Parenting in Baskets (Review: The Explosive Child)

I’m parenting in baskets.  I’ve (finally) read The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children
The Explosive Child, by Dr. Ross Greene, hoping to tweak my approach raising my own explosive child (read: easily frustrated and highly inflexible).   I’d thumbed through the book a few times over the last four years, always returning it to the shelf , either not feeling it was pertinent or not comfortable with Greene’s approach to this type of child.  About three weeks ago, I picked it up again, reading it through and realizing two things:  This was written for parents of children like mine, and the approach makes sense.

I’m not a self-help book  fan, and it is rare I find much in the parenting section of the bookstore that resonates with me.  I’ve kept an eye out for the book about exceptionally gifted kids with some combination of  anxiety, ADHD, dysgraphia, sensory processing disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, hypotonia, divorced parents, hazel eyes, and a flair for the dramatic, but that book seems yet to be written.  Since Dr. Ross Greene’s Explosive Child came from  the recommendation from a few parents with kids with a good number of those same issues (although I’m not sure about eye color), I thought it seemed worth a try.  I’m glad I did.

In short, Greene’s premise in The Explosive Child is that some kids, especially some of those with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, OCD, and all that alphabet soup, are highly inflexible and easily frustrated rather than manipulative, as they’re often called by their grandparents, aunts, neighbors, and even parents.  If one accepts that premise, then it follows that these kids are mighty stressed much of the time, daily life requiring a multitude of transitions and changes to manage.  Greene maintains that creating a user-friendly atmosphere is the first step, meaning that one really accepts that manipulation isn’t the child’s MO and that the explosions of words and body come from being overwhelmed with what many children generally take in stride.

The baskets come next.  Greene recommends putting the expectations of life in baskets.  Basket A contains that which you are willing to “induce and endure” a tantrum.  Health and safety belong here, he states, but likely nothing else.  Hitting, kicking, safe seating in the car, and the like are there.  Eating broccoli, wearing pants without holes, and even completing homework are not.  Basket B is the where the work occurs.  To be in Basket B, the parent must be ready to have a discussion about the issue at hand, ignoring the verbal dross that may spew from a child initially.  In our house, Basket B looks like this with my target younger son:

“Please meet me at the table with your math.”

<No answer.  Younger son is immersed his current obsession.>  I repeat my request.


“Hmm.  I want you to work on your math and you want to continue your playing.  How can we work that out?”

Generally, a bit more painfully loud verbal dross continues.  I breath deeply, knowing the act of transition is the issue, nothing more.  Transitions are very hard for him.  Sometimes he comes up with a solution, such as playing for five more minutes using a timer to keep him on track.  Other times, I need to suggest that.  This process can be long and loud (on his end only, if I’m doing it right), but the purpose is to practice finding solutions and increasing flexibility.

Basket B kept me from trying Greene’s process years back.  Everything with this child seems like a negotiation.  Why would I want to formalize that?  Where would my authority go?  As it turns out, my parental authority remains intact.  Basket B models flexibility, the very skill I want him to develop.  It avoid what Greene calls the  “back end response” , or those punishments that are meted out in parental frustration that, at least for the explosive child, do nothing more than add fuel to the child’s fire.  I’ve fanned many a flame upon, in a fit of my frustration, I’ve revoked computer or TV use during a tantrum, inciting literally hour-long panicky, angry, inflexible rages about the consequence.   The result?  Tears all around, anger abounding, and no coping skills learned by my child.  So, while I was skeptical about Basket B, I’m a big fan now.  It’s our working space.  And it’s working,

Basket C?  That’s the stuff that you’re letting go for now.  For us, that’s socks on the floor, an unmade bed, and most food choices (although you’d be hard pressed to survive on junk food around here).  It’s where we’re not ready to work and where I don’t want to put the energy.  I don’t think about Basket C, honestly.  And I think that’s the point.  Some things can be left alone, at least for now.

Three weeks of very imperfect (yet increasingly consistent) application of Ross Greene’s approach for my explosive child is yielding some promising results.  We’re reaching the negotiation phase more quickly as I am steadily more able to ignore the initial explosion he produces to so many of my requests.  Quite simply, he’s starting to see my flexibility and stop gearing up for a long battle with mom.  I’ve come a ways in creating a more consistently “user-friendly” environment for him, and while I’ve always favored partnership and collaboration with my kids (but with a parent as the final authority and responsible party), my younger son’s wiring hasn’t made that process easy.  Surprisingly, he’s starting to give me more information when he’s upset and in one of those explosive modes.  I’m hearing, “I need a moment to think!”, “I’m just finishing up this one thing!”, and more.  These are often screamed rather than spoken, but they reflect an advancement — he’s letting me know a bit of what’s in his head after years of assuming I was a mind reader (this is an aspect of mindblindness, an Autism Spectrum issue).  I don’t know how much of this improvement is from my articulation of the issue at hand and how much is due to his fantastic therapist, but I’m willing to spread the credit around. 

We still have a long way to go.  While finishing this post, he panicked about some assignments for today.  He’s edgy today, and my patience wore thin during his rant about a spelling word (seems I’m criticizing him if I point out a spelling error he makes in a spelling workbook).  Spelling flew into Basket A, where it has no business being.  After some time (and an unexpected visitor who broke the mood), it returned to Basket B, where it generally is.  We’ve recovered, but it’s a reminder that we have a long way to go, and that a simple system isn’t always easy to consistently navigate.

In my next post, I’ll explore Greene’s baskets and how they can relate to homeschooling. 


3 thoughts on “Parenting in Baskets (Review: The Explosive Child)

  1. I think I need to read this book! After a long conversation with Fiona’s therapist yesterday I’ve been thinking about basket A, B & C without even knowing it while trying to give myself permission to give up on some expectations we have for her and make others more age and temperament appropriate.

  2. I know someone who fits the explosive profile perfectly and only now fully appreciate his mother’s approach…she allowed herself to use Basket C when needed and without self-reproach and I see how much that has helped this person do well in his life. It’s an apt reminder for me because I struggle most with what to put into Basket C. All the best, Sarah.

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