Collaborative Problem Solving


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I wanted to talk a little about this (the method coined by Dr Ross Greene cf "The Explosive Child) and to ask whether others are using it. I read the book some years ago, when my son J was about five or six, was interested in it and thought it good but for some reason (I forget) didn't feel it would be of much actual concrete use to me/us. However... now J is 9 and the rages/explosions/meltdowns continue apace, making life frequently unbearable for both of us. I get stressed and angry also, we have ended up with extremely dysfunctional situations in which it would be difficult to tell who was most and least in control (to be very honest). Situation couldn't go on, something has to give and change. I am actively looking for tools and strategies to make things be different. And just recently I've rediscovered Dr Greene and the website of his organisation Lives in the Balance (it is GREAT - so much useful material on it). I have watched videos/listened to talks and... more importantly... begun trying to practice "Plan B" with J rather than "Plan A" (telling him what to do and then getting upset/angry/trying to enforce consequences when he refuses to do it - which SIMPLY DOES NOT WORK). And... it is such early days but... I can really feel and see that there is something different going on here, that what happens as a result is creative and good and is far, far more likely to lead to co-operation than the traditional discipline methods. The child feels respected and heard, and responds.

So... I am interested to know... who else here is using it, with what success?


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The single most useful concept I got out of the approach was the reminder to "pick your battle". If we fight over every single thing, then we live in a war zone. I had to learn to let a LOT of things "go" - for years. Focus on ONE goal. Work through that, get it mastered, then pick ONE more.

I know. There's 1000 things that are all emergencies. Well, it feels like it. Twenty are emergencies, anyway. But... even neurotypical kids can't handle being reprimanded constantly over 20 different things - THEY shut down. Our kids? more likely, rage.

I have two kids. I will say that the whole approach works better with the not-quite-so-challenging kid - the one who is partly more typical, rather than the sibling who is... anything BUT typical, not even a typical non-typical. So... this easier kid caught on to the process. Would even tell me to "go put that in bucket C, Mom... we're trying to work on too many things at once". Sometimes we had to negotiate which items got relegated to "C".

Just my opinion, you can't do the whole problem solving thing once they get to the "rage" or "shut-down" level. It's too late. Either catch it early, or work it through after the fact. Which means... coming up with a collaborative solution for how to work through the "rage" or "shut-down" stage.


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Hi, malika!! So good to hear more from you about your son.

My daughter has a daughter "(my grand) has crying, screaming spells. I mailed The Explosive Child. She thinks it is helpful.

Wiped Out

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Staff member
I used a lot of it when difficult child was younger. I agree with Insane in that it really helped me to pick my battles. Very few things were basket A for us. Taking his medicine and not being violent were the two basket A things for us for a long time. Things like brushing his teeth, what he ate, etc... had to be basket C because of what he was dealing with. Basket B should have been used more and it was used some but he was so violent that getting to basket B could be more difficult at times.


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I found it so useful that I bought a school kit (books, worksheets, etc) and donated to the school. Grandson's kindergarten teacher recommended it and it was a lifesaver. At that time, he was probably a little young to grasp it on a sophisticated level, but it was really helpful to us in reframing our thinking. Yes, pick your battles, and then the big takeaway for me was if they could do good, they would. And I know how fraught that statement is, but it did help us. And the website is so great.

pigless in VA

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It was my son, Ferb, who brought me to this forum years ago. I had read literally every single parenting book on the shelves at my local library and nothing worked. Nothing. He was angry; I was angry. We were miserable. My dear friend handed me a copy of The Explosive Child, and it was like the Holy Grail for me. I put as many things as I could into that basket B, and life slowly began to improve.

I was also extremely hard on the safety and medication issues. Over time, Ferb learned not to cross me in certain areas, but that other areas were more negotiable. For instance, he spent some time whacking his friends at playdates. Each and every time that happened, he had to give his friend a toy from his own toybox. I chose ones that he really liked, too. He had to give it to his friend and apologize in person. Quickly, he learned not to hit.


