Sunday, November 28, 2010

I Don't care - I don't mind - Kids don't need to own our concerns

Chatting, general conversations, and dialog with our kids is important not only for relationship but they are non-emotive activities where the cps skills can be learned and the problem solving process understood. Kids need to appreciate that we solve problems by laying side by side various concerns or perspectives , define the problem , brainstorm solutions which are realistic, and doable. When we discuss problems that we have read in the press or see/read in the media or even fictitious stories , we learn to identify the concerns, motives and perspectives of others and think how we can brainstorm and come up with realistic, doable and mutually satisfying solutions. The child learns that problems are solved by ' working with ' people and talking it through focusing on concerns and then solutions. Most adults solve problems by negotiation- dueling of solutions instead of taking a step back to understand the cause of the problem and identify concerns.

It would be great if kids would empathy or identify with the concerns of others , but not owning the concerns of others does not get in the way of taking into account the concerns or perspective of others in order to solve a problem. The aim is to find a solution that both parties can live with. When kids have the opportunity to reflect on problems , the different perspectives and concerns , it will be easier for them to take our perspective despite the emotive nature of the issue

So after a kid says - I don't care , I don't mind not having a shower ' the Mom

Can - re empathizing, redefining the problem and inviting say :

I know you don't care , I know you don't mind not having a shower. But I mind. Remember we are trying to come up with a solution that will make both of us happy. Going for a couple of days without taking a shower , doesn't make me happy . I think we can find a way to solve the problem in a way that we both can be happy. So can we try again.?

It often happens that parents are so desperate to find ANY solution that the kid will agree to , that they give up on their concerns. We need to be pretty assertive on putting our concerns on the table and if the process gets stuck , we can always say that we will take a break and come back to the problem , in the meantime each of us can try on our own think of a solution that will take into account both concerns. The problem often arises where we have not spent enough time on the concerns. Instead the focus becomes 2 solutions and we have a situation - the dueling of solutions or negotiation.

If we cannot come up with a mutually satisfying solution , then we might try a ' bit of give and take ' or ask for a third party to help the parties reach an agreed solution.

Here are some insights from the on

I Don't Care


The first step of Plan B gets your child’s concern or perspective on the table. In the second step of Plan B, you as parent get to put your concern or perspective on the table before the third step involves inviting your child to brainstorm some potential solutions to the problem. Right after step 2 you might find yourself stuck if your kid says, “I don’t care about your concern!”

Is that a show-stopper for Plan B? Is caring about the adult concern necessary to do Plan B? You might be surprised by the answer: No. While it would be great for your child to truly care about your concern or perspective, s/he actually only has to take it into account when thinking about potential solutions. She doesn’t need to “own” your concern, appreciate it fully, or even agree with your perspective necessarily. So when you get confronted with “I don’t care” you actually have a pretty easy response, “You don’t have to care about it. It’s my concern, not yours!” The process of doing Plan B does require taking the other person’s perspective or concern into account but that does not mean that one has to be as invested in it as the other person. In fact, we often ask folks, do you really care as much about your kid’s concern as they do? For example, is their GameBoy time as important to you as them completing their homework? Probably not! But that doesn’t mean that you can’t take their perspective into account when trying to generate some mutually satisfactory solutions to the problem. One more piece of good news: we find over time that the process of doing Plan B teaches kids (and us parents!) to care more about each other’s concerns as we come to see that this caring doesn’t come at the cost of addressing our own concerns.

A final thought for today: Why don’t kids care about their parent’s concerns anyway? Could be many different reasons but sometimes its as simple as that we’ve taught them (through the use of Plan A) that we aren’t too invested in their concerns. In other words, if you do a lot of Plan A, don’t be surprised to .


Monday, November 22, 2010

Neuroplasticity - CPS /SDT vs behaviorism

The standard treatment for ADHD kids and other challenging kids has been behavior modification programs. Based on behaviorist principles, one could modify behavior using extrinsic rewards, consequences and punishments. There has been a movement away from punishment and parents are recommended to use rewards - ' honey catches more flies than vinegar '.

There is growing evidence that the effects of behavior modification do not generalize to other areas or persist after the rewards are taken away.

Dan Pink , the author of the book ' Drive '  that deals with motivation shows that incentives and rewards narrow a person's vision and  thinking. When tasks involve some thinking and exploration , a wider perpective and focus , rewards get in the way and narrow focus.

