One of the treatment methods I offer children and their families is
Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS), by Dr. Ross Greene.
What is Collaborative Problem
CPS is a method parents and care givers can learn to help children solve problems and learn
skills. It will help children become less challenging.
Dr. Ross Greene uses the term lenses to understand ‘why’ children
do what they do.
And, there are two very important lenses you need to learn as you
work with this model.
- Children are challenging due to lagging cognitive skills. In
other words, they lack the cognitive skills to handle the tasks being asked of them.
- The best way to solve the challenging episodes is to collaboratively solve the
problems with the child. In other words, work together to solve the problems.
Many interventions used by parents, care providers, or service
providers are adult directed.
Parents, family members, care givers, psychologists, social workers,
psychiatrists, teachers, teacher's aids, and other service providers get together and decide how to solve the
child's problem and enforce it through sheer will or through behaviour plans.
The child is not involved or invited.
Collaborative problem solving invites
and seeks input from the child about what the problem(s) might
The CPS model offers an opportunity to:
a) get to the root of the problem with the
b) see the problem from the child’s view, and
c) solve the problem with the child.
Why are Children
As stated earlier, challenging children lack the cognitive skills necessary to do a task or
meet the requirement being asked of them. What exactly does this mean?
Take a child who does not want to do his math homework.
Every time the child is asked to do the homework, the child will throw the papers, perhaps
sit there and stare at the page, scream, or do anything to not comply with the request at all. In this situation
there could be many reasons ‘why’ the child does not or cannot do his math homework. However, there is one thing
you can be sure of: The child is being asked to do a task he finds difficult and has a lagging skill that is
interfering with his success.
We need to remember children do not wake up every morning and ask
themselves “Now, where can I mess up today?” Children want to do well and want other people to
Therefore, a major theme of Collaborative Problem Solving is:
"Kids do well if they
This view has been supported and is continuing to be supported by years of research in
When are children
Children are challenging when the demands or expectations exceed their skill
It is usually at this point that children ‘look bad’. And looking bad can be described
through many words like temper tantrums, screaming, hitting, swearing, non compliance, reckless behaviour. The list
could go on forever.
An important goal for those engaging in CPS is to determine a child’s lagging skills and to
discover the situations or conditions where the lagging skill results in challenging behaviour. In CPS, these
situations are referred to as unsolved problems.
Wow, that was an earful.
Let me give you a visual to help explain this aspect of CPS:
Find lagging skill… Find situations where child is challenging… and you have an unsolved
What does CPS look like?
In the beginning, you as a parent or service provider will
complete the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP). This assessment will be used as a tool to
discuss the child’s lagging skills, to pinpoint the situations that are challenging, and to outline the unsolved
From this point you will be asked
to pick three unsolved problems to work
Yes, only three problems.
You cannot fix every problem at
once and as you begin to problem solve, you may even
probably notice that some of the issues will begin to disappear without even addressing
In sessions, you and the child will begin the problem solving task.
You read that right...
...both of you begin to work on the problem.
You will learn about Plan A, Plan C, and Plan B.
- Plan A is the adult telling the child what will be done.
In other words, you are imposing adult will.
- In plan C, you choose to ignore the challenging
- But in Plan B you are problem solving with the
Plan B consists of three steps:
Step 1: Empathy – you gather as much
information on the problem as you can
from the child. It takes time and
Step 2: Defining the problem – you
contribute the adult perspective and
Step 3: Invitation – you and the child
brainstorm solutions that will meet
both party’s needs. The solution must be realistic and
As you begin to use these steps, you will learn more about
CPS and how each plan and step works within your unsolved problems.
Where you can learn more about CPS?
Dr. Ross Greene has a great website which is full of
information and resources on CPS. Please go to www.livesinthebalance.org.