Understanding Behavior Using Collaborative & Proactive Solutions

A man, woman and young child are at the dining room table. There is food on the table and the young child is feeding a piece of food to her mother while the the father smiles.

How do you approach challenging behavior? 

Every parent and teacher has plenty of experience with challenging behaviors, from constant messiness to meltdowns and tantrums to unmanageable disruptions. After all, all children have moments of dysregulation; there's no such thing as a child who behaves exactly how caregivers would like every time. 

We can't always control how the children in our care act, but we can respond with the compassion, curiosity, and collaborative problem-solving they need. 

In my workshops and seminars for schools and support for parents, I often say that behavior itself isn't good or bad; it's just information. I think of challenging behavior like a fever — a symptom that something is wrong. Just as a fever indicates an underlying illness, behavior challenges indicate unresolved problems. Once we uncover those problems, we can develop a solution.   

Child psychologist Dr. Ross Greene used this idea of understanding and addressing the root causes of challenging behaviors to develop the Collaborative & Proactive Solutions model — previously referred to as the Collaborative Problem Solving approach. In this blog post, we'll delve into the fundamental concepts of this approach and how it can benefit our students and children.

What is the Collaborative & Proactive Solutions Model?

The Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS) model aims to uncover and resolve the underlying issues causing challenging behaviors. This model is based on the belief that behavior challenges are not deliberate choices but rather a lack of essential skills. It assumes that people are doing the best they can with the skills and tools they currently have and that it is our job to help them develop new skills and tools to manage their challenges more effectively. By shifting the focus from punishment and rewards to skill-building and problem-solving, educators and caregivers can create a supportive environment for children.

My friend Gamon once told me about Felix, a six-year-old at her in-home daycare. Felix had a meltdown each day when it was time to go home. He'd cry loudly, sink to the floor, and refuse to leave. A big believer in rewarding positive behavior, Gamon told Felix if he left nicely with his father when it was time, he could have a piece of candy on his way out. Things didn't go quite the way she hoped. Felix saw the candy and wanted it but couldn't have it yet. He cried harder, becoming inconsolable, and his father had to pick him up and carry him out the door. Gamon was left wondering what she could do differently to support Felix.   

Gamon's attempt at rewarding Felix for appropriate behavior assumed that Felix could demonstrate it in the first place. It didn't work — not because Felix didn't want to leave calmly with his dad, but because he couldn't. Felix lacked the skill he needed to meet that expectation successfully. 

Instead of questioning how to stop the tantrum, Gamon started asking why it was happening in the first place. No child wants to cry and scream. No child wants to make the grown-ups mad. So, why would Felix be doing this? 

She noticed that while the biggest behavior challenges happened at pickup, Felix struggled with transitions in general. He was often reluctant to leave one activity to move on to the next and always seemed surprised when it was time to stop doing something. 

Gamon found a calm, quiet time to talk to Felix and asked what he was feeling when it was time to go home. Eventually, he told her that it wasn't fair that he had to stop playing — especially since they only played with Legos at the end of the day and Legos were his favorite. Gamon agreed that having to stop doing something fun could be really hard. Together, they discussed what Felix's body felt like when he had to do something he didn't want to do and brainstormed ideas to ease transitions.  

They soon fell into a better routine. Gamon started offering Lego time after lunch instead of at pickup. As pickup time approached, she started playing music softly and asked the children if they knew what time it was. They all called out, "Pickup time!" Instead of calling for Felix when his dad arrived, Gamon sat down next to him and told him his dad was there and it was time to go home. She taught him how to notice what his body was doing when he started getting upset and how to use belly breathing and other somatic strategies to regulate.

Once the real problem was identified, Gamon and Felix could work together on solving it by building skills he'll need his whole life. While some days were smoother than others, transitions slowly became easier for Felix — and Gamon. 

Deemphasizing Diagnosis

Did Felix have ADHD? Autism? Dyslexia? Cognitive deficits? Possibly, but it's important to note that diagnoses like these are not the problems that need to be solved. They can certainly exacerbate issues, but parents and teachers should focus on addressing the specific skills children lack and providing appropriate support. For example, a child with poor executive functioning skills might struggle with planning, organizing, and completing tasks, leading to frustration and acting out.  

Using the CPS model, Gamon saw that Felix struggled with transitions and likely lacked frustration tolerance — a skill not entirely developed until adulthood. Frustration tolerance refers to a person's ability to withstand and cope with frustrating or challenging situations without becoming overly upset or giving up. It is the capacity to manage uncomfortable emotions, such as anger or disappointment, when faced with obstacles or setbacks. Other examples of important cognitive skills include:

  • Emotional Regulation
  • Impulse Control
  • Flexibility
  • Adaptability
  • Problem Solving

Children not only need these skills to be successful in school but also in life. Learning frustration tolerance can help individuals push through complex tasks, manage stress, and maintain healthy relationships. People with high frustration tolerance are typically more resilient and adaptable in the face of adversity and are less likely to give up when faced with challenges.

By helping to build these skills, Gamon did much more than solve the problem of pickup tantrums. 

Benefits of Collaborative & Proactive Solutions

Implementing the CPS model in classrooms not only helps us understand behavior better but has other benefits as well. Parents, students, and teachers can experience the following:

Short-Term Impact

In the short term, the CPS model provides immediate assistance in managing challenging behaviors by targeting the root causes rather than merely addressing symptoms. By involving students in the problem-solving process, this approach empowers them and promotes a sense of autonomy and ownership over their behavior. Often, just feeling heard and seen can dramatically change a student's attitude. 

Long-Term Success

This approach to behavior management also sets the stage for long-term success. By identifying and addressing lagging skills, educators can equip students with the necessary tools to overcome challenges, build resilience, and develop essential life skills. These benefits extend beyond the immediate classroom setting and positively impact students' academic and personal lives.

Better Relationships

Lastly, implementing the CPS model fosters stronger relationships between teachers and their students. Educators can establish a positive and trusting environment by prioritizing empathy, active listening, and mutual respect, enhancing the student-teacher relationship. This, in turn, creates a conducive atmosphere for learning and growth. 

The CPS model is a powerful way to understand the function of behavior so that we can better support our children. Excited to give it a try? Before getting started, there are key strategies and ideas to remember. Learn what these are in my next blog, and in the meantime, feel free to contact me with any questions.