Self Determined theory researchers have shown that rewards undermine intrinsic motivation, and kids lose interest in the activity. In the short term, we may get compliance but there is unlikely to be any commitment to the values taught.

CPS – collaborative problem solving approach sees behavior challenges as not a behavioral problem or a motivational problem but the kid is lacking various cognitive skills , in other words he lacks ' competence '. This is due to a developmental delay in the brain affecting many cognitive skills.

The standard treatment of medication and behavior modification is not a cure for ADHD and other challenges. CPS on the other hand promotes lacking skills.

But that is not everything – CPS produces changes in the brain.

'Neuroscience has changed considerably in the past 20 years. An example of change over period is the concept of brain plasticity. Brain plasticity refers to the brain's ability to rewire itself, relocating information processing functions to different brain areas and/or neural networks. Two decades ago, it was believed that brain networks were static after its initial formation period. Now that belief has changed. The study of brain plasticity has profound implications in human learning and behavior, and as such, for mental health.'

In his book – To cure ADHD
 Dr Gimpel recommends BET - Brain exercise therapy and CPS not only as Dr Greene says to help promote lacking skills , but CPS makes actual positive physical changes in the brain.

The way we parent can impact on our kids' physical brains as well. If we parent unconditionally , support their autonomy = their perceptions that their actions are self directed and connected to their inner core and not reactions or resistance to parental authority , competence , good relationships and solve problems in a collaborative way we promote growth in the brain. If our parenting is conditional and contingent using rewards to get compliance we impact on kids' brains in a negative way.

From the Self Determined theory site ' Some of the most surprising insights to emerge from SDT research call into question the traditional use of incentives. For example, behavioral research has shown that extrinsic rewards, like money or grades, actually undermine a person's interest in voluntarily engaging in a task. In short, rewards can backfire.

Kou Murayama from the University of Munich, Germany explored the neurobiology underlying this counterintuitive finding at the conference. In a recent study, Murayama and his colleagues scanned the brains of participants before and after completing a timed task. One group of participants was promised a reward. A second group performed the task with no incentive, although afterward they were surprised with compensation.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the study showed that entirely different areas of the brain are activated by the same task depending on whether a person anticipates a payoff or not. When focused on a reward, the brain switches off those areas associated with voluntary or self-initiated activities. '


Monday, November 15, 2010

Plan B- Step 3 - invitation to brainstorm mutually satisfying solutions

Before we start the CPS process we should try to connect with the child and enter his world. Pro-active , out of the moment problem solving enables us to find a good time and place to first connect , maybe over a treat , to feel good about one another and then move into the problem solving process.

The first step in the collaborative problem solving process is the empathy step where we focus on gathering information about the child's concerns and if necessary we reassure him that we are not going to force him to do anything – use Plan A but we just want to listen and hear his concerns and perspective.

The second step is then putting your concerns on the table, laying the concerns side by side and then defining the problem in an objective way.

The third step is the invitation to brainstorm and find various mutually satisfying solutions which are realistic and doable. We should try and find more than one solution.

We need to remember that the process of CPS provides learning opportunities and acquiring skills. It is a process and not a technique. Techniques focus on achievement or the end result. CPS focuses on the process. Every step of the way , you and your child are learning new skills.


Invitation to Brainstorm

Frame the problem:

“I wonder if there’s a way that….” (repeat their concerns and your concerns)

Give kid first crack at it (“Do you have any ideas?) -- but provide help if needed

The New, Improved Invitation - from the blog


Since the model described in the book Treating Explosive Kids: The Collaborative Problem Solving Approach is a fairly new model, one of the most exciting things is watching it develop over time. We are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve the model so it’s easier to understand and more effective to use. Hearing about the successes and failures of folks like you trying the model lets us know what works and what still needs some work. And then these blogs provide a good way for us to get new developments in the model out to you all quickly. So here’s one of the latest:

