A New Approach to Behavioral Challenges (page 2)

A New Approach to Behavioral Challenges

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Updated on Jan 9, 2009

Ingredient 3: Brainstorming solutions.
These address the concerns of both parties.

How does this play out in practice? Let’s say a student always seems to have trouble getting started on his social studies assignment:

  1. Get the child’s concern on the table.
    “I've noticed that you seem to have trouble getting started. What's up?”

    Green says often the answer is “I don't know,” but if an adult really drills down, she usually can figure out what is standing in the child’s way. For example, the adult might find out that the student feels the assignment has too much writing, and he’s a slow writer. “Now we have perspective on the table and look how far we've come,” Greene says.
  2. Adult hears the child’s concern, gives empathy, and tells the child her perspective.
    “Oh. I understand now. The thing is though if you sit there and do nothing, then you won't get the project done and you'll distract the kids around you.”
  3. Adult and child become problem solving partners.
    “I wonder if there's a way to help you with the writing part, so we can help you get it done and not have you distract other kids around you?”

Greene admits that for teachers, who may have multiple students with behavioral challenges, it’s hard work, “but teachers are working hard already with the challenging kids in their class. Let's make sure what they're doing is working.”

It’s working at elementary schools in Newton, Massachusetts, according to Craig Murphy, EdD. Murphy oversees a grant from the Department of Education introducing Collaborative Problem Solving to 15 elementary schools in Newton. He says between January and May of last year, discipline referrals at the school were reduced by 58 percent. Teachers at Newton have also reported that because the Collaborative Problem Solving model shifts the attention to early intervention, it actually saves time in the classroom.

Beyond time, Murphy says teachers have gained a fresh perspective on challenging behaviors through the training they have received from Greene. “That new perspective benefits kids,” he says.

And, this new way of understanding challenging kids benefits parents, too, says Murphy, who all too often are blamed for their child’s behavior. “Now, we’re bringing parents to the table to figure out how we can support the student better across the two areas of his life. If we can remove that contentious relationship it removes a great barrier between the two parties,” he says.

Greene says parents can use the Collaborative Problem Solving model at home, too, as a way of addressing their child's behavioral challenges, but encourages parents to take it one step at time. "Understanding why your child is challenging in the first place is step one. That alone is crucial, even without Collaborative Problem Solving," Greene says. Once you get passed this milestone, he says, you can move into understanding what skills he’s lacking and what’s getting in his way.

The main idea behind Greene's method is reciprocal interactions with kids: asking questions about why they're behaving the way they are and what can be done to solve the problem.

Whether this method begins to gain traction or not, one thing is certain: schools are looking for a change in disciplinary measures, and detention slips may one day be a thing of the past.

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