Shifting Mindsets to Skills Not Will

When traditional behavior motivators are ineffective


Your child needs to clean his or her room, but you know from experience there will likely be an argument. Your child often becomes angry and uncooperative when asked to do this task. Previously, you’ve “put your foot down” by sending them to bed without dinner, but this never works. It’s time for a Plan B.

“Instead of saying what’s wrong, we must ask why this child is having a hard time.” Jennifer Henderson, licensed professional counselor

The CPS model

The Collaborative Problem-Solving (CPS) model is effective in helping children and teens who exhibit different behavioral, emotional and social problems, according to local professionals.

“Collaborative Problem-Solving is a nontraditional approach to working with children who have challenging behaviors,” says Lauren Ramirez, a licensed professional counselor in Medford and Grants Pass. CPS focuses on building skills and communicating with children in a different way, she explains, rather than using traditional systems like rewards and punishments to motivate compliant behavior. “Conventional wisdom tells us that kids do well if they want to, whereas CPS believes kids do well if they can.”

Understanding why challenging behavior occurs in the first place is key to implementing this model, according to Jennifer Henderson, a licensed professional counselor in Medford. She says we know children communicate their needs through different behaviors, and challenging children have lagging skills that need to be developed.

CPS focuses on solving the chronic unmet expectations and triggers that children with challenging behaviors struggle with, says Ramirez. “There are three options for responding to problems to be solved; Plans A, B and C. Each has a different focus and intent, but Plan B is where we have a conversation with the child and help them build skills and solve problems. The goal of these talks is to help kids build thinking skills and relationships and reduce challenging behaviors.”

Benefits of the CPS model

There’s little evidence to show rewards and punishments are effective with most challenging children, says Henderson. “Rewards and punishments increase feelings of stress and defeat in challenging kids,” she explains, but CPS shifts the brain to decrease challenging behaviors and build relationships.

Henderson says research shows CPS is effective for children 3 years old and up. “But really, there’s no age limit to empathy. CPS looks at how we can wire the brain and help these kids as early as possible. Instead of saying what’s wrong, we must ask why this child is having a hard time.”

Fortunately, with education and training, the CPS model can be implemented by parents, teachers, caregivers and other adults involved in the child’s life. There are several trainings offered, explains Ramirez, as well as books and social media groups.

Changing our interactions

Children with challenging behaviors lack skill, not will, explains Ramirez, adding that lagging thinking skills are often a product of genetics, environmental factors and trauma. “The good news is that thinking skills can be developed and strengthened with the CPS model,” she says.

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More to Explore

The ABCs of redirecting challenging behavior

When choosing how to respond to challenging behaviors from children, we have three options, explains Jennifer Henderson, a licensed professional counselor in Medford.

“In the CPS model, Plan A is what we would consider conventional parenting by imposing a consequence for noncompliance, such as since you didn’t clean your room, you lose your video game time. Often, for children with behavior challenges, these standoffs worsen the behavior instead of providing motivation for future compliance.”

Plan B dives deeper than traditional parenting responses by recognizing that if the child had the skills to meet the expectation they would, Henderson explains. “We respond to the challenging behaviors understanding there are skills to be developed, so the expectations can be met. In this example, the skills to successfully clean the room are organization, managing frustration and staying on task.”

Plan B contains three key components: empathy of child’s concern, adult sharing of their concerns, and collaboration between the parent and child about how to get the expectation met. “These conversations can uncover helpful information to avoid future conflict. In the clean room example, the child may feel overwhelmed by the task of organizing and need a checklist to follow.”

In Plan C, the adult strategically focuses solely on the child’s concerns by removing a trigger or unmet expectation to prevent the child’s challenging behavior. “It is important to understand that while this can be a valuable option for problem-solving, it is clearly only for short-term situations. We need kids to meet expectations. In this example, it would be removing the expectation such as not having the child put away laundry when cleaning the room or making the bed. We always have three options at our disposal to choose when responding to challenging behaviors. Plan B will by far be the most durable.”

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