by Bob Keteyian
Too often, we try to solve behavior problems our kids are having without actively collaborating with the kids. We tell them what we want them to do and why, and expect compliance because what we want them to do is reasonable (to us). Sometimes this works and we get compliance, but is it really a “durable solution,” as Ross Greene would call it?
Ross Greene is a psychologist who specializes in helping kids and adults work together on problem solving that not only results in desired behavior change but actively teaches the child skills necessary to be successful in an on-going way. His most recent book, Lost At School offers a clear, usable format to help adults focus differently on solutions. In one way, the book title is deceptive—making it sound as though this is only about school related issues. It’s not: It’s an approach easily applied in any relationship. In fact I sent him an email acknowledging my use of these principles with adults—an approach that makes sense to him, too, which he validated in his response.
Kids want to behave well and do well. Generally, there is no real incentive to do otherwise. I realize there are exceptions, but they are exceptions. Kids inherently want to do the right thing, and most kids by the time they are in school know basic right from wrong. Often, however, they are lagging in the behavioral skills needed to be consistently successful and/or they have a totally different picture of a situation than the adults around them have.
Here’s an example: Eight-year-old Joel often refuses to do his school work and follow directions both at school and home. Whether he’s cajoled, rewarded, or punished, it makes no difference. Joel looks like and is treated like a stubborn, willful, defiant child. On closer examination and approaching this situation from the lagging skills perspective, another picture emerges. The fact is, Joel gets overwhelmed receiving auditory directions in a group situation. He can’t remember sequential things very well and has a poor sense of time (time estimation). These combined factors mean that Joel gets overwhelmed and feels stupid and embarrassed, as well as misunderstood. Working systematically with Joel on solutions to these individual problems over time had very good results.
Too often, we put a psychological spin on behaviors that are causing problems without accounting for a broader range of possibilities. I’ve written about this in other posts, commenting primarily from the communication styles (individual differences) perspective. Ross Greene’s work helps open our minds to connect better with kids (empathy is the first ingredient in his model), collaborate, teach, and respect one another. The result is durable solutions and stronger, trusting relationships.