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How to Handle a Hard-To-Handle KidReview - How to Handle a Hard-To-Handle Kid
A Parent's Guide to Understanding and Changing Problem Behaviors
by C. Drew Edwards
Free Spirit Publishing, 1998
Review by Kimberly Mullen James, Ph.D.
Feb 29th 2000 (Volume 4, Issue 9)

Oppositional and conduct disordered behaviors are considered serious childhood problems as they may result in poor academic achievement, and/or segregated placements, such as group homes, special classrooms, or specialized inpatient facilities for children with behavior disorders. Further, exhibition of difficult behavior during childhood has been associated with later adulthood criminal activity, drug abuse, and/or broken homes (Forehand & McMahon, 1981; Webster-Stratton, 1994). Thus, the child displaying behaviors associated with oppositional defiant and conduct disorders, referred to as the "hard-to-handle" child by author C. Drew Edwards, has been the focus of much clinical practice and research. In addition, many books have been written to assist parents in managing difficult behavior. With respect to this latter type of resource, How to Handle A Hard-to-Handle Kid: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding and Changing Problem Behaviors, written by parent and clinical psychologist C. Drew Edwards, Ph.D., is an important addition to the collection of available parent-targeted books.

In this comprehensive book, the author provides a clearly written discussion and synthesis of the primary areas of the literature on childhood problem behavior. Unlike many other books of this kind (particularly those with a behavioral or cognitive behavioral treatment orientation, as this book generally has), Edwards does not merely take a reactive focus by limiting its discussion to effective techniques for responding to problem behaviors. In addition, the book also educates about:

  • what hard-to-handle behavior is, and is not;
  • possible contributors to its development;
  • strategies for parental stress-management;
  • creating environments and teaching skills that reduce the likelihood of challenging behavior;
  • how to implement a home economy program; and
  • maintaining gains across environments.
Thus, in addition to teaching the best methods for addressing occurrences of challenging behavior, the book also provides an educative and preventative focus often missing from similar works.

In discussing these topics, the author draws on literatures from developmental psychology (e.g., when discussing temperment and parenting styles as contributors to child behavior), behavioral psychology (e.g., when discussing how to arrange environments that decrease the likelihood of challenging behavior, and how to respond to problem behavior), and cognitive-behavioral psychology (e.g., teaching skills such as self-talk, relaxation, and problem-solving to prevent or reduce hard-to-handle behaviors). Edwards is effective in omitting unnecessary jargon and translating the technical terms from these literatures into language more easily understood by lay people (e.g., the behavioral concepts of positive and negative reinforcement, and extinction).

The most significant strength of this book is the incorporation of empirically supported behavior management techniques. Throughout the book, Edwards presents several strategies for addressing challenging behavior that are based on recent research by prominent psychologists with expertise in studying and addressing children’s challenging behavior. This inclusion of strategies based on empirical research makes the book stand out from the majority of parent-focused help books. Few books geared for parents take the opportunity to present and make "reader-friendly" the outcomes of techniques derived from experimental methods. Instead, these books frequently rely on tips and advice that are based on anecdotal observations of an author’s own clinical experiences. The outcomes of applied empirical research are most often housed in scholarly journals, and written in a technical format consistent with psychology’s professional style guidelines. These factors may limit parent’s ability to access and understand state-of-the-art advances in addressing difficult behavior.

While Edwards presents parenting strategies that have been supported by empirical research, he is appropriately cautious about how he recommends the reader adopt them. Parents with seriously hard-to-handle children are encouraged to seek professional assistance, particularly when the child regularly exhibits behaviors associated with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or conduct disorder (Edwards describes examples of such behaviors), suicidality, or sudden change in mood or overt behavior. In these cases, the book would likely complement most behaviorally oriented parent-education and child skill-building therapies (considered best practices for treatment of child challenging behavior).

A second strength of the book is the clarity offered by the author’s writing style. Edwards uses numerous examples and dialogues to illustrate material, and frequently provides the reader with suggestions as to specifically how the parent can respond to the child in various situations (e.g., acknowledging good behavior, explaining the concept of time-out, confronting lying or stealing behavior). Scattered throughout the book are text boxes, some labeled "Check It Out" with listed references or resources on a particular subject (e.g., parenting organizations that disseminate information, sources on child development, temperment, and teaching relaxation skills), as well as others with bulleted lists of the key points being discussed in that section. In the chapter on setting up a home economy program, Edwards includes sample token charts that may be reproduced for use at home and other settings. The vocabulary used in the book may be challenging for parents who read below the high school reading level. In general, however, the book is easy to read, and includes text boxes, graphics, dialogues, and examples that provide further clarification of the material being presented.

Overall, this book should provide most parents with a very readable, thorough discussion of understanding, preventing, and addressing difficult behavior. Many of the recommended strategies are considered best practices for changing the behavior of children who frequently engage in hard-to-handle behavior. As Edwards stresses, in the case of severe challenging behavior, the reader is strongly encouraged to use the book as a supplement to professional consultation. Thus, the book may be particularly useful for parents who wish to learn strategies to prevent their child’s mild to moderate difficult behavior from escalating.

Dr. Kimberly Mullen James received her B.A. in psychology and M.A. in educational psychology from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. in child clinical psychology from West Virginia University. She is currently a psychologist at Developmental Disabilities Institute, on Long Island, NY. Dr. James is interested in research and application of positive behavior support strategies, functional assessment, and function-based interventions for addressing difficult behavior exhibited by persons with developmental disabilities. Other interests include multi-modal assessment and exposure-based treatments for posttraumatic stress and other anxiety disorders.

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