In 2015 Ross Greene did a lecture tour in Norway and I had the pleasure of organizing the trainings, and we also did a video interview with Ross after the last day. This is the written transcript of the interview.
Interview by Hans Holter Solhjell, manager of Famlab Norway. Famlab Norway is a part of the international organization Familylab association.
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HHS: Hi Ross. Thank you very much for coming to this interview, at the end of your tour in Norway: Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger. We had some very nice and interested crowds to your lectures. I would like to ask you some questions to present your work, and your upcoming workshops to a larger audience. The first question I would like to ask is – what is Collaborative and Proactive Solutions, the CPS model?
RG: Collaborative and Proactive Solutions is the new name of the model I originated in my books“The Explosive Child” and “Lost at School”. It’s a very different model. It focuses on non-punitive, non-adversarial skill building, relationship enhancing, proactive ways of helping adults collaborate with kids on solving the problems that affect kids’ lives. It’s been around since “The Explosive Child” came out in 1998 and more recently has found its way into Norway, in the last 4 or 5 years.
HHS: So, how is CPS (Collaborative and Proactive Solutions) different from many other models?
RG: Well, for a long time other models have been very focused on a kid’s behavior and teaching adults how to modify that behavior. And that’s not what you’re doing when you’re implementing CPS. And that’s true whether you’re doing CPS in a family or in a school or in a facility or in a prison. And those are all places where CPS has been implemented.
In CPS you’re not focused on behavior and modifying it. You are focused on the problems that are giving rise to those behaviors and solving them. That is a very big difference. What I like to refer to CPS as is an upstream model. Behavior is downstream. Behavior is what’s happening because of the problems.
But in this model we are paddling upstream, we’re trying to figure out what problems are causing those behaviors and we’re trying to solve those problems. Because here’s what I find. If you try to modify behavior you may well improve the child’s behavior, but you will solve none of the problems that are causing those behaviors.
But what research tells us is that if you are solving the problems, not only are you solving the problems, you are also improving their behaviors at least as much as you would be if you were modifying those behaviors.
So this is a problem solving model, not a behavior modification model. And that’s a huge difference right off the bat. But also, in this model, instead of solving those problems unilaterally, which is where the adult comes up with the solution and imposes it on the kid, we operate on a very important assumption. If you want to solve a problem with a kid you’re going to need a teammate, you’re going to need a partner. Who is you partner? The kid!
This is problem solving of the collaborative variety. This is a partnership between adult and kid, whether that adult is a parent, or a teacher, or a staff member in a facility. This is kid and adult partnering to solve the problems that are causing the behaviors that we don’t like. If we’re going to be solving problems that way the other big difference in this model is that we’re going to do this proactively, not emergently.
A lot of the intervention that takes place for behaviorally challenging kids takes place in the heat of the moment, emergently, reactively, which is very bad timing in the problem solving department. The truth is, it’s not actually that great timing in the behavioral modification department, but it’s definitely not good timing in the problem solving department.
But that often raises the question: If we are going to try to solve these problems proactively how can we do that, if this kid’s challenging episodes are so unpredictable and occur out of the blue?
The answer – this kid’s challenging episodes do not occur unpredictably and out of the blue. I think these are the most predictable kids in the world. But we have to make them predictable by putting the hard work in upfront to figure out what the problems are that are causing those behaviors ahead of time, so we can figure that out, decide which ones we are working on right now and which ones we are not and then get busy solving problems proactively.
HHS: So, you mentioned research as well. I know that you have done quite a lot of … and I know that your model is based on a lot of theory and research. But there has also been done actual research showing the effectiveness of the model. Could you talk a little bit about that?
RG: Happily! There are now two studies in very good psychology journals, showing that when you compare CPS (Collaborative and Proactive Solutions) to PMT (Parent Management Training) which is roughly the reward-and-punishment approach, the studies tell us that CPS is at least as effective as the reward-and-punishment approach.
So people aren’t losing any ground by collaborating with kids on solving the problems that are causing those behaviors. But what the research also tells us in outpatient settings is that when you are engaged in CPS with the kid, the kid is much more likely to participate in problem solving than when you’re doing rewarding and punishing.
Because in rewarding and punishing there really is no collaboration on solving problems, there is just the adult telling the kid what to do and giving the kid the incentive to do it.
So the research tells us that CPS is now what’s known as an empirically supported treatment. That means it’s well established, that’s good. But there are also studies on CPS showing that it is very effective in inpatient psychiatry units, where it has now a track record, there are at least two studies showing this, it has a great track record for significantly reducing use of restraint and seclusion in those kinds of facilities.