The first two steps of Plan B (the Empathy step and the Define the Problem step) are intended to get your child’s concerns and then your concerns on the table. The third step is the Invitation where you invite your child to help brainstorm solutions that reconcile those two sets of concerns. In the past, we instructed people to use generic invitations like: “Let’s see how we can solve this. Do you have any ideas?” or “Let’s see how we can work this out. Do you have any ideas?” But recently we realized that sometimes generic invitations like this left people short, and the first response from the kid was often something like, “Nope!” or “Solve what? Work what out?!” Not surprising really since many challenging kids have trouble with focus and working memory(both things needed to retain all the information you gathered in the first two steps of Plan B)! So nowadays, we suggest using much more specific Invitations that recap the concerns to be reconciled. Using a phrase like, “I wonder if there’s way …” can also help lead a horse to water (or in this case, lead your kid and you to some possible solutions!). So here’s what the new, improved Invitation might sound like then: “I wonder if there’s way for you to be comfortable and yet still look half way decent for the party. Got any ideas? Or I wonder if there’s a way that you can make sure to get some time playing your Game boy without it interfering with your homework. Do you have any ideas? Or I wonder if there’s way that you can have a snack when you’re hungry without losing your appetite for dinner?” Now, ready for a few more examples on some tougher issues? The process is still the same: “I wonder if there’s a way for you to be able to stay out late with you friends with us still knowing where you are and what you are up to. Got any ideas? Or I wonder if there’s way to show your boyfriend how much you care about him without moving too fast or risking getting pregnant? Or I wonder if there’s a way to help slow down your mind at night so you can fall asleep without having to use drugs that are illegal and might be addictive?”

Of course all of these new, improved Invitations can only be possible after doing the hard work of the first two steps of Proactive Plan B to clarify each person’s concerns. Not even the best invitation can rescue Plan B from poorly defined concerns unfortunately! Oh, and by the way, when your kid starts getting irritated with hearing you say, “I wonder if there’s a way” all the time, feel free to depart from the script and say it in your own words! Maybe something like, “There’s got to be a way that …” or “Let’s figure out a solution so that …” Hope that helps. Good luck!


Motivation behind positive or negative behaviors - CPS and SDT

1 I don't think kids are motivated to act in an inappropriate way - negative behavior is more about lacking skills , lack of trust and acceptance and maybe trying to fit in with a negative group.

CPS says that kids do well if they can and not - kids do well if they want to. Kids would prefer

to do well , be successful , behave adaptively and fit in rather than be in trouble and playing cat and mouse with the adults in their lives. So kids are already motivated, the preferred choice is to be successful. Their maladaptive behavior is a sign that they don't have the coping skills to deal with situations. They cannot express their autonomy because they don't have the coping skills. What happens in reality is parents or teachers see this as a motivation problem , so they try to find ways to help the kid to ' wanna ' behave himself.

According to Self Determined Theory SDT , kids express and perceive autonomy when they are connected to their inner core values and their decisions reflect themselves. Autonomy is not independence , it is not about kids expressing independence by resisting adult control. This is the actual paradox that teenagers often fail to get. When they are so busy resisting adult control or involvement , trying to show that adults can't make them do anything or control them , we find that for these kids are choosing their parents agenda , the agenda is actually being set by the parents , their whole lives are dictated by what their parents or teachers do. They don't have the skills to further their interests and support their autonomy in an appropriate way. This leads conflict and bad feelings which prevents kids from benefiting from ' relatedness ' . The emotional baggage undermines relatedness and thereby autonomy.

The controlling and punitive approach in dealing with these kids undermines the possibility of ever creating a trusting relationship between adults and kids. This lack of trust gets in the way of ' autonomy' as kids are focused on surviving the cat and mouse scenario , negative relatedness.

Relatedness in a positive sense , ie positive relationships can trigger non-appropriate behavior. These challenging kids are generally not accepted by their parents as they fail to behave or do OK at school. Because they are conditionally accepted by their parents , they find a ' safe place to land ' amongst negative peers. They are not accepted amongst peers because of their behaviors but feel respected , feel a sense of worth by negative peers or other gang members. What these kids don't get from parents , teachers and peers , they will find elsewhere. Being part of a gang or a negative group may mean that the kid wants to prove himself and therefore engage in inappropriate behavior. These behaviors are not expressions of autonomy but a compensation for the lack of acceptance .

2 Motivation to not engage in negative behavior maybe purely extrinsic to avoid consequences . Intrinsic motivation is only likely when kids can express their autonomy , when they have the skills to act in a competent way and they trust other people.

