Primary Elementary Teachers Association

Collaborative Problem Solving | Dr. Ross Greene Biography

What is Collaborative Problem Solving?

The Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach was first described in Dr. Greene's book, The Explosive Child. It describes two important pieces of understanding that are essential to dealing with behavioral challenges. First, that social, emotional, and behavioral challenges in kids are best understood as the by-product of lagging cognitive skills (rather than, for example, as attention-seeking, manipulative, limit-testing, or a sign of poor motivation); and second, that these challenges are best addressed by resolving the problems that are setting the stage for challenging behavior in a collaborative manner (rather than through reward and punishment programs and intensive imposition of adult will).

Challenging kids let us know they're struggling in some fairly common ways (screaming, swearing, defying, hitting, spitting, throwing things, breaking things, crying, withdrawing, and so forth). But if you want to understand why a kid is exhibiting challenging behavior, you'll need to identify the specific skills he's lacking. And if you want to start reducing challenging behavior, you'll need to identify the specific unsolved problems that are precipitating his challenging episodes. 

Reducing challenging behavior is accomplished by helping challenging children and their adult caretakers learn to resolve disagreements and disputes in a collaborative, mutually satisfactory manner. Dr. Greene has developed a collaborative method that helps students and teachers identify the source of the problem and then work collaboratively towards solutions that actually work and that are both realistic and mutually satisfactory.

As you might imagine, because CPS represents a bit of a departure from the conventional wisdom, many people have misconceptions about the model. For example, some folks believe that implementing CPS means that adults must abandon all of their expectations (it doesn't mean that at all), or that we're simply making excuses for the child (understanding a child's challenges and helping him or her overcome these challenges is a far cry from making's hard work), or that adults no longer have the authority to set limits (not to worry...CPS does involve setting limits, but in a way that's a little different and probably a lot more effective than what people might be used to).

Where has the CPS model been applied?

In countless families, schools, inpatient psychiatry units, residential facilities, and juvenile detention facilities, the CPS model has been shown to be an effective way to reduce conflict and teach the skills kids need to function adaptively in the real world.

Where can I find more information?

On the website of Dr. Greene's new non-profit organization, Lives in the Balance.