Help with using Plan B / Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS)

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by Jules71, Oct 18, 2010.

  1. Jules71

    Jules71 Warrior Mom since 2007

    Ok, I checked out a copy of Ross Greene's The Explosive Child. I've read it before but it's been years so I needed a refresher. For those familiar, here is the main idea:

    1. Identify pathways (skills lacking that need to be taught; executive skills, language processing skills, emotion regulation skills, cognitive flexibility skills, social skills)
    2. Identify triggers (situations that cause explosions)
    3. Put into basket A, B, or C
    4. For basket B use CPS (proactive or emergency)
    a. Empathy
    b. Put concerns on the table (child’s and parent’s)
    c. Invite to problem solve

    Ok so here is where I have a hard time. Let use one of my son’s triggers to see how to execute the cps model.
    1. Friend wants to leave / or wants to play with someone else

    difficult child and friend are playing Wii. Friend is getting bored and wants to leave. difficult child gets agitated and tries to block friend from leaving – tells him he can’t leave. Friend gets upset and tells me. I tell friend it is ok and he can leave. I block difficult child from going after friend as he leaves. Boom - HUGE explosion!

    Me: It looks like you are upset your friend left. What’s up?
    difficult child: I hate him – he sucks – what a jerk.
    Me: You hate him, he sucks, what a jerk (use empathy – no, I don’t think so!)
    Me: (I guess I have to make a guess here) You’re upset he left because you were having a good time playing with him and now you can’t play with him anymore.
    difficult child: Uh huh
    Me: (What’s my concern? Really my concern is I don’t want him to blow up and cause total mayhem in our house. But what concern do I put on the table?)
    Me: (Invite to problem solve)

    See it all falls apart because he doesn’t tell me his concern, so I have to guess. It could be he feels hurt that his friend doesn’t want to play with him anymore and thinks he doesn’t like him anymore. Or it could be because he was having so much fun and now he doesn’t have anything to do. If it’s the latter, I could invite him to problem solve other things he can do now (but still what is my concern to put on the table?). If it’s because his feelings are hurt and he thinks his friend doesn’t like him anymore – how do you problem solve that?

    The other thing I remember from reading this book previously is that the author doesn’t go into how to teach those skills they are lacking (executive skills, language processing skills, emotion regulation skills, cognitive flexibility skills, social skills).

    A lot of my difficult child's triggers are like this one. It doesn't seem like you can apply this model to defuse these situations. Maybe the issues my difficult child has are more emotional deregulation issues and those can't be solved using CPS.

    Am I missing something?
  2. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    This is not a perfect answer and it takes time to get things working well. But the attempt to set things in place is often recognised early by the child, so they do pick up on yu trying to help.

    Where things went awry in the scenario, was in not involving your son in the "please can I go home now?" request from the friend. It's tricky when you're just starting out. What often makes a big difference in CPS, is setting things up ahead, right at the start. So when friend comes over, set a time limit right at the beginning. At our house, friends have to go home at 5.30 pm. difficult child 3 has to BE home by 5.30 pm.

    But I gather in this case, friend wanted to move on and it wasn't a case of "My mother wants me home now." Friend leaving was a direct consequence of difficult child controlling the play too much and not allowing friend to have input. In which case, natural consequences.

    BUT - you want to prevent your son getting upset. Besides, if he's upset, he won't learn a darn thing from natural consequences - in his mind, friend didn't leave because difficult child bored him, friend left because he's a jerk. This means that next time friend comes over, difficult child is either going to behave exactly the same, or could even be more controlling, because he will be trying to think of even more creative ways to stop his friend form leaving. Friends become less willing to visit.

    So what I suggest, is you get involved in the play, at least to a certain extent. Make sure friend is involved in choices and that difficult child knows, ahead of time, how to involve his friend. Role-play with difficult child how to behave the right way, and how it feels the wrong way. Make it a game, make it clear you are pretending. You be difficult child and let difficult child be the friend. Then stop and say, "How does this make you feel? What does it make you want to do? How does this compare to how your friend behaved the other day?"
    Then discuss these various things with difficult child. Finish with, "How would you prefer me to behave?" Try to work in that you are trying to help difficult child be a more successful friend.

