What is the approach Think:Kids uses?
Think:Kids uses the Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach. Over the last ten years, the CPS model has been applied to children with a wide range of social, emotional, and behavioral challenges and in a wide range of settings: families, schools, and restrictive therapeutic facilities (including inpatient units, residential facilities, and juvenile detention facilities). The model has also been applied to "ordinary" kids as well as to adults.
As applied to challenging kids, the model sets forth two major tenets: first, that these challenges are best understood as the byproduct 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 teaching children the skills they lack (rather than through reward and punishment programs and intensive imposition of adult will). Click here
to watch video of Dr. Ablon describing challenging kids and here
to watch video of Dr. Ablon describing CPS.
While 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), they are quite unique as individuals when it comes to the mix of lagging cognitive skills that set the stage for these behaviors. This means that prior to focusing on the teaching of cognitive skills one must first identify the skills that are lagging in each individual child or adolescent. The precise skills that may be involved can be found on the Thinking Skills Inventory
and the Thinking Skills Reference Guide
The teaching of these skills may be accomplished in a variety of ways, but primarily through helping challenging children and their adult caretakers learn to resolve disagreements and disputes in a collaborative, mutually satisfactory manner. This involves three basic steps. The first step is to identify and understand the child's concern about a given issue (such as completion of homework or chores, sibling or peer interactions, and so forth) and reassure him or her that imposition of adult will is not how the problem will be resolved (this first step is called Empathy/Reassurance). The second step is to identify the adults' concerns on the same issue (this is called the Define the Problem step because, in this model, a problem is defined simply as two concerns that have yet to be reconciled). The third step is the Invitation; this is where the child is invited to brainstorm solutions together with the adult, with the ultimate goal of agreeing on a plan of action that is both realistic and mutually satisfactory.
Sounds a bit complicated!
Collaboratively resolving problems with kids isn't necessarily all that complicated, but it's something most folks haven't had a whole lot of practice at (probably because it hasn't been standard operating procedure with children), so it can take a while to get good at it. Figuring out what skills a child is lacking can be a bit more complicated, especially if one is unfamiliar with the skills involved. But that's why we've made available lots of materials and resources to help: we know it's not so easy to do the right thing for challenging kids.
As you might imagine, because this model 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 eliminate 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 excuses...it's hard work), or that adults no longer have the authority to set limits (not to worry...the model 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).
What are Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C?
Adults respond to problems and unmet expectations in kids in some fairly predictable ways. Most often, adults impose their will
(in CPS, this is referred to as Plan A). Plan A is very popular, but also greatly heightens the likelihood of challenging behavior in challenging kids. That's because Plan A - having someone else impose their will upon you - requires a variety of skills that challenging kids lack. Even in "ordinary" kids, Plan A is simply a lesson on the "might makes right" principle.
Plan C is when adults drop their expectations completely, at least for now. Many people immediately think that Plan C is the equivalent of "giving in," but it's not. Giving in is when adults try to address a problem or unmet expectation using Plan A but then retreat to Plan C because the child had an aversive reaction to Plan A. But, in challenging kids, there are often so many problems that need to be addressed - so many problems setting the stage for maladaptive behavior - that it isn't possible to resolve them all at once. So it actually makes sense to put some problems or unmet expectations on the "back burner" while addressing problems that are of a higher priority.
Finally, Plan B is when adults engage the child in the process of solving problems collaboratively by working with the child. It is the continuous use of Plan B by which problems that are precipitating challenging behavior are durably resolved and by which lagging skills are taught.
Besides challenging kids, who else can benefit from CPS?
We find that the model is applicable to diverse human interactions, but especially those that can result in conflict. So the model can be applied to interactions between classmates, siblings, couples, parents and teachers, employees and supervisors, and nations. All people benefit from learning how to identify and articulate their concerns, hear the concerns of others, and take each others' concerns into account in working toward mutually satisfactory solutions.