Ask the Doctor: Collaborative Problem Solving

Sep. 01, 2014

When children misbehave, often our first instinct is to punish the challenging behavior. We have been taught that rewarding good behavior and providing consequences for bad behavior will motivate children to act appropriately. However, Dr. Stuart Ablon would like us to re-examine this commonly held belief. Research shows that in many cases, children do not lack the will to behave well; they lack the necessary skills to control their behavior. This can be especially true in children living with mental health conditions that make it hard to regulate mood and behavior.

Dr. Ablon compares these challenging behaviors to a learning disabilities, but instead of children having difficulty in reading, writing or math, they have trouble with flexibility, problem solving or handling frustration. Rewards and consequences won’t help these children develop that skill set because they do not have it in the first place. Children want to behave appropriately, but they simply don’t know how to do so. Dr. Ablon argues that we must start assuming that kids lack skill—not will—and working with them to build the necessary skill set to regulate their behavior.

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