    A good fable you can tell difficult child is the story of the wind and the sun, arguing over which one has more strength and more power. They see a man walking along. "I am so strong," says the wind, "that I can blow the coat right off that man! I bet you can't get that man's coat off - you can't make anything move."
    The sun smiles and agrees to the contest, but lets the wind go first, as the challenger. So the wind begins to blow. At first the man's coat flaps free, but then as the wind gets stronger, the clouds fill the sky and trees whip wildly in the gale that is developing. The man is feeling the force of the gale, bent almost double, and pulls his coat around him tightly. He buttons it up, belts it tightly and buries his hands deep in his pockets. Finally the wind is spent and has to admit defeat. "But if I couldn't make him take off his coat," says the wind to the sun, "you never will succeed!"
    The sun smiles again and begins to shine. The clouds slowly dissipate and the heat of the sun evaporates the last of the storm until the sky is clear blue. The air is still, the day gets warmer and the man begins to sweat. He unbuttons his coat and undoes his belt. Then he rolls up his sleeves. But the day gets warmer still, so finally the man decides to take off his coat.
    The sun is declared the winner.

    The moral to this story, is that you expend far less energy and have a greater level of success, when you choose to persuade someone rather than force them. People have the right to hold their own views and to do what they enjoy. difficult child likes to do what he wants, and tat is OK, until what he wants interferes with what his friend wants. And sometimes they won't be able to agree - but this happens. It is an important skill to learn, to be able to swallow your disappointment for now and change to something else. The more you experience that this turns out OK, the more you realise that making a compromise for now is not the end of the world. But it takes experiencing some positive outcomes, for this to become a valuable learned experience.

    Next time when friend says, "I'm bored, I want to leave," see if there is another activity you can suggest, that might encourage friend to stay. Ask friend if he can think of some other activity. Suggest something - watch a movie perhaps, and you will make popcorn (food often makes a difference to compliance). Then the important step - explain to difficult child that he has a choice - change activity to something his friend is OK with, or friend will choose to leave. Friend has a legal right to leave (stopping friend from leaving is against the law) and the only way difficult child can prevent it (and even then there is no guarantee) is to change activity to something friend wants. So difficult child's choice is - keep playing Wii but alone, or have friend stay, with a different activity. This is a difficult thing for difficult child to cope with, as it involves changing task from something difficult child is enjoying. And these kids are often so egocentric that they believe that if THEY are having fun, that is all that matters. Everyone else must be having the same level of fun.

    You need to be involved until difficult child gets it. You need to suggest to them both and try to help them work out a compromise. But just as difficult child shouldn't block his friend form leaving, you need to avoid blocking difficult child too. He needs to learn to accept the change. It's not your fault. And friend has free will, the sooner difficult child realises this the sooner he can learn how to be a good friend himself.

    Another option you have at this point is to use the time to set up a new play date. "Friend has to go home now, he just remembered he has to run errands for his mother. But how about we arrange now, for friend to come round tomorrow at 4 pm? What do you want to do tomorrow, friend? Not play Wii this time? Do you have a DVD you want to watch with difficult child? Or would you rather go for a bike ride together?"

    Maybe make lists with difficult child, of things he thinks his friend might like to do. Then when ANY friend says, "I'm not having fun any more," difficult child can refer to the list and try to find a compromise himself.

    But it does involve planning ahead, where possible.

    For now, once difficult child calms down, use that opportunity to role play and then perhaps work on that list of alternative activities. This time things were a bust, but you can use it to build a greater chance of success next time.

  3. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not


    Sadly, this sounds so much like my own difficult child, and we STILL haven't figured out how to be nice to friends so that they "stay"...

    Counselors used to spend a lot of time with difficult child doing exactly as Marg suggested and "role-play" different scenarios. Unfortunately, in real life, the other kids didn't always behave exactly as we had practiced.

    And difficult child seemed to have trouble understanding that people can be friends with difficult child and somebody else at the same time. So that was also a concept we tried to practice...

