Oh, the acronyms! It’s time for us to talk a bit about the phenomenal tool known as Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (originally called “Collaborative Problem Solving”) founded and developed by Ross Greene, author of “The Explosive Child.” and “Raising Human Beings”, among others. What is its relationship with respectful parenting and Visible Child? Is what Visible Child teaches about problem solving the same? Different? Hopefully, this will begin to answer some of those questions, at long last.
Just a heads up that this blog post will not be the only one on this topic, and the purpose of this particular post is not to talk in any depth about the model, but exclusively about the relationship of Visible Child to Ross Greene’s model, which you can read more about (and I hope you do!) here.
First off…let’s have a little bit of validation about the acronyms–fortunate, unfortunate, or otherwise. It’s indisputable that for many people, the letters CPS immediately call to mind “Child Protective Services,” at least in much of the U.S. For those who don’t know, CPS (which is sometimes known by other names) is the agency to which reports of child abuse and neglect are made, and which investigates and sometimes intervenes as a result of those reports. There is no doubt that their work is critically important in some instances, and at the same time, the acronym all too often strikes fear into the hearts of many, and I do wish I didn’t have to be a part of that. So yeah, I wish it had a different acronym…and we have what we have. You can know that when Visible Child uses the term CPS, we are referring to problem solving with children and Ross Greene’s model, NOT government child protection agencies.
So, as mentioned above, I want to offer a few of my own reflections on CPS and its relationship to my work and Visible Child. Do with them what you will.
- Most importantly, I wholeheartedly recommend Ross Greene and CPS, without reservations. It is thoroughly evidence-based, proven an effective tool with children AND adults, pretty much regardless of diagnosis, severity of issues, etc. (some minimal caveats apply here, but typically not relevant to most parents or professionals.). It is entirely aligned with respectful parenting and the spirit of Visible Child, and I encourage anyone and everyone to learn more about it, to pursue training in the model, and to spread the word. One invaluable resource in this regard is the Facebook group called “The B Team”, where parents can ask questions and get help in implementing the approach from experts.
- Ross Greene has done an absolutely masterful job of operationalizing (creating a detailed structure and format and forms and definitions and lists of instructions) the process of solving problems collaboratively with children. This is one of the things I most appreciate about the work, because “instructions” and structure of this sort are not in any way my forte, so I’m so glad that someone has done the amazing job of creating a cohesive framework that people can follow. In addition, Dr. Greene is committed to disseminating information about the approach at no cost, so it is available to all.
- Ross Greene’s first and most famous book, “The Explosive Child” was published in 1998. As may be obvious—and yet somehow we sometimes don’t think about things this way—he was developing and honing and practicing his model before his model was known to the greater world. He was “using CPS” before he was the well-known “father of CPS.” By the same token, many of us who have also worked in this field for a very long time, clinicians and child development professionals alike, were also using similar models in our work with children and families. Not identical, of course, but similar in many ways, such that when many of us first read and became aware of Dr. Greene’s work, we may not have viewed it as an entirely new and different model, but rather as a beautiful and thorough communication of what those of us who adhere to strengths-based models have been committed to throughout our careers.
- As a devoted practitioner of engaging in collaborative process with children and a practicing parent coach and child development consultant, I regularly work with parents, encouraging them to embrace this sort of framework. When I do so, I am NOT a representative of Ross Greene’s approach, nor am I certified in his model. I do my best to steer clear of anything that might be perceived as claiming “expertise in CPS” as there are wonderful highly trained professionals (many of whom I call friends) who are masters of the approach, and I have no goal of claiming any sort of parity with them. At the same time, if we step back and think of some of the essential features of the model: believing that children are always doing the best they can with the tools and skills that they possess, listening to children first, not proceeding until we are certain we have taken in the child’s perspective, sharing our perspective honestly with children, and then working with them to solve problems—those things lie deep in my approach and my passion for respectful relationships with children. Are these things a part of my work with children? They are. Do I defer to and give credit to Ross Greene whenever a piece of his work is mentioned, and do I routinely recommend his books and websites? Almost every day. And do I continue to work with parents and families and educators to embrace the spirit of collaboration with children through my own lens? I do. I believe in this work.
- I want to be clear here: there are many ways to collaborate with children. CPS is not the only way. It’s a great model–and it’s not the only one, so we need to be careful not to confound “problem solving collaboratively with children” and “Collaborative & Proactive Solutions” or even “Collaborative Problem Solving.” The first is simply a description of an action, whereas the second is a proprietary approach. There are times and places and opportunities to take a much briefer, simpler tack and have that fit the bill. Offering young children choices is a sort of collaboration, and many times, it meets both our needs and our children’s needs. Sometimes, asking children what might be helpful to them in a situation that seems to be challenging for them can result in terrific solutions that work for everyone. Sometimes asking children if they even want our help and allowing them to express their preferences about when and how they need help is a form of collaboration. Anytime we authentically welcome a child’s participation and input, we are collaborating with them. And of course, life with others is often characterized by solving problems or challenges that arise. So you see, there are many ways in which we collaborate with and solve problems with children. And sometimes we need something more, something more methodical, more fleshed out, more solidly evidence-based. Sometimes we need that because the problems or challenges seem too large, or perhaps our more informal collaboration has not worked, or sometimes relationships have become damaged such that it is difficult for a child to see us as genuine collaborators. There is room for all sorts of models, with Greene’s CPS as the reigning gold standard, to be sure, especially in regard to difficult-to-solve problems that elude our intuitive or more casual strategies. When I work with parents and professionals, I always have an eye out for the history and nature of their relationship with the child(ren), and how that might impact the opportunities for genuine collaboration. We work together and we figure out what is needed, engaging as collaborators ourselves—myself and the grown-ups in a child’s life—to find the right solutions.
- Last, but absolutely NOT least, I want to emphasize an important distinction in terminology. Ross Greene’s model is NOT called “Collaborative Problem Solving”, but rather “Collaborative and Proactive Solutions.” It is true that the original name of the model was “Collaborative Problem Solving”, but that is not the term used for the approach for a long time now. Is it still a process of “solving problems collaboratively with children?” Yes. But the name he has chosen matters, and so I want to be clear about and honor the appropriate nomenclature and encourage you to do the same. Using the term “CPS” is a safe bet, then you won’t have to worry about the words it’s representing!
To be clear, I offer these ideas and principles here in the spirit of transparency. When I work with parents to support problem solving collaboratively with children, I am not a representative of Dr. Greene’s work, but rather, I am “CPS-friendly” or, if you prefer, “CPS-aligned.” The world–schools, parents, adults–needs more of this sort of mindset. I am committed to being clear about which parts of my approach I credit directly to the work of Ross Greene and Lives in the Balance, and which parts are my own respectful parenting approach–the two have much in common, but of course, are not identical. I look forward to continuing to explore the power and potential of engaging respectfully and collaboratively with children. I hope you’ll join me.