After seeing tremendous popularity of Rifka Shonfeld’s My Friend, the Bully and My Friend, the Troublemaker books, I was looking forward to her new book My Friend, the Volcano. What new educational adventures would we be able to share with our discerning Jewish readership?
The beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a boy with anger issues, or as the author describes it, “a shaky trigger.” His temper gets in the way of Shabbos dinners, checker games, and even sleep-away camp. With help from parents, teachers, and specialists, the protagonist gets his “shaky trigger” under control, even if he still does blow his top every now and then.
When I was offered the opportunity to speak to the author to discuss her reasoning for this new book, I jumped at the invitation. We have all suffered through children’s temper tantrums and fits. What is this research-based approach to dealing with children’s anger? How can we help our children overcome it? Rifka is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic, a veteran educator who lectures nationwide on explosive children, ADHD, bullying, and other topics. Here’s a glimpse of what we discussed:
Moshe: First, can you tell the readers how you came to be involved in anger management?
RS: I’m an educator and a social skills therapist, and I’ve been working for over 30 years in education and in private practice helping children with social problems, many of whom have struggled with anger in school and at home. This book comes as the third in a bibliotherapy series, including bullying and ADHD. In My Friend, the Volcano, the anger issue, called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), permeates all areas of children’s lives – getting dressed in the morning, playing baseball with friends, sitting down to dinner with family, and even eating hot dogs or ice cream in the canteen at camp. In speaking to clients, colleagues, and principals, I felt it was the right time to raise awareness of ODD by writing this book.
Moshe: You mentioned the term Oppositional Defiant Disorder or ODD. Can you explain Oppositional Defiant Disorder to our readers? I had never heard of the disorder before reading the book.
RS: You know, many people haven’t heard of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, but then, they read my book or article about it and they say, “Wow! That’s my child. I didn’t realize there was a name and a solution for what we deal with on a day-to day basis.” But, ODD is a very real disorder that affects childrenacross the country.
So, how do we define children with ODD? For starters, they are easily frustrated, demanding, and inflexible. When things don’t go their way, they react with violence or rage. Their siblings are afraid of them. Their parents are constantly walking on eggshells, terrified of the next outburst. They have barely any friends. And they can erupt in temper tantrums, kicking, screaming, sudden outbursts, and verbal or physical aggression, usually in response to relatively benign situations. They can’t properly process frustration or disappointments like everyone else. And they need help in trying to fix the problem.
It’s important to note that children with ODD have wonderful qualities and tremendous potential. In almost all ways, their cognitive skills are just like other children. But, they “explode” when faced with situations beyond their control.
Moshe: So how can we help children with ODD?
RS: That’s a good question! And, there are a lot of different answers to this question. In my book, I outlined a few approaches. One is Dr. Ross Greene’s “Plan B” in which you empathize, define the problem, and invite solutions. Other solutions include cognitive problem solving skills training. This approach reduces inappropriate behaviors by teaching the child positive ways of responding to stressful situations. Some pediatricians even suggest medication, if all else fails.
Most importantly, I tell parents that they need to remember that there is a solution – and they are not alone! When supported, parents can help their children overcome ODD.
Moshe: Do you have any heartwarming personal stories about children who suffered from ODD whom you’ve seen do a turnaround as a result of receiving proper treatment?
RS: Actually, I have quite a few! But, I will share one of them with you. Before we widely used the term “Oppositional Defiant Disorder,” I had a child come to my office because his parents were at their wits’ end. The school had told them that if he didn’t get his fits and tantrums in order, it didn’t matter how good his grades were – he was going to be expelled. When I first met with their child (who I will call “Reuven” for the purposes of this story), he seemed bright, conscientious, and social. However, during our second meeting, Reuven didn’t like the book I had picked out to read together. He ripped it up and threw it across the room! At that moment, I understood that Reuven was struggling with anger management and that if we could help him get his “explosive” behavior under control, he could be happier and stay in his school.
In order to help children with ODD, parents and teachers need to be involved too. We created a plan together – one that helped Reuven express his frustration and channel it toward a solution. And, more than twenty years later, you’ll never believe it, but Reuven is a beloved Rebbi in the same school that almost kicked him out!