    I feel for you. It's probably best to just set up some very short play dates under very controlled circumstances...As in, have a friend over to watch a movie. When the movie is over, the friend goes home.
  4. TeDo

    TeDo Guest

    I completely agree with Marg. I have had this same issue with easy child. He didn't have a meltdown when a friend left but he got upset with them and wouldn't want to play with them anymore. He went through friends very quickly. I did just as Marg suggested. I stayed within earshot of easy child and his friend. When it sounded like friend was getting bored, I would walk in nonchalantly and ask BOTH of them if they wanted a snack or I suggested easy child "show" his friend something (something easy child had made, something new, etc) to change the subject. I also talked to easy child about how we need to do what the friend wants to do sometimes because it's no fun doing what he wants to do all the time. I even went so far as to act like easy child once. I asked him to play a game with me and when he got tired of playing it, I got "upset" with him (although I went overboard just to make my point). It worked like a charm after a while. Good Luck.
  5. Shari

    Shari IsItFridayYet?

    Jules, have you read Lost At School? (also by Ross Green) It was helpful to me because it did include a lot of scenarios (not sure if they were real or not, but it always helps me to see something in action, and this book had lots of that).

    My only other suggestion might be to get a little closer to the action, and then as you see the friend getting irritated, use CPS with the friend, right there for difficult child to be a part of. I am thinking that friend may say that difficult child is being too controlling for friend to have fun, and difficult child can jump right into the brainstorming phase...what might he do to change the situation, etc.

    It takes time to get this down, and sometimes I still have to stop and think how to go about it, but kids do catch on quickly that you are trying to help.

    I have also found that walking thru this CPS, in itself, helps the kid get around, to some degree, the skill he/she is lacking. It teaches them to stop and work thru a might not be the way a "typical" handles any given situation, but it does teach the child to recognize there is a problem and to think thru options. Wee doesn't do it for any major issues yet, but I see him (or he will actually say "now, what can I do to make....") use the method in other areas, so I think, in time, he'll be able to collaborate with himself on some real issues. I've also seen him say to his younger cousin "how can we fix it?"
  6. Allan-Matlem

    Allan-Matlem Active Member


    difficult child and friend are playing Wii. Friend is getting bored and wants to leave. difficult child gets agitated and tries to block friend from leaving tells him he can't leave. Friend gets upset and tells me. I tell friend it is ok and he can leave. I block difficult child from going after friend as he leaves. Boom - HUGE explosion!

    Me: It looks like you are upset your friend left. What's up?
    difficult child: I hate him he sucks what a jerk.
    Me: You hate him, he sucks, what a jerk (use empathy no, I don't think so!) - --- sometimes just ' I hear ya ' is enough , here the reflective listening is OK
    Me - It seems that he upset you
    difficult child - Yah
    Me - can you tell me more
    difficult child - thinking - I can't explain or no
    Me - ( you make a guess ) maybe you're upset he left in the middle of the game ( I would try to use shorter sentences so I can then try to get his input )
    why did this upset you ?
    if he has difficulty again your tentative suggestions as to possible concerns - I would try to frame it as a positive concerns - he wanted to play more , finish the game etc and ( now your concern is being
    twarted )
    you could try and drill down to see if there are any other concerns - being bored, not having anything to do afterwards

    Me: (I guess I have to make a guess here) You're upset he left because you were having a good time playing with him and now you can't play with him anymore.
    difficult child: Uh huh
    Me: You can repeat his concerns and then add , I am a little worried or concerned that if you try and force him to stay , there will a fight , and what will happen ?
    difficult child - we will both be angry and he won't want to come and play with me again
    Me - I was wondering if we could find a way how to encourage your friend to stay and carry on playing with you without trying to force him or having a fight , do you have any ideas , let's brainstorm

    you need to check together if the solutions are feasible and realistic - you can role play - all communication and problem solving is based on asking questions so what should we ask the friend

    for eg - why he does not want to continue playing - answer - bored , wants something different - kid makes a suggestion , if that does not work - maybe negotiation - if i will allow you to ride my bicycle will you continue to play with me , or he could arrangeanother play date -- giving kids a wider time horizon helps

    also when dealing with relationships , we can show that we are quite limited on what we can do , we can't force or control people or friends

    what happens if he needs to leave ? feelings of disappointment - how do I solve that problem - it is not a big deal , end of the world - at least I can