I think we should look at whether inappropriate behaviors are self – determined or not rather whether kids are motivated or not . Because kids can be motivated to do well , but because their needs of perceived competence and competence itself and relatedness are not being met or actualized , they cannot be self-determined.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

When kids get stuck - CPS

When Kids get stuck  - An old post from Beth Edelstein of
When kids get stuck-we basically have three choices on how to handle it-We can let them have their way (Plan C), We can force them to get unstuck by imposing our will(Plan A)or teach them the skills they need to get unstuck for this and other situations through collaborative problem solving(Plan B).

With Plan A, you will get him unstuck while addressing your concerns, but your are likely to cause a meltdown which isn't likely to help him the next time he gets stuck. With Plan C you will get him unstuck, he won't meltdown, but you won't be teaching him any skills or addressing your concerns. With Plan B you will help him stay calm (avoid a meltdown) so he can think clearly, teach him the lacking skills, while still getting him unstuck and addressing your concerns.

As described more fully in the handout and book, Plan B has 3 steps:

1. Empathy (typically accomplished through reflective listening) and Reassurance, where his concern gets on the table

2. Problem Definition, where your concern gets on the table

3. Invitation, where you work together to find a mutually satisfactory, doable and durable solution

When kids get stuck, I find that they are typically stuck on one particular solution to a concern that they often are having difficulty articulating. With help to articulate the concern, rather than the solution, it opens the door for the adult to express their concern and a win-win solution to be found. How is that accomplished? Often with a few questions, such as: I am wondering why?, how come?, what are you afraid of or worried about?, "why is that?" Lets take the example of when a child comes to you and says "I want to go the store now to buy x". Using Plan B, you would want to empathize with that: "You want to go to the store right now to buy x". This is really a solution though to a concern he has that is not yet defined. There are so many reasons/concerns why he might want to go the store to get x today. You need to help him articulate the concern (I think of it as peeling an onion). So, you might say-how come? He might say that it is because you promised he could get it, or his friend has one and its cool, or he is bored with the toys he has or...... You may have to dig further then, for example-if you promised he could get it, you might need to ask-Why is that we need to go get it right now? What is he afraid of if you don't get it right now. Let's say he then says or through suggestions from you, such as-Do you think it might be that you are afraid that I might forget to take you if it doesn't happen right now? or Do you think it it is just going to be really hard to wait? you find out that he is worried you will forget. You can then empathize with that, "You are worried if we don't go now I might forget". You would then share your concern, i.e.: "I am concerned that if we go now I won't be able to make dinner for the family and we are all getting hungry. You can then invite him to find a solution: "Let's think of what we could do so you don't worry about my forgetting to take you to the store and I can cook dinner right now." You would give him a chance to come up with a solution first before making suggestions. Let's say he suggests getting the toy now and going out for dinner. You will want to help him look at the likely outcomes of that, i.e.: That is an interesting idea, it would work for you because you would get your toy now, but it wouldn't work well for me because going out for dinner would cost money that I need for other things our family needs. Let's see if we can think of another idea that would work for both of us?... As you can see the goal is to come up with a solution that takes everyone's concerns into account, allows you to get your expectations met, that he/you are capable of doing.

What I have described was Emergency Plan B (in the moment). By reviewing those situations where a child frequently struggles (as you describe doing)it gives the information we need to do Proactive Plan B. What would that sound like? Empathy: "I have noticed that when you get an idea about something you want to happen (like the other day when you wanted to get the toy right then) that it is hard for you to wait". (Defining his concern-really just expressed his solution) I am wondering why that is?........

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Relax the atmoshere with CPS - LEE vs HEE - expressed emotion

CPS – collaborative problem solving helps parents to be more relaxed and in control of their emotions enabling them to be the source of joy , hope and happiness in their families. Families with challenging kids are very stressed out – see my posts – Welcome to Holland/ Beirut !! .

 Restoring the ' joys of life ' can be pretty difficult but very important. Parents have to be a THERMOSTAT for their kids and help them calm down and be happy , so they need to introduce plenty of song , dance and music into the homes.

Instead of following the advice of most therapists ' it is time that you show leadership and get back into control , be the captain of your ship ' which inevitably leads to WW3 - you are usually comforted that the situation will get worse and then get better , when you kids will see who is really the 'boss' – lower the rope , relax the atmosphere , use Plan C – prioritize challenging behaviors and put many as possible of the issues on the shelf . This helps to minimize conflict and create an atmosphere where parents and kids can bond and connect through general chatting, dialog and conversations. CPS is collaborative in nature , the child and the parent are on the same side , you don't need the ' united front' against your kid. You want to enter his world and reach out to him and help him come up with a better plan. You don't need to be assertive and show your power.

