothering complicated children.
Dealing with explosiveness is no exception.
But there are so many things we can do to help.
Seeking treatment is one of them.
Next week, I will be sharing what helps once my child has already lost control. It was the most difficult post in this series for me to write by far (my heart literally hurt the entire time) but also the one that I think matters most.
As difficult as it is to parent an explosive child, I imagine it is infinitely more difficult to be an explosive child.
I am a mom, just like you, trying to figure this out.
Let’s do it together.
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