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Cracking the Villain Code: Help your emotionally overwhelmed, explosive child by building skills instead of fighting with them

Superhero team with the title "Super Skill Building"
Skill Building is the Key to Defeating Overhwelm in an Explosive Child

Picture this: Captain America's stoicism crumbles into rage whenever Thor cracks jokes. Iron Man's tech malfunctions every time Hulk gets stressed. Black Widow's covert missions implode due to her crippling social anxiety. Sounds chaotic, right? But what if these "explosions" weren't random attacks, but clues to unsolved problems?

Enter Dr. Ross Greene's Collaborative Problem-Solving (CPS), the ultimate shield against explosive behavior. Its secret weapon? The Assessment of Lagging Skills & Unsolved Problems (ALSUP) – a decoder ring for deciphering the villain's motivations.

Let me say that the number of parenting books I recommend is relatively small. Most are too niche or do not incorporate the particular needs of neurodivergent kiddos. They also are generally appropriate for only a narrow age range. Dr. Ross Greene's The Explosive Child has managed to land a "sweet-spot" that incorporates a variety of needs, but it also is great at any age (yes I even use this on myself when my inner child gets a little rambunctious).

So picture this. Your sweet little angel, Jane, has just had her 42nd meltdown of the week. She hates school, friends, and pretty much all of life - especially people who talk in the theater. She probably comes across as abrasive or abusive, and every fiber of your being is about to go to battle with her.

First of all. Stop here. You can't regulate a child from an unregulated position. You can't fix anything when they're flooded. And you certainly can't reach in to help when it feels like they are going to bite your hand. Again. Make sure they are not going to harm themselves or others. Then do what it takes to calm them down - breathing, holding them, or taking some water. Watching tv or playing video games are okay for now too. Resist the urge to correct now. Wait until the right moment.

Then ask them the ever important-question posed by a beer company, 4 Non Blondes, and the person who hasn't seen Carl and Ellie's story yet: "What's up?"

Now. Listen.

What are we listening for?

Step 1: Lagging Superpowers

Forget labeling weaknesses. Think of lagging skills as areas where your kiddo might be struggling:

  • Emotional Regulation: Hulk's anger control needs an upgrade.

  • Flexibility: Captain America's rigidity leads to clashes with teammates.

  • Social Skills: Black Widow's covert training left her lacking in casual interactions.

For instance, maybe the reason Jane is getting worked up is that she can't maintain focus for an hour in class (who can these days?)

Step 2: Unsolved Cosmic Threats

Now, connect those skills to specific situations like ticking time bombs:

  • Unsolved Problem: Feeling unseen fuels Captain America's rage when ignored.

  • Unsolved Problem: Unclear mission objectives trigger Iron Man's tech malfunctions.

  • Unsolved Problem: Loneliness fuels Black Widow's social awkwardness.

How does this play out? She struggles with trying to sit down and do all her homework at once ... maybe even all of one subject at once is daunting.

Boom! The villain's master plan is revealed. Once you understand the skill that is lagging, you have an ability to train it and work with it.

But CPS isn't just about identifying the villain. It's about assembling a team:

  • Work with your kiddo: Brainstorm solutions to their cosmic threats together.

  • Empower, don't control: They're the expert on their inner world.

  • Focus on prevention: Proactive problem-solving stops meltdowns before they start and builds trust.

So for Jane and her overwhelm at all 33 problems of math. As you BOTH work together, maybe she suggests that she can do part of the problems, then take a break. Or maybe she just needs to stand while doing them. Maybe we try not to go for a 100% - but getting 75-80% of the problems is okay for now. Or eating a cupcake for every math problem could give her enough reward to keep doing them. Don't judge the answers, even if they seem bad - work with them.

FYI, I don't recommend the cupcake idea, but maybe you can solve the problem by breaking down the problem list (or use the Pomodoro technique I mentioned in a previous post).

The rewards? Avengers-level epic:

  • Reduced conflict: No more city-wide brawls!

  • Improved communication: Teamwork makes the dream work.

  • Empowered heroes: They develop problem-solving skills to conquer any challenge.

Challenges? Sure, there are a few cosmic hurdles:

  • Time commitment: Building teamwork takes effort.

  • Shifting mindsets: Letting go of "fixing" behavior can be tough.

  • Individualized approach: Each hero is unique, so are their solutions.

But the rewards far outweigh the challenges. By using the ALSUP, you can become a master strategist, unlocking a world of collaboration, understanding, and empowered growth for your "neurodivergent" heroes.

Ready to join the fight? Assemble at:

Remember, you're not alone in this battle! Share your experiences and strategies in the comments below. Let's build a SHIELD-worthy support network for neurodivergent heroes and the therapists who guide them.

*If you want to check out more about this, find Ross Greene's book The Explosive Child (2021). This is an affiliate link to my Amazon account. I may receive some small compensation for purchasing it through this link, but that's not why I link to this book. It's one I have in my personal and professional library and I use it in both dimensions.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice.

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