CPS is conducive to Low expressed emotion. Although most parenting approaches talk about speaking in a neutral tone and not screaming or yelling trying to impose your authority and still keep calm are really not a good fit, so most parents end up blaming, criticizing and yelling. ' Back in Control ' parenting is controlling , parents become over-involved trying to control the situation and find solutions without consulting or even taking into account the concerns of kids. This is highly conducive to High emotion expression HEE

Here is some info on "EE" and schizophrenia

Expressed Emotion (EE):

'It was obvious that families may be involved in the progress of the condition, but they are unlikely to have been the cause of it. However, the environment the schizophrenia sufferer returns to after treatment influences the likelihood of successful recovery. Homes where face-to-face interaction is characterized by intense emotional concern or criticism are less conducive to recovery than homes with more emotionally stable interactions. Relapse rates are highest where contact is most fraught.

Brown (1972) showed that patients who returned from hospital to homes where there was a high level of emotionality (High levels of Emotion were Expressed — HEE) were more likely to have a relapse, and would have it sooner than those with LEE (Low levels of Emotion Expressed) families. The kinds of emotions that were expressed were high levels of concern for the sufferers, leading to doing everything for them, being highly critical of their attempts to help themselves, and being very ‘strung out’ generally. These families were characterized by people (mothers usually) rushing around and driving themselves to exhaustion, looking after each other, fussing constantly and being overly possessive. Vaughn and Leff (1976) found 51 per cent of schizophrenic relapses in HEE families, compared to 13 per cent in LEE homes. The more contact the sufferer had with HEE relatives, the higher the relapse rate.

The evidence for the effect of other family members and their emotional responses on recovery from schizophrenia is now well established (and the care package for schizophrenia recovery usually includes some education and support for other family members).

Evidence for the importance of expressed emotion has been found in studies across different cultures so there can be little doubt of its importance in explaining relapse. Unfortunately for the EE explanation, there are also high relapse rates amongst those recovering from schizophrenia who are not in contact with any former family members, so the expressed emotion hypothesis may not be entirely true.' - Psychology notes

'Another example is research done in the area of "expressed emotions [EE]" and psychiatric illness. Years of research clearly show that a psychiatric patient released from the hospital to live with his or her high EE family is twice as likely to relapse and return to the hospital than the patient returning to a low EE family. As noted by a prominent researcher in this area (Hooley, 1998); "The term EE [expressed emotion] is rather misleading since EE is not a measure of how willing a relative is to express emotion or to vent feelings. Rather EE is a reflection of the extent to which the relative expresses critical, hostile, or emotionally over-involved attitudes toward the patient"(p. 631). Note the reluctance of researchers to be honest and open about the fact that they are speaking about a critical family. Instead, they camouflage this information behind the euphemism "expressed emotion."

The above-mentioned researcher, after noting the powerful effect of EE on the relapse rate of psychiatric patients, adds: "These data do not, of course, mean that families cause schizophrenia." I wrote to this researcher and asked if there was any research evidence, as implied by the term "of course," that high EE does not cause schizophrenia? She replied that "the appropriate studies have not been done." She did not explain why she assumes, as an obvious fact, that high EE doesn't cause schizophrenia, in the absence of research evidence. She did state however, that "because of the past tradition of blaming families for causing schizophrenia, it is important that researchers in this area don't go beyond the science in making any unwarranted inferences." It seems however, that when one is being politically correct, then it is quite acceptable to go beyond the science and state, as a proven fact, that EE doesn't cause schizophrenia. In addition, contrary to this researcher's assertion, there is evidence that children in high EE families are more likely to suffer from serious mental illness in adolescence, (see studies cited in Karon & Widener, 1994). ' Dr B Sorotzkin


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Criticism , blame CPS , SDT 2

Criticism or blame focuses on the person. Instead of asking ' What's the matter with you ' and focusing on the kid we can try and help him focus on the effects of his actions on others. 'I am disappointed when you do THAT – helps a kid reflect on how his action might have hurt others' feelings. 

