Think:Kids is a program in the Department of Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) which has its roots in what was originally known as The Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) Institute. The CPS Institute was established in 2002 under the auspices of the Department of Psychiatry at MGH and under the direction of Dr. Ross Greene and Dr. Stuart Ablon. The CPS Institute sought to disseminate the CPS approach to understanding and helping challenging children and adolescents that was described originally by Dr. Greene in his book, The Explosive Child, and subsequently further developed and described for clinical populations in the book Dr. Greene and Dr. Ablon co-authored entitled, Treating Explosive Kids: The Collaborative Problem Solving Approach. The CPS approach has since also been described in numerous co-authored journal articles and book chapters. In 2008, the CPS Institute was dissolved and the Department of Psychiatry at MGH created a new program, Think:Kids, with Dr. Ablon as its Director. At Think:Kids, we continue to develop the Collaborative Problem Solving approach to help families in our clinic and to teach clinicians, educators and facilities around the world.
Think:Kids teaches a revolutionary, evidence-based approach called Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) for helping children with behavioral challenges. Through training, support and clinical services, we promote the understanding that challenging kids lack the skill, not the will, to behave well – specifically skills related to problem solving, flexibility and frustration tolerance. Unlike traditional models of discipline, the CPS approach avoids the use of power, control and motivational procedures and instead focuses on building helping relationships and teaching at-risk kids the skills they need to succeed.
There are over 12 million kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges in North America alone – many still being treated in ways that are inhumane and ineffective. A heartbreaking number of kids are losing their futures simply because their challenges are poorly understood. Typically the public view is that these kids behave badly to get or avoid things. They are thought to be manipulative, unmotivated, disrespectful, limit testing and just generally bad kids. As a result, reward and punishment programs are used in homes, schools, and therapeutic and juvenile detention settings everywhere. At Think:Kids, we have very different ideas about how challenging kids come to be challenging. And very different – and effective – ideas about how to help.
In the same way that kids with learning disabilities struggle with thinking skills in areas like reading, writing or math, research has shown that behaviorally challenging kids lack thinking skills related to flexibility, frustration tolerance and problem solving. Not long ago, kids who had trouble reading were thought of as lazy or dumb. Today, people recognize that these kids have a learning disability that simply requires a different method of teaching. Think:Kids aims to accomplish a similar shift in perspective and practice with behaviorally challenging kids through the CPS approach. Rather than try to motivate these kids to behave better, CPS builds helping relationships and teaches skills through a process of helping adults and kids learn how to resolve problems collaboratively. At Think:Kids, we train thousands of parents, clinicians, educators and facilities a year through conferences, workshops and consulting and help hundreds of kids and their families through our clinic and support groups.
Published research has shown our approach leads to dramatic decreases in behavior problems across a variety of settings with the most challenging children. Other results include remarkable reductions in: time spent out of class, detentions, suspensions, injuries, teacher stress and alternative placements in schools; and the use of archaic, inhumane procedures like restraints and seclusions in therapeutic facilities. CPS is one of only a few approaches that provide a common philosophy, language and process that applies and has demonstrated effectiveness across settings.
We’ve shown more humane, compassionate and effective care for challenging kids is possible, but it must start with a new understanding of who challenging children are and what they need to succeed. When adults rethink challenging kids, amazing things can happen.