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The Plan in Action

Here, an example of a cornerstone in collaborative problem-solving: a parent-child conversation about a problem that regularly causes explosions.

By Rachael Moeller Gorman // Fall 2007
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One cornerstone of the collaborative problem-solving model is a parent-child conversation about a problem that regularly causes explosions. The three key steps: The parent seeks the child’s perspective (empathy); the parent describes his or her concerns (define the problem); together they devise a realistic, mutually satisfactory solution (invitation). Here’s a hypothetical talk adapted from Ross Greene’s The Explosive Child.

Parent (Empathy) //

Clark, I’ve noticed that it’s a little hard for you to stay next to me when we’re in parking lots. And then we get mad at each other because I have to grab you to keep you safe. Have  you noticed that?

Clark //

Yup.

Parent (Still Empathy) //

The thing is, I don’t understand why it’s so hard for you to stay next to me in parking lots. Can you help me understand?

Clark //

Um...I guess I get really excited about going into the store, and I forget that the parking lot isn’t safe.

Parent //

Ah, you’re so excited about getting into the store that it’s hard for you to remember to stay next to me. Anything else?

Clark //

Not that I can think of.

Parent (Define the Problem) //

The thing is, I can’t let you run in front of cars because I don’t want you to get hurt. But I also don’t want to grab you because then we fight. Right?

Clark //

Yup.

Parent (Invitation) //

I wonder if there’s a way for us to make sure you remember how dangerous parking lots are...even though you’re really excited...and still make sure you’re safe without me needing to grab you. Do you have any ideas?

Clark //

I could hold your hand.

Parent //

You could hold my hand. I think that idea could work very well. But sometimes you get mad when I want to hold your hand in the parking lot.

Clark //

That’s ’cuz you’re screaming at me.

Parent //

I’m screaming at you because you’re, um, you know what? If you and I agree that you’re going to hold my hand in the parking lot from now on, then it won’t matter why I was screaming at you.

Clark //

What if you forget not to scream at me?

Parent //

I’m going to try very hard not to. If I slip, can you remind me?

Clark //

Yup.

Parent //

This plan work for you?

Clark //

Yup.

Parent //

It works for me too. Thanks for solving the problem with me, buddy. And if our solution doesn’t work out so well, we’ll talk about it again to come up with something that does.

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