 Instead of blame we can just ask questions or lead the discussion by just simply saying what we saw or ' I have noticed that your homework is not getting done, what's up ?

SDT Self determination theory research shows that kids will internalize messages when they are given in a way that kids can reflect and come to their own conclusions. The stronger or more ' honest ' the criticism, the less internalization takes place. Also when the criticism focuses on the person, the kid responds with denials , rebuttals , blaming and often swearing and cursing. The focus has shifted away from what the kid did and is now all about the parent who can be blamed for getting in the way , interfering , controlling or not supporting. If the kid has other siblings , the discussion begins to revolve what about his brother and sister . When dealing with issues is solution focused , we don't have kids diverting the discussion to how their other siblings are behaving.

Telling kids the honest truth in a loving way unfortunately pushes them further from the truth and alienates them from you. In any case we want them to focus on their actions and how they affect others.

We can deal with issues by ' doing to ' kids - coercision , threats , consequences, punishments , blame and criticism or trying to manipulate them with rewards or incentives or leverage their behavior with consequences. Here we have a solution in mind . We want the kid to do it our way.

When we collaborate with the kid and problem solve , we go into the process without a  preconceived solution.  We don't try to manipulate the kid to comply with our solution by doing  Plan A ( parent solution ) in the guise of Plan B ( collaborative problem solving ). We tell the kid – we are not going to force you to do anything . This actually allows the child to step forward – like a dance , when you step back , your partner steps forward. The process starts out focusing on the kid's concerns , so he feels understood and will more likely now be open to hear our concerns. As one parent said after solving a problem with CPS – this is the first time – I felt heard.

When we engage in CPS when certainly do not want the kid to feel bad or just to stamp out a particular behavior out of existence but we want our kids to become ' authors' and 'origins' in their lives , being part of the solution which will solve problems in a way which are mutually satisfactory and durable. We also want to avoid injuring the relationship. And most we want to influence kids the way they think and feel, that they don't hurt others, not because they are afraid of the punishments, but they with our help become the kind of people who wouldn't want to act cruelly.

And of course , being part of the solution by participating in collaborative problem solving is imho the highest expression of responsibility and accountability.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

(Constructive) criticism , blame , cps and sdt

In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as constructive criticism. Criticism is poison to relationships like sugar is to teeth. It does not help to say to kids ' I love you, but not your actions.' Kids don't make that distinction. Criticism is about blame, and can easily be perceived as a form of punishment and rejection. Using praise and expressions of approval can be also a form of punishment when it is given contingent on what kids do.

Alfie Kohn in his book ' Unconditional Parenting explains –

Nearly half a century ago, the pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers offered an answer to the question "What happens when a parent's love depends on what children do?" He explained that those on the receiving end of such love come to disown the parts of themselves that aren't valued. Eventually they regard themselves as worthy only when they act (or think or feel) in specific ways. This is basically a recipe for neurosis - or worse. A publication by the Irish Department of Health and Children (which has been circulated and adopted by other organizations all over the world) offers ten examples to illustrate the concept of "emotional abuse." Number two on the list, right after "persistent criticism, sarcasm, hostility or blaming," is "conditional parenting, in which the level of care shown to a child is made contingent on his or her behaviors or actions.''

Kids who are blamed and criticized by parents will in return learn to blame others and especially their parents for their failures, difficulties and misfortunes. Parents complain that kids never want to admit that they did something wrong. For parents this is the meaning of taking responsibility, taking the blame and being accountable. If we take out ' blame ', we are promoting a ' No fault ' society and we don't want that.

Parents put a lot of energy in trying to get kids 'admit what they did'. Kids generally will resist this as it feels like a punishment, humiliation and certainly does not make them feel good. Is it necessary for kids to first feel bad in order for them to improve themselves? Is taking the blame a precondition for taking responsibility and solving problems? Maybe getting rid of the word ' blame ' will enable kids to go beyond ' I am to blame ' and actually solve the problem and engage in the moral act of restitution.