    Plan B is not a technique , but a process . Dr Greene reckons a kid needs 30-40 Plan b experiences to trust the process and acquire the skill , that is why I recommend plenty of one on one chatting dealing with other peoples problems, etc helping kids take perspectives , identifying concerns, brainstorming solutions that will work for every one , maybe suggesting a bit of give and take , so they learn the skills. Every life situation is a problem to be solved , we can take our kids through the thinking process, teach them to ask questions . Our greatest tool in helping our kids is dialog and conversations , meaning we listen and they speak we directing conversations with dialog questions . So many skills are taught when we engage in dialog and collaborative problem solving - articulating concerns, perspective taking , empathy , planning , consequential and sequential thinking , using hindsight and forsight , learning to be flexible , give and take etc It means we have to learn to keep conversations going

    I hope this helps - It is not easy , but every conversation you have learning is taking place even if it seems it is not working yet

  7. Jules71

    Jules71 Warrior Mom since 2007

    Marg, you are right on that it was probably a result of difficult child being too controlling and friend wasn't having any fun doing only what difficult child wanted him to do.

    I love the story - that is a great way to think about things.
  8. Jules71

    Jules71 Warrior Mom since 2007

    Thanks for responding - I was hoping you would. CPS is so much work and does not come naturally to me. I am pretty sure my husband will not engage in this at all. He is pretty much silent until BOOM he's had enough. I have another child to care for also and I am absolutely drained. I know I need to do this, but man I wish I didn't have to. I have to constantly manage difficult child's every waking moment. Is my kid worth it - yes he is. Will I do it - yes I will. I just don't think I can get the rest of the world on board with this.

    Shari (& Allan) - Thanks for recommending Lost At School. I came across that when I was searching Ross Greene online and was going to check that out too, but I could not find it at our library. I will def. try to find it.
  9. Jules71

    Jules71 Warrior Mom since 2007

    Thankss. I am finding the ALSUP worksheet helpful in identifying his lagging skills. It seems these are the ones my difficult child has trouble with:

    1. Difficulty managing emotional response to frustration so as to think rationally
    2. Chronic irritability and/or anxiety significantly impede capacity for problem-solving or heighten frustration
    3. Inflexible, inaccurate interpretations/cognitive distortions or biases (e.g., “Everyone’s out to get me,” “Nobody likes me,” “You always blame me, “It’s not fair,” “I’m stupid”)
    4. Difficulty attending to or accurately interpreting social cues/poor perception of social nuances
    5. Difficulty appreciating how his/her behavior is affecting other people
    6. Difficulty empathizing with others, appreciating another person’s perspective or point of view
    7. Difficulty appreciating how s/he is coming across or being perceived by others

    So what "pathways" do you think these would fall under?
    executive skills
    language processing skills
    emotion regulation skills
    cognitive flexibility skills
    social skills

    I think I am seeing social skills and emotion regulation skills.
  10. Jules71

    Jules71 Warrior Mom since 2007

    Oh wow I just read up on cognitive distortions and I think that may be the case too. For me and husband too. See, we did rub off on difficult child the wrong way! :embarrassed:
  11. smallworld

    smallworld Moderator

    Jules, I'm going to an all-day workshop with Ross Greene on Thursday! I hope I'll have some thoughts to share with you after that.

    Keep reading and sharing with us. As Allan said, it's a process. You're not going to get this down in one fell swoop. It's going to take time for both you and difficult child.

    Hang in there.
  12. Jules71

    Jules71 Warrior Mom since 2007

    SW- thanks! Awesome! Lucky you. Let us know how it goes and what new things you learn from it.
  13. Allan-Matlem

    Allan-Matlem Active Member

    Dr Greene's partner at thinkkids Mass General = Dr Ablon ( Dr Greene is now in private practice ) has organized the lacking skills under the pathways .

    Dr Greene does not like this , sounds like dxs , rather focus on something tangible and real and connect that to a real problem
    Dr Ablon reintroduced the pathways headings because parents said it helps them to remember the list.

