Collaborative Problem Solving

February 12, 2020

Just like that, it’s February!

As some of you may have noticed, we’re dialing back the frequency of these Bramble blog posts in order to devote our time and energy to other exciting things we’ve been working on. These include our brand new Bramble Basics Programme, an 8-week home-based programme for families to develop emotionally-connected communication skills through guided reflections, personalised notes, and regular conversations. If you’re interested to learn more about this programme, please reach out to us at


Today, we would like to share a video with you about collaborative problem solving. This is a strategy in which you and your child work together to find solutions that suit both of you, first written about by Dr. Ross Greene in his book, The Explosive Child.

In this video, Dr. J. Stuart Ablon, Ph. D, provides a wonderful introduction to collaborative problem solving, as well as the basic beliefs about kids that parents and educators need to adopt in order to truly collaborate with their kids. Dr. Ablon is the Director of Think:Kids in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Kids do well if they can, not just if they want to.” In other words, your job as parents is to pass on the skills and create the environment kids need in order to succeed. When we assume that kids want to succeed, we do what we can to help them overcome the challenges that stand in their way, instead of blaming them for what they’ve been doing wrongly.

Firstly, remove from your mind the negative thoughts about him just not trying hard enough, or not wanting to, like: “He just doesn’t care, if he really cared he would pack his bag earlier”, or “She’s forgetful, but stubborn. When I remind her, she doesn’t want to listen, she blocks me out.” Erase those thoughts! You have to believe that if they could, your children would succeed.

Now to get to the bottom of the problem. Start by finding out, with fresh eyes, what their thoughts or feelings about the situation might be. Don’t assume you already know what they are! Furthermore, your goal here is not to use their emotions against them (“So if you feel embarrassed why do you keep doing it?”); your goal is to see the obstacles that stand between them and their success from their point of view.

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After hearing from your child how they perceive the problem and what stands in their way, you can begin to brainstorm ideas together that solve the issue in a way that meets both of your needs. You might even want to grab a piece of paper to pen down all your different ideas! To quote Dr. Ablon, here is where you must “bite your tongue and let the kid take the first crack”. Instead of using this time to enforce upon your child what you think the best strategy is, invite your child to exchange ideas with you. Build upon their suggestions instead of trying to change their mind. Of course, you can set limits or boundaries, but they should be set ahead of time and not only in response to a particular suggestion your child makes.

By allowing your children to offer their own suggestions on what can be done, you change the message from: “As your parent, I’m instructing you to do this” to: “As your parent, I’m here to support you in whatever will help you.”

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Note: Your child might not be used to you handling their problems in this way. Unfortunately, they might be bracing themselves for the scolding or nagging they’ve grown accustomed to, so start by telling them you want to try a different problem-solving approach, and promise that during this time, you will only do 2 things: discover what’s stopping them from succeeding, and figure out a way to overcome those obstacles.

We hope that the video and tips we shared will be useful to you in your next conversation with your child! Remember that no strategy is perfected overnight, but with regular practice, collaborative problem solving can become a tool readily available at your fingertips.

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