In order to avoiding criticizing kids and get rid of the word ' blame', we need to have a different perspective about misbehavior, infractions and unmet expectations. If we have a fixed mindset and have house rules, it is highly likely that when these rules are broken , we will be obliged to issue a consequence , punishment or some verbal reprimand or criticism. If we have a ' growth mindset' , that 'mistakes' are our friends and opportunities for learning , we will engage in CPS collaborative problem solving to solve problems and unmet expectations. When we offer compassion and understanding when kids fail, we teach them that we all can make mistakes, that we all make mistakes, and in many instances we learn only through making mistakes. Just as we can make mistakes , we can fix them. As Dr Greene says ' Children do well if they can ' and not ' children do well if they want to ' , so forget about reprimanding them and instead help them come up with a better plan.

June Tangney explains that people who blame themselves end up blaming others. We often hear how some people end an argument or discussion by saying ' I am to blame '. They are in fact offering a solution to a problem – blame me, let me take the responsibility for what happened. Because this does not solve the problem, they eventually look for someone else to blame.

Now we as people do experience some emotion when we have done something wrong or have not acted according to our values. We will respond in different ways, depending on the emotion. June Tangney suggests that ' shame' leads to a person feeling bad about the ' self' making themselves into objects.

The person says ' How could '' I '' do that?

When a person experiences guilt he says ' How could I do THAT ?

The focus is no longer on the self but on the action. Feelings of shame leads to blaming oneself. Feelings of guilt leads to problem solving.

Instead of (constructive ) criticism why not do some CPS – collaborative problem solving. An important part of solving problems is ' externalizing the problem ' – separating the problem from the self as an object and focusing on the self as a process.

We internalize our values and externalize problems.

Blaming others is a bad position to work from. One will always be stuck with a belief that ' your mother is to blame ' for your difficulties.

"Placing the blame or judgment on someone else

leaves you powerless to change your experience.

Taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments

gives you the power to change them." Byron Katie

Blaming yourself does not help either. It focuses on the past and you the object who needs to be done to – reprimanded , criticized . Blame and self- criticism prevent one from dealing with the future.

Accountability and taking responsibility for some parents means ' Getting a child to admit they did wrong' and usually means they need to suffer more pain. This focuses on the self as an object.

When kids are not subjected to a controlling and a judgmental environment they feel more autonomous. Autonomy and being unconditionally accepted by teachers and parents is crucial for kids' moral development, being able to externalize problems, internalize values ,take responsibility and solve problems.

Alfie Kohn – Unconditional Teaching article

In an illuminating passage from her recent book Learning to Trust (2003), Marilyn Watson explained that a teacher can make it clear to students that certain actions are unacceptable while still providing “a very deep kind of reassurance – the reassurance that she still care[s] about them and [is] not going to punish or desert them, even [if they do] something very bad.” This posture allows “their best motives to surface,” thus giving “space and support for them to reflect and to autonomously engage in the moral act of restitution” – that is, to figure out how to make things right after doing something wrong. “If we want our students to trust that we care for them,” she concludes, “then we need to display our affection without demanding that they behave or perform in certain ways in return. It’s not that we don’t want and expect certain behaviors; we do. But our concern or affection does not depend on it.”

When we involve our kids in CPS, collaborative problem solving they are being far more accountable and responsible by being part of a solution that will solve the problem for ever. Blaming others or even yourself is just a form of punishment , destroys relationships and self esteem and leaves you with a problem not solved.

So instead of (constructive) criticism engage in CPS , instead of trying yo get your kids to admit what they did , just explain that there is a problem and that you would appreciate their input. They are more likely to respond positively to this request than admit that they are to blame.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Problem solving - Plan B- drilling down to ' quality' concerns/ concerns vs solutions

The first step in the collaborative problem solving process is the Empathy step.

We try to gather information about the child's concerns and perspectives and if necessary reassuring him that we are not interested in imposing our solution, we just want his input and hear his side of the story.

Kids may know what they want and wanted to do or what they did. These are not concerns, but rather solutions to concerns. Kids and adults often present their concerns in terms of solutions. We need to help them take a step back and reveal the underlying concern which then will open up many more possible solutions.

If a kid would want to play on the computer and you would prefer her to do her homework, we essentially have two solutions on the table. If we put these solutions on the table , we end up with negotiation or the dueling of solutions. If we go back a step and look at concerns, we may find that the kid has a problem with homework etc and being on the computer is her solution. Imho the brilliance of CPS is be able to distinguish between a solution and a concern and this opens up possibilities of many new solutions and not just a compromise.

