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The Explosive Child


Dr. Greene's approach -- which he originally called Collaborative Problem Solving but now calls Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS) -- was first described in his book The Explosive Child. The model sets forth two major tenets: first, that social, emotional, and behavioral challenges in kids are best understood as the byproduct of lagging cognitive skills (rather than, for example, as attention-seeking, manipulative, limit-testing, or a sign of poor motivation); and second, that these challenges are best addressed by resolving the problems that are setting the stage for challenging behavior in a collaborative manner (rather than through reward and punishment programs and intensive imposition of adult will).

Challenging kids let us know they're struggling in some fairly common ways (screaming, swearing, defying, hitting, spitting, throwing things, breaking things, crying, withdrawing, and so forth). But if you want to understand why a kid is exhibiting challenging behavior, you'll need to identify the specific skills he's lacking. And if you want to start reducing challenging behavior, you'll need to identify the specific unsolved problems that are precipitating his challenging episodes.  All of the paperwork associated with Dr. Greene's model -- the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems, the Problem Solving Plan (formerly the Plan B Flowchart), and the Plan B Cheat Sheet -- can be found on the website of his non-profit, Lives in the Balance.

Reducing challenging behavior is accomplished by helping challenging children and their adult caretakers learn to resolve disagreements and disputes in a collaborative, mutually satisfactory manner. This is described in The Explosive Child and Dr. Greene's newest book, Lost at School, but involves three basic ingredients. The first ingredient called the Empathy step -- is to gather information so as to achieve the clearest understanding of the kid's concern or perspective about a given unsolved problem (such as completion of homework or chores, sibling or peer interactions, teeth brushing, screen time, diet, curfew, and so forth). The second ingredient (called the Define the Problem step) is to enter into consideration adult concerns on the same unsolved problem. The third ingredient involves having child and adult brainstorm solutions so as to arrive at a plan of action that is both realistic and mutually other words, a solution that addresses both concerns.

Sounds a bit complicated!

Collaboratively resolving problems with kids isn't necessarily all that complicated, but it's something most folks haven't had a whole lot of practice at (probably because it hasn't been standard operating procedure with children), so it can take a while to get good at it.

As you might imagine, because CPS represents a bit of a departure from the conventional wisdom, many people have misconceptions about the model. For example, some folks believe that implementing CPS means that adults must abandon all of their expectations (it doesn't mean that at all), or that we're simply making excuses for the child (understanding a child's challenges and helping him or her overcome these challenges is a far cry from making's hard work), or that adults no longer have the authority to set limits (not to worry...CPS does involve setting limits, but in a way that's a little different and probably a lot more effective than what people might be used to).

Where has the CPS model been applied?

In countless families, schools, inpatient psychiatry units, residential facilities, and juvenile detention facilities, the CPS model has been shown to be an effective way to reduce conflict and teach the skills kids need to function adaptively in the real world.

Where can I find more information?

On the website of Dr. Greene's new non-profit organization, Lives in the Balance.

"Man masters nature not by force but by understanding."

Jacob Bronowski


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