Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

Collaborative Problem Solving in Schools: Results of a Year-Long Consultation Project

Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

Collaborative Problem Solving in Schools: Results of a Year-Long Consultation Project

Article excerpt

Children with challenging behaviors are often misunderstood and mistreated. They are commonly viewed as being manipulative, and their parents are frequently blamed for lacking sufficient discipline. However, recent research has begun to shine a light on the cognitive deficits that can underlie challenging behaviors, especially explosive and noncompliant behaviors (Willcutt, Sonuga-Barke, Nigg, & Sergeant, 2008).

Research on children with significant oppositional behaviors has shown that, in comparison to children without behavioral concerns, those with oppositional behaviors tend to have deficits in a wide range of executive functioning skills, including response inhibition/impulsivity (Scheres, Oosterlaan, & Sergeant, 2001), cognitive set shifting (Moffitt & Henry, 1989), and planning (Oosterlaan, Scheres, & Sergeant, 2005). These deficits are logically connected to oppositional behaviors. Specifically, following rules is at times dependent on the ability to inhibit impulses. Similarly, when following directions requires children to stop their current train of thought, those who are slow to shift cognitive sets will be challenged. Finally, the ability to consider the long-term effects of one's behavior before acting is dependent on planning skills. In view of these relationships, it becomes clear that children with chronic behavior challenges will likely need support to develop lagging cognitive skills in order to improve their behavioral responses.

Although it may seem logical to teach cognitive skills to children with challenging behavior, the approach that is often taken focuses more on motivating positive performance. Points and levels systems have historically been used to manage children with challenging behaviors. With these tools, children are rewarded for positive behaviors and receive negative consequences for challenging behavior. Desired behaviors earn children points that can lead to rewards or movement to a higher level and more privileges. Challenging behavior leads to losing points or dropping a level, which results in a loss of privileges and rewards. Such approaches have recently come under scrutiny (Mohr, Martin, Olson, Pumariega, & Branca, 2009). One concern is that point systems treat children as if they are all the same, but clearly individual children have differing needs. Children with challenging behaviors have unique profiles of developmental delays and strengths, various background experiences that affect their current functioning, and individual ways of learning (Wilcutt et al., 2008). Perhaps most concerning, though, is that point systems focus on managing behaviors through external controls; therefore, they do not build capacity for internal control and can potentially undermine a helping relationship.

Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS)

Collaborative Problem Solving is an approach first published by Ross Greene in his 1998 book, The Explosive Child, which is now in its fifth edition (Greene, 2014b). It is an approach to understanding and helping challenging children that is individualized and engages children in the process of learning to solve their own problems. It emphasizes identifying lagging cognitive skills and providing children with opportunities to improve these skills, particularly through the use of joint adult-child problem solving. It is primarily a relational model, emphasizing the development of a trusting, collaborative relationship between the child and important adults in his/her life, and it is within this relationship that the adult is able to collaborate with the child to solve problems and build skills (Greene, 2014b; Greene & Ablon, 2006).

The central philosophy of CPS is that children will do well when they have the skills they need. Thus, according to the CPS philosophy, challenging behaviors are best understood as the byproduct of lagging cognitive skills (rather than, for example, as attention seeking, manipulation, limit testing, or a sign of poor motivation), and these challenges are best addressed by teaching children the skills they lack rather than delivering rewards and punishments. …

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