There are unpublished data at the moment from schools and juvenile detention settings that won’t be unpublished for so much longer, but we just haven’t been able to find time to write all these papers up yet. But in schools the model has been shown to significantly reduce detentions, suspensions, and discipline referrals.
And in prisons it has been shown too, dramatically reduce the hands-on procedures like restraint, lock door seclusion, in other words, solitary confinement, staffing kid injuries. If you’re laying hands on kids less, because you don’t see a point on laying hands on kids anymore, except under very extreme circumstances, which also are rather predictable, than both the kids and the staff are going to get hurt less.
And in the juvenile detention system in the State of Maine, whose recidivism rate was 65% 8 or 9 years ago, the recidivism rate is now between 15 and 30 %. Those are statistics that suggest that when you view kids through different lenses and when you intervene in ways that are more compassionate and more effective, the data tell the tale.
HHS: So, how does it work when parents and schools are implementing CPS?
RG: Basically, and I am going to make it sound easier than it is, because this is actually pretty hard, parents in schools and facilities have to get good at the two parts of the model.
They have to get good at using the assessment instrumentation. There is an instrument that I have developed called The Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems, the ALSUP. With the ALSUP we are identifying the lagging skills that are making it very difficult for this kid to respond to problems in an adaptive fashion. And also identify the problems that are being caused by those lagging skills.
What expectations from adults or the environment is this kid having difficulty meeting because of the skills that he or she is lacking? The identifying the lagging skills helps us get the right lenses on because we want to come see this kid as lagging in skills, rather than lacking in motivation.
We for a very long time have been viewing the behaviorally challenging kids as lacking a motivation and that’s why we’ve been applying motivational strategies, rewarding and punishing, for such a long time. And a lot of kids have not benefited from those lenses or from those interventions.
Instead we want to help caregivers come to recognize these kids are lacking skills, not motivation. What skills? There’s lots of them, but the global skills are in the domains of flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance, problem solving.
When adults come to recognize that kids are lacking skills rather than motivation, they start to see these kids to completely different lenses. They start being much more compassionate, they now understand what’s really been getting in this kid’s way.
Once we figure out what the unsolved problems are, we can start solving those problems collaboratively and proactively. So the second part of the model that people need to get good at is solving problems collaboratively.
And both of these parts, both getting good at the assessment of lagging skills and unsolved problems and solving problems collaboratively is hard but not that hard. It just takes some practice. It especially takes practice for most adults, because adults are accustomed to solving problems with kids unilaterally.
Solving problems unilaterally is where the adult just tell the kid what the solution is, you impose it on him, and you make sure he does it. That’s not a partnership, that’s not collaboration. The hardest part for many adults is learning how to collaborate with kids on solutions. That can be very difficult for adults who are accustomed to telling the kid what to do and making sure he does it.
And yet, what we find is that when the adults are telling kids what to do and making sure they do it, that’s why challenging kids are challenging. You can get away with telling the kid what to do and making sure he does it if he’s not very behaviorally challenging, but if he is behaviorally challenging, telling him what to do and making him do it is a very good way to set in motion a challenging episode. Hitting, screaming, swearing, spitting, biting, you name it…
A lot of the times those behaviors on the part of the kid are set in motion by the adult telling the kid what to do and the ways the adult go about making sure the kid does it, by the adult solving a problem unilaterally.
And the expectation that the kid’s having difficulty meeting, the adult is the one who came up with both the expectation and the solution, and the adult is also imposing the solution on the kid.
What we help people to get good at in this model is how not to do that. You will still be solving the problem, but instead of solving it unilaterally, in a way, that quite frankly, actually doesn’t usually get the problem solved and causes a challenging episode, with CPS you are solving it collaboratively. That does get the problem solved and it doesn’t cause a challenging episode.
So what I put the most of my time into is helping parents and teachers and staff members in facilities see these kids through the right lenses, identify their lagging skills and unsolved problems and learn how to solve problems collaboratively.
HHS: As I understood from your talks, this approach of solving the problems collaboratively also teaches directly or indirectly the skills, that the child is lacking, something that the adult imposing a solution approach does not do at all.
RG: Well, what the research tell us is that when you are solving problems collaboratively and proactively with kids, you are also indirectly teaching them the skills that they are lacking and it’s all good.
HHS: One example that you use regarding the skills, you compare this to different kind of skills, like reading for example. Could you collaborate on that?
RG: Sure. I view challenging behavior as a developmental delay. A developmental delay means the kid is lacking skills. In that respect, and that is the most important respect, it is no different than when the kid has difficulty in reading. The kid having difficulty in reading is lacking the skills required for being proficient in reading.
