She refuses to clean up her room. He won’t stop playing Xbox. She keeps getting out of bed after bedtime. He whacks his brother for touching his basketball. And that’s just a tiny sample of the daily challenges we face as parents. It’s exhausting!
Parenting is one of life’s most rewarding – and demanding – jobs. When things don’t go smoothly – and often they don’t – it’s natural to feel frustrated and stressed, depleting the energy and focus needed for work or running a business.
What do parents do when faced with our kids’ challenging behavior? Most often, we turn immediately to consequences – the strategy we’ve been taught, and the strategy that was used on us, to get expectations met and reduce challenging behavior.
“Benjamin, if you don’t come to the table right now, there will be no dessert after dinner.”
“Sarah, put your iPhone down or I’m going to take it for the rest of the day.”
And that takes care of that. Unless it doesn’t.
For many of us, consequences have stopped working… or have never really worked. Yet, we keep blindly using them and, rather than solving the problem, they often make matters worse. They frequently escalate the child’s challenging behavior and can damage what we care about most: our relationship with our child.
Consequences are about using our power as adults to incentivize kids to do what we want them to do. By design, they can only work if the child has the skills to do what we’re asking but merely lacks the will. For many kids, that assumption is inaccurate or, at a minimum, oversimplified.
What if you had an alternative to consequences that helped you pursue your expectations and reduce challenging behavior while at the same time improving your relationship with your child and building a variety of key life skills?
The Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) model, developed by psychologist Dr. Ross Greene and the Think:Kids program at Massachusetts General Hospital, is a ground-breaking, evidence-based approach that is effective with virtually all children and teenagers. CPS has two main principles:
Challenging behavior is best understood as a result of lagging skills (skills like flexibility, frustration tolerance and problem-solving). The best way to address challenging behavior is by teaching kids the skills they lack.
Once a parent has identified a specific problem (e.g., not finishing homework), CPS employs 3 key steps:
- Empathize with the child to understand his/her perspective on the issue
- Share your adult concerns/perspective
- Brainstorm, assess and choose a mutually satisfying solution to try
The Collaborative Problem Solving approach is both highly skill-building and fosters the three universal, innate psychological needs— for competence, autonomy, and relatedness— that, when satisfied, promote optimal well-being and growth. In addition to CPS being a very effective parenting strategy, it also makes us feel good about the values we’re modeling to our kids: empathy, respect, curiosity, and flexibility.
In our pursuit to raise well-rounded, confident, kind and successful kids, we tend to look externally— to tutoring, music, sports, art, volunteering.
But what shapes our children the most is their relationship with us, their parents. We owe it to our kids— and to ourselves— to learn concrete strategies that shift us away from impatient, reactive, authoritarian parenting towards calm, pro-active, relationship-building and skill-building parenting.
Let 2018 be the year you carve out time to learn an approach that truly brings out the best in both you and your child.
Karen Kraut, MPH, GCCP, is a parenting coach and Certified Trainer in the Collaborative Problem Solving approach based in Massachusetts General Hospital’s Think:Kids program. She founded Be The Parent You Want to Be! to teach parents CPS and co-founded Making Parenting WORK, which provides maternity and parenting wellness programs in the workplace.
Karen provides individual/couples coaching in CPS, leads workshops and presents on CPS throughout greater Boston, and has worked with over 700 parents in the last 4 years. She has a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Community Health Education from University of California, Berkeley; a Graduate Certificate in Counseling and Psychology from Lesley University; and a B.A. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Karen is the mother of two sons, ages 12 and 10, and has experienced directly the many challenges of parenting as well as the tremendous benefits of CPS to her children, her spouse, and herself.