I must begin this review by stating that I think that the book has a somewhat unfortunate title. At least to me, it sounds terribly negative, and that's something I try to avoid in parenting books. (I will never forget the day I picked up Dr James Dobson's "The Strong-Willed Child" wherein he said that some kids are just stubborn and we must basically beat it out of them otherwise they will end up sending themselves to hell. Really, that's what he said! It was terrible!) In any case, TEC is not like that at all. It's actually a very positive and proactive sort of book.
One point he does make right at the beginning is that some children explode (yelling, tantruming, hurting others, etc) while others implode (shutting down, ignoring, walking away from the situation, etc). Children with different temperaments will of course react to things differently, but according to Dr Greene, the causes are essentially the same, so can be treated with the same method.
Dr Greene's basic premise is that children do well if they can (rather than the more commonly taught children do well if they want to). In other words, if the child knows the rules, and has motivation to follow them, but is consistently misbehaving anyway, then it is because he has "a developmental delay--a learning disability of sorts--in the skills of flexibility and frustration tolerance" (p 15). In other words, they don't misbehave because they want to, they misbehave because they literally don't have the skills to process situations and behave in a more appropriate or adaptive manner. These kids don't need more incentives, punishments, or consequences--they need to be taught the skills that they are lacking.
Greene explains that "An explosive outburst--like other maladaptive behavior--occurs when the cognitive demands being placed upon a person outstrip that person's capacity to respond adaptively" (p 17). I know that's a lot of big words and technical terms all strung together, but take a minute to go back and read it again, because it's really critical as it underpins the whole philosophy of the book.
Having established that these children are misbehaving (and exploding/imploding) because they lack the skills to do otherwise, Greene then lays out the skills which are commonly lacking (different children will lack different skills of course, and many lack more than one):
- Executive Skills (shifting from one activity to another, organization/planning, putting ideas into action, and separating emotional response from the thinking necessary to solve the problem)
- Language Processing Skills (categorizing & expressing emotion, identifying & articulating his own needs, and solving problems)
- Emotion Regulation Skills (when they become tired, irritated, scared, or otherwise upset their emotion gets in the way of their thinking, so they become irrational, inflexible, frustrated, and explosive)
- Cognitive Flexibility Skills ("black-and-white thinkers stuck in a grey world" who struggle with adapting to changes in plans or changes in routine/schedule)
- Social Skills (picking up social cues, interpreting those cues correctly, figuring out appropriate responses in social situations, and realizing how his behavior affects others)
The second part of identifying the problem is to consider triggers--that is, the situations or events that tend to set the child off. Many children are triggered by being tired, hungry, frustrated, or overstimulated. Sometimes just the presence of a certain person (or type of person) can be a trigger. Other triggers include things like being corrected, having an unexpected change in plans, or having to switch from one activity to another. Hopefully most parents already know that reducing triggers can reduce explosions, but sometimes triggering situations cannot be avoided, and that is where Plan B comes in.
Dr Greene discusses 3 plans: Plans A, B, and C.
Plan A is where the Adult forces his will on the child (it's what most of us were probably raised with--a "because I said so" sort of mentality, and when applied to a child who lacks the skills to measure up to the adult's expectations, it is a recipe for disaster...not to mention that it's not very respectful of the child!).
Plan C is where the adult capitulates and just lets the Child do what he pleases (which is not respectful of the adult, so is also problematic).
Plan B is to utilize what Dr Greene calls "collaborative problem solving" (CPS) to find solutions that will solve the concerns of Both adult and child. So of course Plan B is the ideal.
There is a time for Plan A--when the kid is running into the road of course you should grab him and stop him in spite of his protests. There is also a time for Plan C--when you realize that the issue at hand is not that big a deal or that your expectation was unrealistic. For the rest of the time, CPS can be a great tool to help parent and child work out solutions to deal with the immediate problems...and over time, as the parent guides them through the thinking processes of CPS, the child should be able to develop the skills he's been lacking.
Collaborative Problem Solving (in it's simplest form) consists of 3 steps:
1--empathize with the child (get their concern on the table, and let them see that you care about them and their concern)
2--define the problem (get your concern on the table too)
3--invite the child to propose solutions (you can make propositions of your own as well, but most children will have a higher investment in something they thought of, so if it seems like a decent solution, by all means try their idea! Remember that "Plan B is not 'tricky' Plan A!" (p 108).)
An acceptable solution is one that is realistic, doable, and mutually satisfactory. If it fails to meet any of those criteria, then keep proposing solutions until you find something that meets all three.
I highly recommend this book, particularly for any parent who has a child who consistently misbehaves even though he knows the rules and has been repeatedly punished for breaking them. It had never occurred to me that my academically advanced son might be struggling with certain mental skills, but as I read this book I repeatedly had the thought "that sounds a lot like my kid." I am just beginning to try CPS with him (Hubby hasn't read the book yet), and the first couple of attempts floundered a bit...I think he's used to us pushing our agenda (Plan A) and is struggling to identify what his own needs/wants actually are, because (unfortunately) they have often been ignored in the past as we tried to force him to do things our way. But the second try went better than the first, and I look forward to increased peace for all of us as we get the hang of this.
By the way, I did explain the basics here, but if you think these ideas would be helpful for you or your family, please don't rely on my version, please do get the book and read it for yourself. Dr Greene gives much more thorough explanations than I did, including sample conversations of how to apply CPS, common mistakes that parents make when trying to utilize CPS, and ideas for how to work with kids who don't want to work with you.
For those with school aged children, Dr Greene has also written Lost at School which teaches the same philosophy with school applications.