    What role can husband play -- just start talking to difficult child about general stuff , things that interest difficult child or husband and asking what do you think , perpective taking etc , the same with you - you are making dinner - problem solve - what ingredients do you need , how do you plan , different tastes , healthy eating , when to eat , supporting individual choice within the family , world food problems , starvation , etc the idea is to get kids thinking , best to talk about others , visualize on a screen , etc

  14. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    I think this is a really valuable thread because it deals with the crux of the problem in a lot of cases. When I responded before, it was very late for me and I was tired, so I forgot to mention a few things I feel are really important.

    First - the "reflection" method to "show empathy". Do not be surprised if this triggers your child to REALLY explode. I'm not difficult child, and I tend to explode if people try this one with me. Because especially with a bright child, even one that is not socially adept, it sounds too much like you're mimicking or mocking the person, purely by repeating what they have said. I was trained as a telephone counsellor and this was one technique I did try to put into practice (as I was told to do) but against my better judgement. I found what worked better for me (and the people I was counselling were generally not difficult children either, but people who were feeling anxious or afraid due to health problems) was to keep the pure "reflection" to a minimum, and instead modify it. I would say, "So you feel upset because your friend wanted to leave. I'm sorry you felt upset. But I would have been upset if your friend was unhappy too. Why do you think he might have been unhappy?"
    It depends on the ability of your child, but too much reflection keeps them 'stuck' in the "I'm really angry with my friend" mode, and this can be too much focus on the negative emotion, with no hint of which direction to move in his thoughts. Helping him focus first on the real cause of his anger, and move quickly on to helping him find his friend's point of view. "He's not really a jerk or you wouldn't want him as a friend. If you really didn't care about him, you wouldn't be upset now. So you do like him as a friend. You're just upset because he wanted to go home. I can understand that, I would be unhappy too. But he does have to go home sometimes and there can be many reasons why he wanted to go home. If that had been you at your friend's home, what would be some of your reasons for wanting to go home?"
    A cardinal sin in phone counselling is to say, "I know how you feel," but I do feel you can get away with this a lot more with your own kids, and it cuts through a lot of the repetition crud I absolutely LOATHE about professional counselling and "reflection" (from the recipient viewpoint).
    I was a darn good counsellor (based on my feedback). But I learned I was a better counsellor when I broke the rules.

    The second point I wanted to make: you could try - a new house rule. My parents instilled in me that guests in your house must be given priority, it's courtesy. If you go into Greek mythology (and undoubtedly the mythology of other cultures) you will find references to the inviolability of a guest in your home. Guests have some responsibilities too. When Paris was visiting Menelaus (as an envoy from Paris's father King Priam in Troy) he began an affair with Helen (wife of Menelaus and the most beautiful woman in the world according to mythology). This was a violation of his position as a guest; but because he was a guest, Menelaus was not allowed to harm him (if he had known). But once Paris left the house and ran off with Helen, then he was fair game and the Greeks declared war on Troy. (of course, it had NOTHING to do with valuable trade routes for bronze working! yeah, right...)
    The thing is, when someone is a guest in your home, you look after their needs. You show courtesy. There are social rules that a difficult child needs to role-play A LOT in order to learn the right way to behave. Of course, it won't always work that way when difficult child visits someone else. But that's OK, you just say that the other kid is still learning this one and maybe has not progressed as far as difficult child.
    So role-play this - you be the guest, let difficult child be the host (after you've walked him through it, of course!). The guest knocks on the door. "Hi, good to see you! Come in, sit down, can I get you anything? I have [list what there is to eat and drink - snacks, soft drink or simply a glass of water - whatever Mum has previously said is OK, offer it and indicate that the guest can have it freely available]. What would you like to do? We could [list what activities you can do; or if plans have previously been made, go right to the activity]." Show the guest around the home so he knows where anything is - the bathroom, the living room, the back yard.
    The host keeps a quiet monitor on the guest and responds to his needs. When the guest indicates a need to use the bathroom, the host shows him where it is (if he has not been there before). When the guest indicates he has had enough of anything, the host complies. Because it should be the other way around, when HE is a guest (except not everyone has learned the same manners to the same degree, as I said before). The aim of the exercise, the whole aim of good hosting, is to ensure your friend enjoys his visit so much that he will happily come back again.
    This doesn't mean you let your guest trash your house. There are still house rules. As you show your friend around your home, it's perfectly OK to say, "That is my dad's study, we're not allowed to go in there because if I move ANY of his papers he will know about it and will blow a gasket. And we have to stay out of the living room today because Mum has just cleaned it for her book club meeting tonight. But it's OK, I've got the Wii set up in the rumpus room plus the jogging trampoline is in the corner."
    When I was a kid and a friend of mine trashed my room, I was the one who had to clean it up. I was responsible for the behaviour of my guest. That meant I had to learn how to say, "I think you need to go home now," if things were getting out of hand. Or even to go to my mother and say, "Mum, I can't stop my friend from upending the entire toy cupboard onto the floor and knocking over my bookshelves." Sometimes you need to call on reinforcements to evict. And a friend who behaves like that, you don't particularly want back as a visitor.

