But, the irony is, most kids aren’t always easy. And, there are some kids who are rarely easy!
Parenting brings out the best and the worst in us as individuals. Add the dynamic of co-parenting to the mix, and a couple’s relationship can become quite strained or worse.
The idea of having kids is so thrilling and romantic. But, reality can be a lot different than the idea.
Expectations of parents
As parents, we have a myriad of expectations for our kids: do your homework, brush your teeth, practice piano, turn off electronics when the time is up, eat vegetables – the list goes on and on.
Sometimes kids meet those expectations, and sometimes they don’t. When an expectation isn’t met, parents essentially have three possible responses:
1) make the child do it,
2) solve the problem collaboratively, or
3) drop the expectation, for now at least.
The Think: Kids program at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) calls these options Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C, respectively.
It’s not uncommon in a family to have one parent who is more of a Plan A parent (“You better do that right now or else!”) while the other parent is more of a Plan C parent (“All right. We’ll let that go for now.”)
Plan A parents are often frustrated and resentful of how the Plan C parent handles the child, and vice versa. The Plan A parent, may think that they’re the only ones holding the child accountable, while the Plan C parent may feel that they’re the only ones keeping things calm.
Meanwhile, the child receives different and confusing messages.
Sometimes both parents are Plan A, or both are Plan C, and they quickly learn that neither approach is practical nor conducive to good relations with their kids. Parenting suffers, discord between the couple mounts, and the family is left looking for answers.
What if both parents could be satisfied?
What if there was an alternative approach that could satisfy both Plan A and Plan C parent?
A strategy that held kids accountable while keeping the temperature down in the house and strengthening the parent/child relationship to boot?
Plan B – the Collaborative Problem Solving approach – is the answer.
The Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach is an evidence-based model developed by MGH’s Think: Kids program that has as its core philosophy “Kids do well if they can.” What does that mean?
It means that most challenging behavior is a result of lagging skills (e.g., flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem-solving skills), not will. In other words, if a child could do well, he or she would be doing well.
Armed with that compassionate mindset, the Collaborative Problem Solving approach employs three steps:
1) Empathize with the child to understand his/her concerns or perspective on the problem.
2) Share the adult’s concerns.
3) Brainstorm, assess, and choose a mutually satisfying solution to try.
Watch this video in which Dr. Stuart Ablon describes the general tenets of the model of care called Collaborative Problem Solving.
CPS pursues five core parenting goals:
getting expectations met,
reducing the challenging behavior,
building the child’s skills,
solving problems durably, and, most importantly,
building the relationship between the child and the parent.
Although Plan A (imposing adult will) can succeed in getting a child to meet an expectation, it has the significant downsides of escalating the child’s challenging behavior and diminishing the parent/child relationship.
Plan C (dropping an expectation temporarily) can quite effectively reduce the challenging behavior but is not a long-term solution because it makes no progress on the other four essential goals.
Plan B is a model that both Plan A and Plan C’s parents can get behind. It unites a couple with a shared philosophy and approach to parenting while also strengthening the couple’s relationship with their child and building their child’s skills to handle life more adaptively.
A family using the Collaborative Problem Solving approach is on a promising path to making parenting and marriage work.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Karen Kraut, MPH, GCCP, is a parenting coach and Certified Trainer in the Collaborative Problem Solving approach developed by Think:Kids, a program in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. The Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach gives parents concrete tools to relate better to their kids, reduce challenging behavior and build their child/teen's skills in self-regulation, communication and problem-solving. Karen founded Be The Parent You Want to Be! to help parents confidently and competently manage the challenges of parenting. She co-founded Making Parenting WORK to bring maternity and parenting wellness to the workplace for working parents. Karen leads workshops, coaches individuals/couples, and presents on CPS throughout greater Boston, and has taught CPS to over 700 parents in the last 4 years. She has a Master of Public Health from University of California, Berkeley; a Graduate Certificate in Counseling and Psychology from Lesley University; and a B.A. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Karen is the mother of two sons, ages 12 and 10, and has experienced directly the life-changing benefits of CPS to her children, her spouse, and herself.