Child psychiatrists have a lot of kids come into our office with problems related to temper tantrums, explosive episodes, etc. You have developed a process for working with these kids. Tell us about it.Dr. Greene: Collaborative Problem Solving views challenging behavior, like temper tantrums, as the result of lagging skills, not necessarily a symptom of a disease. It involves working with a child to get to the root of the problem behavior.
What do you mean by “lagging skills”?Dr. Greene: What I mean is that the child doesn’t have the skills needed to respond to a situation appropriately—skills like problem-solving, tolerance for frustration, and flexibility and adaptability.
So what can we do for these children?Dr. Greene: Well, when we collaboratively solve the problems that are setting challenging behavior in motion, then we simultaneously teach the child the skills he or she is lacking that set the stage for the problem in the first place. The key to this is working together with the child—collaborating—to solve the problem, not making assumptions about what the problem is and forcing a solution.
Tell us more about this.Dr. Greene: Well, adults often resort to what I call “Plan A,” which is unilateral problem solving. In The Explosive Child, I encourage “Plan B,” which entails collaborative problem solving.
Can you give an example?Dr. Greene: Sure. One example from the book is a family leaving Disney World after spending a day there. Casey, the son, who is prone to explosive behavior, says, “I want cotton candy.” A Plan A response would be simply, “No, you can’t have cotton candy, we’re about to have dinner.” But Casey is a boy who has shown that he will respond to this approach with violent temper tantrums. So the family tried “Plan B.” The father crouched down next to his son, and did some problem solving. “So let’s think about this for a second,” he said. “You really wanted cotton candy, and you’re hungry for a snack before dinner. You’ve already had a lot of sugar today. Can you think of any ideas for a snack that isn’t so sugary?” Eventually, Casey settled down and agreed to getting some french fries at McDonalds on the way back, and then had a reasonably healthy dinner at the hotel.
So it’s important to involve the child in determining the problem and its solution.Dr. Greene: Yes, and Plan B is more than just talking. Plan B involves three ingredients. The first is getting the kid’s concerns or perspective on the table on a particular unsolved problem. The second is getting the adult’s concerns or perspective on the same unsolved problem. The third is brainstorming solutions that are realistic and address the concerns of both parties.
Where can we learn more about this approach?Dr. Greene: People can visit the website of my non-profit organization, Lives in the Balance, at www.livesinthebalance.org. There are a lot of resources there, including information on trainings and seminars and handouts for families.