    Your child needs to learn how to make his friend's visit an enjoyable one, so your home and a visit with difficult child becomes something a friend can look forward to.

    difficult child 3 doesn't have a lot of friends, most of the time he goes to visit them because they are so much younger than he is, they are not allowed the same degree of free movement around the neighbourhood. But his 'key' in for friendships (either them visiting us or him taking his stuff to visit them) is a combination of his extensive supply of games, plus his amazing gaming capability.

    About the amazing gaming ability - some kids can be really nasty to a difficult child. I used to drive kids from the local school to other school tournaments (chess). I had a mix of kids, some of them variously difficult child-ish. Some of them very much not. A surprising number of them were jocks in the making. One I recall came from a family where any infirmity was feared and loathed. They were fitness fanatics not as a healthy way of life, but more to ward off any imperfections. As a result, this kid socially was really nasty to anyone who was not 'perfect' physically or mentally. He saw difficult child 3 as a "retard" (an insult often hurled at difficult child 3, inaccurately). In the car, this kid was playing a hand-held game of some complexity. difficult child 3 and the other kids were looking on, but this kid was at the same time being really mean to difficult child 3, calling him names and generally making such nasty remarks about "the dummy" that I would have loved to have put him out of the car; I was quietly deciding to never invite this kid to compete again (I had veto rights). Then this kid was clearly having problems getting to the next level in his game. All the kids had a turn. One of difficult child 3's friends said, "Let difficult child 3 have a go."
    The game owner said, "No, he'll only wreck it. He's a retard, he wouldn't be able to do it."
    But he was finally persuaded and handed the game over, clearly against his better judgement. And immediately difficult child 3 said, "I can see your problem. You have to collect all the items first, then you have to go along this path, go through this loop, use the controls this way to make it do this, then you're through."
    The kid said, "So you've got this game yourself? Have you played this one a lot?"
    difficult child 3 replied, "No, I've not seen this one. But it's self-evident. It's really quite easy if you pay attention to it. Don't worry, if you keep practising you'll get good at it one day."
    Then he handed the game back and went back to looking out of the window. I quietly cheered.

    Some difficult child-ness can be useful currency with other kids. Once word got out that difficult child 3 was good at computers and computer games, plus had access to a wide range of games, a lot of his foibles got overlooked by other kids. And as other kids get to know him better, they learn what to not take offence at, and what to value.

    You can't turn a difficult child into a easy child overnight. Or even in a year. But it's a process, as Allen said (about Basket B). We work towards it in the hope of one day getting close to the goal. And like any lessons, sometimes it needs a lot of quiet, calm repetition (in terms of going over the actions, like learning how to perform any physical tasks). It takes gentle handling, but also calm, firm handling. Communication. Staying silent until you explode (as you said your husband does) is absolutely the wrong way to go. As soon as you begin to feel frustrated with difficult child, you need to communicate this and at the same time, help difficult child find a better way of doing things. In doing this, you will be modelling to difficult child, how to better express his feelings about frustration, before HE explodes. And when he does begin to communicate his frustration, you have to allow this and again, guide him to a healthier self-expression.

    Every success, even a tiny one, brings further success.

    Last edited: Oct 20, 2010
  15. Jules71

    Jules71 Warrior Mom since 2007

    Marg - thanks for the response. I haven't been able to respond yet, but wanted to "bump" this back to the first page so we can keep discussing it.