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Oh Pigless in VA, I'm totally telling my daughter of the obstreperous almost-three-year old about your hit-a-kid-lose-a-toy method.


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It feels like I read that book a million years ago when J was 5 or 6 years old. It's amazing how time flies. I'm simple though and only had an A basket and a B basket, which seemed to work fine on most days.

I divorced my son's father in California and while we were in court-ordered mediation, J's father requested there be no corporal punishment. Corporal punishment was never a problem. J's father had been physically abused as a child and didn't want that for J.

Since corporal punishment was never going to be an option, I had to think of other ways to creatively "punish" or re-train my son's way of thinking. My mind is foggy about everything that was in that book, but in hindsight and from the comments above, I must have learned quite a bit from it. Most of the way I handle things, even with my steps, is through consequences.

For example, when J stole a pack of gum from a store, I made him go back the store where he stole it from and tell the store manager. The store manager told him not to do it again, but didn't give him any other punishment. When the stealing didn't stop, I made J use a plastic see-through backpack for an entire school year. When that didn't solve his problem, I made him pick out which game system he was going to donate to charity and had him personally hand it over to the people there. That did the trick (to the best of my knowledge)!

The time J drew a map to our house on the front steps of the elementary school in orange marker, I made him scrub the steps with a bucket of soapy water and a brush until all the marker that could be washed off was. Then I made him write an apology letter to the principal.

Another time he injured a boy at a cub scout meeting so bad that the boy had to go the hospital for stitches. It was an accident, but I still made him write a letter to the boy apologizing.

Over time, J's behavior changed, and I had completely forgotten about that book and my baskets. So, a million years later, when I suddenly had to deal with SS10 and his issues, I felt like I knew I should be able to handle him but for some reason, I was missing something. It was my baskets! Reading this site reminded me of them, and I started to put the baskets into place again, and it has helped. Not perfect, but better. I also have been using more consequences with the steps, and I think that is helping as well. When SS10 cut up his second backpack this year because he wanted a new one, I made him buy it with his allowance. When he lost his bicycle helmet, I made him buy another one with his allowance. When he makes a colossal mess, I make him clean it up on his own. If he's gardening with me and won't stop shouting at me or telling me what to do, I send him back inside, which he hates because he wants to be gardening with me, but I won't tolerate being yelled at or bossed around. We still use time outs, especially when he is explosive and needs to calm down.

By the way, none of this is perfect, nor has anything been fixed. However, it has helped in small, incremental ways.


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Thanks for your responses. Interesting that we have all "taken away" slightly different things from this book. For me, I'd say the two most memorable things, that I try to put into practice, is 1) the realisation that children are difficult not for the sake of it or because they are bad but because they lack the skills to react differently and 2) that instead of meltdowns, problems can be solved together. This does actually work, at least some of the time, and seems to teach both parent and child useful skills. Well, it does this parent and child anyway :)


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I don't know if you remember but I read that book when my one son was 12 or 13 and ended up in the psychiatric hospital (the same time as Buddy's boy). The wonderful parents here recommended it and using the Collaborative Problem Solving is what made me realize that he really, really thought differently than most people I knew. A lot of "issues" went by the wayside (Basket C) and a few remained in Basket B. Taking his medications was the only thing that was a Basket A issue. Once I learned how he thought, which led to an accurate diagnosis, our whole world changed. It took awhile to learn to keep my cool and talk with him. He has learned that negotiation works for the most part but is not a 100% guarantee. And now that I've gotten very good at seeing things from his point of view, there is peace in the house ..... for the most part. He's 17 now and pushing the typical teen boundaries but I always listen to "his side of the story" before doing anything.


I use it with my son and he sees a therapist who uses it with him as well. It is the only way that has ever worked.
When I started many years ago it had an immediate positive impact on his behavior and our relationship. I find that it is less of a method or strategy but really more of a paradigm shift. My biggest difficulty is that I have a daughter who does best with Type A parenting which is really not a way I enjoy to parent (she is not a difficult child but she seems to need a periodic come-to-Jesus talk) But I guess that is what you do as parent-parent the kids the way that works for them .