The Call to Love - Week 9

Updated: Sep 4, 2018

Collaborative Problem Solving


There is a saying, that no one is more optimistic than a parent with a new chore chart. And we have all been there. You throw that chart up on the fridge with all the best intentions. This is going to bring order to your home, and these chores and behaviors will now be managed. Surely the kids will want these rewards!


Last month I introduced a parenting topic called, The Kazdin Method. The ideas in the Kazdin method focus a lot on rewarding the behavior you want to see. However, one struggle with the Kazdin method is that you might never see that behavior! Or you may get too caught up in the charts and rewards and loose the relationship. It is a great method and we use it all the time in our home. But today I want to offer you another approach to consider.


I frequently say that I don't feel there is one cookie cutter approach to parenting that works for all children, all the time. I feel strongly that in order to parent well you have to have an understanding of a number of different (evidence based) strategies out there and then be able to use them well in the different seasons of your family. One strategy may work well for one parent or one child one year of their life. And then things will change you may need to be flexible in your approach. So the Kazdin method is one I would strongly recommend you have in the back of your mind. And I would also really encourage you to check out Collaborative Problem Solving.


If you are reading The Call To Love, you will know that in Chapter 9 we discuss a parenting method called, Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS). Actually it isn't just a parenting method but is also commonly used in schools as a way to work with challenging students. The basic idea of CPS is that the child is not struggling because they want to, but because they don't have the skills to be successful. So, instead of imposing your will on them, and setting out a list of consequences and rewards, you would teach them the skills they are missing.


The creators of this method would say that it contradicts ideas like the Kazdin method. But I feel they can work together. Perhaps your child or teen really doesn't have the skills they require to manage these situations. I'm talking about skills like, frustration tolerance skills, social skills, time management skills, study skills, etc. For a complete list of possible skill deficits on a free printable worksheet click here. Take a look at the list and see if these could be the issues your child is facing. So then maybe you use the CPS approach to help them improve and throw in a lot of positive reinforcement (like the Kazdin method) along the way.


No child wakes up in the morning

and hopes they get in trouble that day


Ok, so let's say you have looked over the skills sheet and thought through your child's challenging behaviors and you think, yup, this looks like what we are struggling with. What do you do now?


The first step of CPS would be a conversation with your child. The first part of the conversation is to give your child your undivided attention and ask the question, "I've noticed _________, What's up?"

  • I've noticed you have been hitting your brother a lot. What's up?

  • I've noticed that a lot of people have been accusing you of stealing. What's up?

  • I've noticed that we seem to be arguing a lot at bedtime. What's up?

Whatever the big issue is in your home, you would start out by addressing it and then allow the conversation to develop. You will have to dig a little as most kids will not open up right away (understatement). The key here is that for at least 10 min you would sit with your child in a non judgmental manner, enduring some silence, continuing to ask open ended questions and demonstrating empathy. This part of the method is essential and if it isn't done well, the child won't feel heard or loved and the rest of the plan won't work. So take your time here.


Once you have expressed empathy and validated their concerns, you would enter the second stage of the conversation where you would define the problem. It would sound something like, "The thing is ____" or "My concern is _____"

  • "The thing is in our home we don't like it when anyone gets hit. I don't hit your mom, we don't hit the kids. And we have this rule because we want our house to be safe and for the kids to not get hurt."

  • "My concern is that you might be losing some friendships because people think you are stealing from them."

  • "The thing is, I love you and I really want bedtime to be a nice relaxing time for us to connect, but that never gets to happen when you are yelling at us. I hear you that you don't think your bedtime is fair, but my concern as your parent is that you get a good night's sleep."

You would then take a SHORT amount of time to express your concern as a parent (or teacher or coach) before moving into problem solving mode. This is not the time for a lecture. This is a quick recap of your concerns. Once they have caught it and understand your point of view, move to step three.


Once the child has expressed their frustrations and the adult has expressed their concerns the next sentence would be, "I wonder if there is a way _________"

  • "I wonder if there is a way that you could let your brother know you are angry, without hurting him?"

  • "I wonder if there is a way that you could get more toys without stealing them?"

  • "I wonder if there is a way we could all get along at bedtime?"

The goal would then be to talk together and offer some compromises and skills coaching to help the child become more successful in this area. It is obviously not as simple as it sounds, but it is a great strategy.


To really become familiar with this approach I will list a bunch of online resources for you to check out. I encourage you to take a deeper dive into this concept. Let me know what you think!


- Trish


  1. ThinkKids.org Check out this website from the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. This link will take you to a page filled with videos and other information to explain their approach.

  2. Enjoy TedTalks? Then check out this video from Dr Stuart Ablon of Mass Gen Hospital and his explanation of CPS.

  3. Dr Ross Greene was the creator of CPS with Dr Ablon (but then there was a legal fight over the name and they parted ways... long story... anyway!). You can check out Dr Greene's website, Lives In The Balance for more on his approach.

  4. If you are a parent, check out the full list of resources from Lives in the Balance here. If you are an educator, check out the list for you here. I strongly recommend these links as they have a ton of practical, free videos and printable worksheets. There are podcasts and facebook groups. Everything you would need to use this strategy in your world. For free.

  5. Have a short attention span yourself? Here are six, 2-minute videos you can quickly watch from Dr Greene.

  6. More of a reader? Check out these best selling books from Dr Ross Greene.

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© 2018 by Trish Jonker

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