Friday, June 15, 2012

Challenging Kids

I recently watched/listened to an interview with Dr. Ross Greene conducted by Stefan Molyneaux of Free Domain Radio. Usually I turn on long interviews like this to listen to while I pick up the house in the evenings, but I found this one so intriguing I sat down at the computer to take notes, and I'd really like to share them with you.

You can listen to the interview yourself here.

Here's my summary of the interview.

Dr. Ross Greene has a background practicing in family therapy. He found the techniques used to help parents deal with challenging kids wasn't working and asked, "why not?" It had been thought that kids who were not meeting expectations or able to deal with normal challenges needed to be motivated to behave acceptably and reprimanded when they didn't. As it turns out, Dr. Greene found that these "challenging" kids had plenty of motivation, but rather lacked the skill set to deal with normal daily challenges. Some of the skills he mentioned were impulse control, problem solving, and flexibility. What made these kids seem so challenging for their parents was they had an ineffective response to the challenges in their lives.

He found responding to the kids' behavior authoritatively was not fixing their lack of skills. Rewards and punishments are effective for people who need motivation, but children naturally have motivation to do well. What they lack are the skills needed to resolve their problems. Dr. Greene suggests that instead of responding authoritatively, parents need to model a collaborative problem solving paradigm.

Dr. Greene speaks of three approaches to parenting/problem solving. Imposition of adult will, collaborative problem solving, and dropping unsolved problems.

Taking an example of a child not wanting to brush their teeth, he examines each approach.

Approach A-
Using Imposition of adult will would sound something like, "You get in there right now and brush your teeth! I'm your parent and you will do what you're told!" This approach will yield two outcomes, both of which are dysfunctional. Either your child will submit to authority and go brush their teeth, or they will respond with more challenging behavior (arguing, yelling, crying, etc). The child who submits demonstrates skills of just going along, impulse control to avoid more conflict, self talk, organization, and emotional control. But these are not problem solving skills, rather problem avoiding skills. When dealing with the challenging child, too often parents using the authoritative approach without success try to solve the issue with more authority instead of trying a different approach.

Approach B-
Using collaborative problem solving would sound something like, "I've noticed you don't want to brush your teeth lately, what's up with that?" The parent gathers information on the kid's perspective. The child could respond in several ways. Maybe the toothpaste doesn't taste good, or the toothbrush hurts their gums. The parent then voices their concerns about the kid not brushing their teeth- cavities, bad breath, whatever the case may be. Then both brainstorm to come to a realistic, mutually satisfactory solution. Perhaps they could go to the store to get new toothpaste and toothbrush.

Approach C-
Using the approach of dropping unsolved problems is more than just picking your battles and dropping one in the heat of the moment. Rather, it is planning ahead of time to work on a limited number of challenging situations at a time, and dropping all others until the first challenges are resolved. It is preplanned and a prioritization of issues to be tackled. In this case, likely teeth brushing would take a back seat to more pressing conflicts.

Dr. Greene then outlines some of the effects of the first two approaches.

The effects of Approach A are that the parent is blowing off the concerns of the child. They are not involving the child in the solution. It implies the parent doesn't care whether the solution is mutually satisfactory. It teaches disrespect and does not teach necessary problem solving skills.

The effects of Approach B are a reduction in challenging behavior. It solves problems while simultaneously teaching skills. The parent agrees the child has legitimate concerns. It implies the parent is curious about those concerns and willing to take the time to figure them out. It shows the parent is devoted to addressing the concerns of the child. It teaches respect.

Lastly, Dr. Greene expressed he found a major shift in families when parents changed the way they viewed their children. Instead of thinking of your kids as manipulative, attention seeking, and limit testing think of them as motivated to do well but lacking the necessary skills. Then you can fulfill your responsibility to teach and nurture those skills. 

What does all this mean to our family? It reinforces our understanding that respect is something children learn to show others by respect being shown to them. It reminds us that we are the parents, meaning we are the ones who should not jump to conclusions about our children's motivations and act rashly, but rather be patient and ask questions because we have the skills to do so. It gives us an outline for solving conflict peacefully.

I hope the information is helpful for other families as well. <3

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