Peace and Love: 10 Tips for Helping an Explosive Child

Written by Ross W. Greene, PH. D.

From the magazine: ADDitude: Strategies and Support for ADHD & LD

*These tips are based on Dr. Greene’s model of Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS).

  1. Don’t worry too much about a diagnosis. A diagnosis might say how your child is behaving, but not Negative behaviors are a child’s way of letting you know that they are having difficulty meeting certain expectations. They are saying to you, “I’m stuck!”
  2. Explosive children lack important cognitive skills.Behaviorally challenged children lack important cognitive skills, such as flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance, and problem solving. This s why they “explode” when situations requiring those skills arise.
  3. When expectations exceed child’s skill level, escalation occurs.When the child lacks the skills required for certain situations, their reactions tend to be more extreme for they found what works to allow them to escape or avoid the difficult situation.
  4. Figure out which skills your child lacks and which expectations he has trouble meeting.In Dr. Greene’s CPS model, unmet expectations are called “unsolved problems.” To determine what those problems are, Dr. Greene has a link on his website,, to the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP). Don’t be intimidated; it’s only one sheet of paper!
  5. Try a new parenting plan.Looking at unmet expectations as “unsolved problems” with your child makes you teammates; you are looking for a solution together, and are “on the same side.”
  6. Solve problems proactively.After using the ASLUP tool to identify problems, you will be able to pinpoint certain moments where behaviors are more likely to occur. This will help you be proactive in finding solutions.
  7. Prioritize problems before solving them. Which problems do you start with? Anything regarding safety of the child or others should come first, followed by the “worst” behaviors. Set the other problems aside and focus on the issue at hand.
  8. Don’t mislabel your child.After you are aware of your child’s lagging skills, you will be able to stop calling the child and/or behaviors attention-seeking, manipulative, and unmotivated. Don’t label yourself either! Mental health professionals may even inaccurately assume the parents of behaviorally-challenged children are passive, inconsistent, permissive, or inept at discipline; those characterizations are off the mark as well.
  9. Get good at Plan B.Solving problems together takes practice; be patient with each other! See what this is at Lives in the Balance (
  10. Don’t fret over disagreements.Problems occur, always, everyday. Then there are the crises.  How you choose to respond can cause conflict or foster collaboration.

*Ross W. Greene, PH.D. was on the faculty at Harvard Medical School for over 20 years, and is now founding director of the non-profit Lives in the Balance ( He is the author of The Explosive Child, Lost at School, Lost & Found, and Raising Human Beings.