Now kids are not very good at articulating their concerns or even figuring out what they are. In the past their concerns have been ignored and they have never been asked to articulate them. When you ask them why they did something, they may find it difficult to tell you. If you ask them what's bothering them, they most probably say ' I don't know , or offer reasons such as ' it's not fun or boring ' which maybe true but is not the real concern. There maybe more than one concern.

For this reason some approaches encourage parents or teachers to come up with solutions which ignore the child's concerns. Not only does this lead to low quality solutions, but the opportunity for learning and skills acquired during the CPS process are lost.

Besides the possibility of lacking language skills, or a kid simply says he does not know what to say, a kid may show difficulty in expressing his concerns because the unsolved problem we are trying to work on may be too vague so kids are not exactly sure what we are trying to gather information about.

We can help the kid by making tentative suggestions or asking questions. Generally open ended questions, not the ones which lead to a yes/no answer are preferred because they promote conversation and dialog. So statements like ' can you tell me more ' or how do you feel about ' etc should provide more information. For some kids this is difficult so it is better to start out with short yes/no questions and take it from there. We need to try and keep the conversation going and drill down until we get a clear idea of what the child's concerns are. We should try to end our statements with a question. Questions like – why, when, over what, with whom, what happened before or after , where help us get more input from the child.

Drilling Down


The more we help folks troubleshoot their attempts at using our approach the more we find that success often rests on how much “drilling down” they have been able to do with the respective concerns to be addressed. As we like to say, “low quality concerns lead to low quality solutions!” When we refer to the “quality” of concerns, what we mean is how specific they are. The more specific the better.

As a clinician helping to facilitate Plan B your role will often involve asking the probing questions and doing the detective work necessary to get to the bottom of what someone’s concerns are – all the while resisting the temptation to jump into solution mode until the problem is well defined. So how do you know when you’ve gotten specific enough? We have a pretty simple litmus test actually: imagine using that concern as a jumping off point for brainstorming potential solutions. If you are finding it hard to envision any potential solutions and it seems like you will staring at a dead end, chances are the concerns need to be clarified. Here’s an example:

Child’s concern: I don’t see why I can’t go out on week nights with my friends.

Parents’ concern: We don’t think it’s appropriate for him to be going out on school nights and socializing.

Now let’s use our litmus test and see how those concerns might look when it comes to the invitation to brainstorm solutions together:

I wonder if there’s a way for you to go out on week nights without it being inappropriate in your parents' eyes …?

Ouch. That sounds like a dead-end! Plan B will be stuck in the mud for sure. Now let’s say we had done the hard (but well worth it) work of drilling down to get very specific about people’s concerns. How does one do that? By asking lots of questions – like how and why? We often find ourselves repeating the mantra: “I’m just trying to make sure I understand.” In this example, one might ask: Why do you want to go out on weekdays? What do you want to do? With whom? Etc. All the while providing reassurance that you are just getting information and not saying no (or yes for that matter!). Similarly, you would ask the parents: Why do you think it’s inappropriate? Again providing reassurance that you don’t disagree (or agree for that matter!), but that you are just trying to understand.

Child’s concern: Sometimes there’s something fun going on during the week that I don’t want to miss out on – like a baseball game or something that all my friends get to go to.

Parents’ concern: We’re concerned about your homework and studying getting done, and we also would like to be able to spend some time with you since we barely see you on weekends anymore.

Now let’s re-try our litmus test to see how the invitation might look with these more specific concerns on the table:

I wonder if there’s a way for you to not miss out on things your friends are doing during the week but still make sure your work gets done and that your parents also have some time with you at home.

This is now sounding much more promising, right? So we would encourage you to imagine what the invitation might look like when you are in the process of defining the problem. If you see a dead-end ahead still, keeping clarifying those concerns! Once you think you have gotten specific enough, then (and only then!) is it time to ask for ideas. Good luck!

Here is an example of drilling down in a school environment

Here is the collaborative problem solving Plan B cheat sheet – helpful with the drilling down process.

I want to end off by repeating what I consider one of my most important messages to parents or teachers. Our greatest tool is simply talking with our kids or rather we listening and they speaking , we directing the conversation with dialog questions helping them to take perspectives , articulate concerns and brainstorm solutions which are realistic and mutually satisfactory. We can talk about general stuff , other peoples experiences and problems which are less emotive and easier to externalize and visualize.