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Collaborative & Proactive Solutions: Problem solving with your child

Updated 21 July 2021
Published  3 February 2017

Are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t ? That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it’s actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline….

Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS), formerly known as Collaborative Problem Solving, is a research-based, empirically-supported, non-punitive, non-adversarial, trauma-informed approach to understanding and helping behaviorally challenging kids. In the CPS model, challenging behavior in kids occurs when the demands and expectations being placed on kids exceed their capacity to respond adaptively; challenging behavior is understood as the result of lagging cognitive skills (in the general domains of flexibility/adaptability, frustration tolerance, and problem solving). This is in contrast to many of the interventions that are commonly applied to kids unilaterally by adults; for example, rewards and consequences models often describe challenging behavior as the result of passive, permissive, inconsistent, noncontingent parenting.

With CPS, the emphasis isn’t on kids’ specific challenging behaviors or psychiatric diagnoses (which are simply categories of challenging behaviors). Whining, pouting, sulking, withdrawing, crying, screaming, swearing, hitting, spitting, biting, and worse are all just manners in which kids express that there are expectations they’re having difficulty meeting. This approach aims to reduce challenging episodes by working together with children to solve the problems setting challenging behavior in motion in the first place, rather than trying to modify their behavior through application of rewards and punishments. The goal is to foster a collaborative partnership between adults and kids to:

  • engage kids in solving the problems that affect their lives,
  • find solutions that meet both the adults’ and kid’s concerns (as opposed to compromises that might only partially meet the adults’ or kid’s concerns)
  • enhance relationships,
  • improve communication, and
  • help kids and adults learn and display the skills on the more positive side of human nature (e.g., empathy, appreciating how one’s behavior is affecting others, resolving disagreements in ways that do not involve conflict, taking another’s perspective, and honesty).

CPS relies on solving recurring problems proactively at times when kids are not in the heat of the moment. This is in contrast to rewards and consequences interventions that are applied emergently as behaviors happen.

CPS was originated by Ross Greene, Ph.D. His non-profit, Lives in the Balance, outlines and advances CPS, which is explained in detail in his books, The Explosive Child, Lost at School, and Raising Human Beings. CPS has been implemented in countless families, schools, inpatient psychiatry units, therapeutic group homes, and residential and juvenile detention facilities. Extensive research and reviews by panels of scientists support the effectiveness of CPS. Here in Oregon since 2005, OHSU’s Oregon Collaborative Problem Solving Project has widely disseminated a simular model from Think:Kids that Stuart Ablon and others adapted from an early version of Ross Greene’s model. If you’re particularly interested, Ross Greene clarifies on his website that he’s not affliated with Think:Kids’ Collaborative Problem Solving, and he explains his reasons for changing the name of his model to Collaborative & Proactive Solutions.

I’ve received a 2½-day Tier I Training from Think:Kids certified trainers, and I’ve also received a 2-day advanced training by Ross Greene. I judge the simularies to largely outweigh the differences, and I would recommend OHSU’s Think:Kids-affliated Collaborative Problem Solving trainings. Nonetheless, the models do have substantial differences, and I think Ross Greene’s Collaborative & Proactive Solutions is better. For example, his one-page single-sided discussion guide, the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP), more efficently guides conversations toward identifying kids’ lagging skills and unsolved problems than Think:Kids’ unnecessarily lengthier version, the Collaborative Problem Solving Assessment and Planning Tool (CPS-APT).

If you’re having difficulties with your child’s behavior, I recommend receiving services from a mental health professional. I also encourage you to read Ross Greene’s book, The Explosive Child, which is also available in French under the title L’enfant explosif and Spanish under the title El Niño Explosivo. also has a number of resources including a Walking Tour, which is a great introduction to the approach.

Collaborative & Proactive Solutions
Collaborative Problem Solving
💛 Social Emotional Learning