A kid with social, emotional and behavioral challenges is lacking the skills required for being proficient in handling life’s social, emotional and behavioral challenges. Both are developmental delays.
Now we have to ask the question: why do we handle the developmental delay, that is reading, in such a different way, than we handle the developmental delay that often results in challenging behavior? We shouldn’t. But often the kid who is having difficulty in reading, gets far more compassion from us, far more empathy, than the kid who’s having difficulty with behavior.
What I am always telling people is that behavior is just the signal. Behavior is just the way in which the kid is communicating.
The kid is telling us, you are placing demands upon me, demands and expectations, that I am having difficulty meeting. How do you know I am having difficulty meeting them? I am now exhibiting behavior that you don’t like, which is the way that I am communicating, telling you that I am lacking the skills to handle that demand or expectation.
If all we do is focused on the behavior, all we will try to do is modifying the behavior. But if we instead see the behavior as a mechanism by which the kid is communicating, simply as a signal, than we can move beyond the behavior, figure out what problem caused the behavior, what expectation was the kid having difficulty in meeting, and then we can partner with the kid, collaborate with the kid to get that problem solved.
All of that happens when we move beyond behavior, when we stop seeing behavior as the end and see behavior as just the signal, just the way in which the kid is communicating to us, I am struggling. We help kids stop struggling with this model by figuring out what problems they are struggling over and helping them solve those problems in a way that is collaborative, as partners.
HHS: So, you have visited and presented the CPS model in Scandinavia a lot. You have been to Norway, you have been to Denmark, Sweden, last year you were also in Iceland. You have been in Scandinavia probably more than any other places in Europe.
Why do you think collaborative and proactive solutions (CPS) are so popular in Scandinavia and in Norway?
RG: Well, I am not sure, but my sense is that Scandinavia, even though you can’t say anything is true for all Scandinavia or all Scandinavians, but my sense is that Scandinavia in general has a pretty long tradition of being non-punitive and non-adversarial in its interactions with kids.
You know, as evidence of that a lot of Scandinavian countries were among the first to get rid of spanking, hitting kids. There are some countries in the world, including the one where I’m living, in which spanking is still not only extremely popular, but also legal and practiced in our schools.
It is just sad, here in year 2015, that we are still hitting kids. In schools in the United States even with a piece of wood. It make no sense whatsoever.
Hitting a kid with a piece of wood doesn’t solve any of those problems that causes the behaviour they are being punished for. All that hitting the kid on the butt with a piece of wood does is telling him that you don’t like what he did. But he already knows that you didn’t like it, he also already knows what you wished he had done instead. So you never need a reminder on that and he certainly doesn’t need the adult hitting him.
Suspension doesn’t solve problems. Detention doesn’t solve problems. Expulsion doesn’t solve problems. Time-outs don’t solve problems and for Goodness’ sake, sticks do not solve problems. All those interventions do is remind the kid and give him the incentive to do what you want him to do and not to behave in the way that we don’t want him to behave.
But if the ways in which he is behaving are being caused by problems that he is having difficulty solving it becomes crystal clear why those interventions are frequently ineffective. The reason is that those interventions do not solve the problems that are causing the kid’s behavior in the first place.
So my impression is that Scandinavia has a long tradition of being non-adversarial and non-punitive with kids. And I think it’s a wonderful thing and that probably accounts for why people in Scandinavia have embraced the model.
I am sorry to see that in some places in Scandinavia punitive, adversarial interventions are becoming more popular. It’s not my place to say, because I am an American, but that’s a step in a wrong direction for Scandinavia. I do think it’s a shame.
HHS: For someone who is looking for more information on Collaborative and Proactive Solutions and how to learn them (CPS), what can you suggest to them?
HHS: Well, I do quite a few workshops in Scandinavia. I have always done a lot of speaking I Sweden and Denmark, some in Finland and some in Iceland, increasingly so in Norway, thanks to Famlab. I suspect that that relationship will continue.
So I think people should watch the Famlab website in Norway to see when I am going to be here. I do different levels of training in Norway with Famlab. Some are introductory and some are more advanced.
People can also get info on my non-profit web site “Lives in the Balance” – www.livesinthebalance.org, to access all kinds of free resources on the model.
HHS: And you also have a professional level training for people who want to be in more in touch with you, and who would like to offer CPS consultations and presentations themselfes?
RG: Yes. There is a certification training that I teach as a 6 month course, conducted by teleconference, so that people can stay in Norway and still become highly proficient in the model.
HHS: Thank you very much.
RG: My pleasure.