Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) is an approach to parenting that was derived from Dr. Ross Greene, a clinical psychologist who wrote the book Collaborative and Proactive Solutions.
Based in neuroscience and specifically for a child's and teens developing brain, this approach has been supported by research and shown to be incredibly effective. The premise is based on the philosophy that “All kids will do well if they can.”
CPS also takes into account the teen's developmental stage in social and coping skill acquisition. It's important to remember that teens are still developing emotionally so they are still immature in many ways. Often teens are developing and practicing social and coping skills that they will later use as adults but have yet to master these skills.
CPS helps teens develop social skills of cognitive flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem solving instead of merely motivating, bribing or forcing kids to behave better. It uses an approach that mirrors the teen's brain stage of development.
There are three skill building principles of Collaborative Problem Solving. These are Empathy, Understanding and Collaboration on Solutions to the problems.
Empathy can be the most difficult principle for a parent. Parents often feel angry, frustrated, and confused by their child’s response or actions.
The first step is to meet with your child and understand their perspective and what they 'need'. This is not a time to argue, but to simply listen to understand where they are coming from. Your child’s response may not be rational or true but, when they feel that you totally understand where they are coming from, they are more likely to listen to you and change their behavior.
Asking clarifying questions with the intent to understand better is important. Think about it from your own perspective. When someone truly listens to understand your point of view, how likely are you to listen to understand theirs? It's a skill that can be built in both parents and children.
After you have listened and understood your child’s side then it’s the parents turn to present their side or perspective. Generally this is the time to focus on your concerns that generally revolve around the safety and well being of the child.
This time provides the child with an opportunity to work on their listening skills and ability to empathize with you. Both sides don’t need to agree with each other but it is important for the child to understand your concerns. This tends to be the most difficult step for the child and can involve the parent needing some patience as the child might not have mastered these skills yet. Once both sides have listened and understood each other then you can move on to the last principle.
The last principle involves collaboration with your child to solve the problem. This can be a unique opportunity for you both, since your child may have not been involved with solving problems in the past and probably have never been a part of determining their own consequences. Knowing their needs and having them understand your concerns can hopefully have you work together to develop a plan that meets both of your needs and concerns in a safe and healthy way. You can both take this opportunity to develop rules and consequences for the future and establish clear expectations and consequences for the entire family.
Just like learning any new skill, this will take time, effort, and consistency to be effective. This approach often takes patience and practice but developing these essential skills of problem solving, communication, listening and collaboration are essential skills for life. If you choose to use this approach and continue to practice these skills, the better you will become and the better results you will have and ultimately help to strengthen your relationship.