Why Dr. Greene Says You Won't Get to the Bahamas

by Aubrey Page, Collaborator/CEO

I talk to a lot of parents.  I talk to parents in crisis, parents who think they've gotten it all figured out, and parents who think this "new age" positive parenting movement is ruining society.

If only they understood "Kids Do Well If They Can" like I do.  Dr. Ross Greene uses this as the foundation of his approach of "Collaborative and Proactive Solutions" (CPS).  His website says, "The model is based on the premise that concerning behavior occurs when the expectations being placed on a kid exceed the kid’s capacity to respond adaptively."

He says the opposite of "kids do well if they can" is "kids do well if they wanna."  That is, our belief shifts to the idea that kids have to be motivated to do the right thing.  Then we are in a position of adjusting bad behavior rather than correcting a skill deficit or altering an expectation.

I often explain it like this...
I used to drive ships.  So say you and I decided to go to the Bahamas. We are SO excited.  Sunglasses in hand, we get on the gigantic US Navy warship and I tell you, "Ok, get us to Nassau. It should only take a few days. I'll be down below."  You try to argue with me that you can't drive us there.  You don't know how! And I roll my eyes because who doesn't know how to drive a guided-missile destroyer...I mean...obviously you're making it up. I go down below to read a book.

I notice we haven't moved and come up to check on you. At first I say "Ok so I'd like to get there soon, so can you get this moving?"  You're desperately reading any manual you can find on the bridge, but it doesn't make sense to you.  I just roll my eyes. Clearly you don't WANT to go to the Bahamas. 

But you do! You so badly want to go.  But you just don't have the skills.

So I come up every few hours and eventually I start yelling. I'm frustrated that you can't just do WHAT I ASKED!  I just asked you to get us underway.

Finally after 12 hours of back and forth, I come up to check on you and before I can say anything you start yelling at me. "Screw your trip! Screw your ship! And screw you!"  I say "Oh my! Someone's upset...it's been clear from the start that you never wanted to make this trip happen."

But you did! You so desperately did. You just didn't have the skills.

What if this is our kids?  What if that sticker chart they have at school is just proving to them that they don't have the skills needed to have enough good days and then one bad day turns into a trend of frustration?  What if our kids don't push other kids in line because they don't "want" to wait, but because they don't know it is socially inappropriate?  What if our kids don't explode at school because they don't WANT to do school work, but because they don't understand the work they're being asked to do? And like you on the bridge of that ship, eventually, they're going to refuse to do anything.

School refusal tells a story. Something at school is making that child feel like going is more dangerous than stay home.  That doing work is more dangerous than refusing.  I have consulted on cases where 10th graders who read at a 3rd grade level only had a behavior goal in their IEP.  We get so caught up in the behavior in our face, that we never dig down to see what is causing it.

Laura Phillips, PsyD, of the Child Mind Institute said "Sometimes kids would rather be the 'bad' kid than the 'dumb' kid..."  I find that to be so true in regards to school and also at home.

If our kids fight their chores...maybe the chores are too hard? "Oh but they did them before." Yes, but maybe it took all of their brainpower and they just don't have that in them today.

Nothing matters in parenting without connection.  You can rule with an iron fist, but you won't raise a kid with a healthy sense of relationships.  It's not "coddling" to check in on your kids and adjust expectations. In organizations we call that...good leadership.

So, I challenge you to look at your kids and where they fight back.  Could it be a skill deficit that you haven't identified?  Can you teach that skill? Can a speech therapist teach that social skill?  Can you lower expectations?  What can you do to help your kid feel safe, loved, and understood?

Imagine if that curiosity could change the tone of our home. It would be worth it.


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