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Explosive Kids & Low Frustration Tolerance

The term “explosive kids’ is used to describe easily frustrated, chronically inflexible, explosive children. While many of these kids carry a variety of diagnoses, parents often tell us that the term “explosive kids” better describes their youngster’s struggles. In addition, many find that it also provides a framework for understanding and alleviating the difficulties with which they present. This will become more evident as you review the following in-depth description.

What does a youngster described as “inflexible-explosive” look like? Mark Hutten, M.A. provides a helpful list of criteria:

Common Characteristics of Inflexible-Explosive Kids--

1. While other kids are apt to become more irritable when tired or hungry, inflexible-explosive kids may completely fall apart under such conditions!

2. The tendency to think in a concrete, rigid, black-and-white manner. The youngster does not recognize the gray in many situations ("Mrs. Robinson is always mean! I hate her!" ...Rather than “Mrs. Robinson is usually nice, but she was in a bad mood today”); may apply oversimplified, rigid, inflexible rules to complex situations; and may impulsively revert to such rules even when they are obviously inappropriate (“We always go out for recess at 10:30. I don’t care if there’s an assembly today. I’m going out for recess!”)

3. The persistence of inflexibility and poor response to frustration despite a high level of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. The youngster continues to exhibit frequent, intense, and lengthy meltdowns even in the face of salient, potent consequences.

4. The youngster’s inflexibility and difficulty responding to frustration in an adaptive manner may be fueled by behaviors-moodiness/irritability, hyperactivity/impulsiveness, anxiety, obsessiveness, social impairment-commonly associated with other disorders.

5. The youngster may have one or several issues about which he or she is especially inflexible – for example, the way clothing looks or feels, the way foods taste or smell, and the order in which things must be done.

6. Inflexible episodes may have an out-of-the-blue quality. The youngster may seem to be in a good mood, then fall apart unexpectedly in the face of frustrating circumstances, no matter how trivial.

7. An extremely low tolerance for frustration. The youngster is not only more easily frustrated, but experiences the emotions associated with frustration far more intensely and tolerates them far less adaptively than do other kids of the same age. In response to frustration, the youngster becomes extremely agitated, disorganized, and verbally or physically aggressive.

8. An extremely low frustration threshold. The youngster becomes frustrated far more easily and by far more seemingly trivial events than other kids of his or her age. Therefore, the youngster experiences the world as one filled with frustration and uncomprehending adults.

9. A remarkably limited capacity for flexibility and adaptability and incoherence in the midst of severe frustration. The youngster often seems unable to shift gears in response to parents’ commands or a change in plans and becomes quickly overwhelmed when a situation calls for flexibility and adaptability. As the youngster becomes frustrated, his or her ability to “think through” ways of resolving frustrating situations in a manner that is mutually satisfactory becomes greatly diminished; the youngster has difficulty remembering previous learning about how to handle frustration and recalling the consequences of previous inflexible-explosive episodes, has trouble thinking rationally, may not be responsive to reasoned attempts to restore coherence, and may deteriorate even further in response to punishment.

Should your youngster present with these difficulties, we strongly encourage you to join Online Parent Support (a program that possesses an extensive background and experience working with explosive kids) to provide recommendations that will help you, the parent, resolve most behavioral/attitudinal issues.

In establishing that developmental deficits in the domains of flexibility and frustration tolerance are the key factors underlying explosive behavior, we think the characteristics presented provide a more useful way of viewing our kids. This is very different from the conventional wisdom: that these kids are merely willful and spoiled, that they are fully able to control their explosive outbursts, and that poor parenting is to blame for their difficulties.

Blaming parents for their kid’s difficulties is not the best way to change things for the better in any family or classroom. When we dispense with the blame, the stage is set for adults to be part of the solution: re-establishing positive relationships with these kids, creating experiences that will provide the training and practice in problem-solving skills, flexibility, and frustration tolerance.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article. I am signing up for the newsletter. In fact, shortly after my son was born, I bought Dr. Greene's book because I knew I was in trouble. My son is ten and nothing has changed.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is 10 and this behavior has gone on for years. Although is worse past couple years. I always feel like walking away. I can not see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Anonymous said...

omg you sound just like me. i have dr. greenes book, have attended his workshop and still feel like i am making no progress with my ten year old daughter. in fact, i thiink its getting worae.

SarahinSC said...

Did you meet my son and write this about him? This "youngster" is my son!

Anonymous said...

This is totally my son! Who is Dr. Greene, sounds like I shouldn't get his book :)

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way. One minute he is fine, the next he's stomping his feet and screaming. I've been reading these articles. Is there light at the end....I'm not sure.

Stefanie said...

My son is 11 and has been challenging for most of his life. Transition times are the most challenging, i.e. back to school, bedtime, etc. Anyone know of a support group?

Anonymous said...

I would also encourage parents to explore functional and integrative physicians. If your child seems to be resistant to psychological support and still has very low stress-tolerance, perhaps researching biomedical triggers may be useful. Heavy metal exposure (via a 6 hr urine DMSA challenge), chronic infections, mold exposure, parasite infections, food allergies, PANDAS/PANS, pesticide exposure, excitoxicity, and gut dysbiosis/inflammation can all lead to what looks like oppositional and aggressive behavior on the surface.

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