It’s the middle of the school year.
Winter break has come and gone, and you and your child are back to the all too familiar arguments about completing their homework before any screen time.
The teacher has sent e-mails letting you know that the work isn’t being done and meetings have been held to try to resolve the issue. At home, behavior charts have been made, decisions on grounding have been enforced, and privileges have been taken away.
Despite all the effort that has been put into the situation, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. When you tell your child that it is time to go do their homework, they explode. Your child starts throwing books on the ground, crumpling papers, and snapping pencils in half. Yelling matches ensue. You feel drained, and your child’s frustration seems to have reached a new threshold.
Before bed after a particularly intense quarrel, you decide to search the internet for something – anything – to help that you haven’t tried before. To your surprise (and relief), you find that many other parents have posted about situations that are similar to yours. Their children display explosive challenging behavior under certain circumstances, but are well-behaved at other times. One parent wrote about how they stumbled across the idea of lagging skills and Collaborative Problem Solving, and how it helped restore peace to their family. You are taken aback by how lagging skills describe areas where your child struggles, and decide that Collaborative Problem Solving just might be worth a shot…
Collaborative Problem Solving is an approach based on the idea that challenging behavior stems from lagging skills and not a child purposefully trying to be difficult. Because of this, the approach aims to teach skills and solve problems, rather than suppress unwanted behavior. The teaching and problem solving is done collaboratively between an adult and child. Working together with your child on solving problems can uncover valuable insights and lead to more harmonious interactions, while helping them practice the skills that they need to manage their emotions.
Collaborative Problem Solving can be broken down into 3 steps:
Choose a time when both you and your child are calm and have sufficient time to talk. First, acknowledge that there is a problem, and ask for your child’s perspective on the problem in a non-accusatory fashion. For example, “I’ve noticed lately that homework has been very difficult – what do you think is going on?” Give your child time to explain it in their own words, and reassure them that you want to work together – not impose your own ideas. Listen to your child’s concerns and let them know you understand. Empathize with your child.
Let your child know your own concerns and perspective on the problem. For example, “My concern is that if you don’t do your homework, you will have trouble understanding what is going on in class, and you will get even more frustrated.” Presenting your point of view can help your child to understand where you’re coming from, and show them that you’re invested in helping them.
Finally, invite your child to work with you to brainstorm solutions to the problem that are mutually satisfactory. For example, “I bet we can work together to figure out a way to make homework time not so difficult. Do you have any ideas?” Think about ideas together until you can agree on one, and make a plan to try it out. Be sure to let your child know that if for some reason the plan doesn’t work, you can work together again to try a different solution.
Collaborative Problem Solving is a process. It’s entirely possible that the first solution you and child come up with doesn’t work – and that’s okay! By participating in the process itself, both you and your child are building a cooperative relationship. This relationship will support future problem-solving endeavors, will lead to more productive communication, and will make room for more peaceful, enjoyable family interactions.
(1) Greene, R. W. (2014). The explosive child: a new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children. New York: Harper.
(2) Ablon, S., Ph.D. Think:Kids – Collaborative Problem Solving | Official Website of the Collaborative Problem Solving Approach. Retrieved from http://www.thinkkids.org/
Google image retrieved from: http://www.paulkeijzer.com/if-you-want-people-to-collaborate-put-them-next-to-each-other/
This article was prepared with the invaluable help of Sarah Parenteau, a second-year graduate student at Tufts University’s Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development. Sarah is passionate about understanding and improving the lives of individuals affected by various psychological issues, and specifically has a strong interest in child therapy. In her future endeavors, she plans to work as a psychologist to help children and families through assessment, consultation, and treatment.