Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) is an evidence-based approach that focuses on understanding and addressing the root causes of challenging behavior in children and adolescents. Developed by Dr. Ross Greene, CPS aims to foster empathy, communication, and collaboration between parents and their children to find effective and lasting solutions for family issues This resource guide provides an overview of the CPS model, outlines the key principles and steps involved, and offers practical tips and strategies for parents. Additionally, it includes three real-life family situations to demonstrate how to apply CPS in various contexts. 

Understanding the Collaborative Problem Solving Model 

1. The CPS Philosophy

CPS is grounded in the belief that children do well if they can. The approach posits that challenging behavior is not due to a lack of motivation, attention-seeking, or manipulation but rather a result of lagging skills and unsolved problems. By understanding and addressing these underlying factors, parents can develop more effective, compassionate, and sustainable solutions. 

2. Key Principles of CPS

    • Empathy: The foundation of the CPS model is empathic understanding, which involves recognizing and validating the feelings and perspectives of all family members. 

    • Collaboration: CPS emphasizes the importance of working together, rather than relying on unilateral decision-making or power-based approaches. 

    • Skill-building: The CPS approach focuses on identifying and addressing lagging skills, such as emotion regulation, problem-solving, and communication, to promote lasting change. 

Implementing the Collaborative Problem Solving Process 

1. Identifying Lagging Skills

The first step in the CPS process is to identify the specific skills that your child may be struggling with. This can be done through a combination of observation, communication, and reflection. Some common lagging skills include: 

    • Emotional regulation 

    • Flexibility 

    • Impulse control 

    • Problem-solving 

    • Communication

2. Uncovering Unsolved Problems: 

Once lagging skills have been identified, the next step is to determine the specific situations or problems that are causing difficulties for your child and family. Unsolved problems are often characterized by predictability and can be uncovered through discussions with your child. 

The Three Steps of Collaborative Problem Solving

The CPS process involves three primary steps, which can be adapted and tailored to the unique needs and circumstances of each family. 

Step 1: Empathy

Begin by gathering information and understanding your child’s perspective on the problem. This step involves active listening, validating emotions, and demonstrating genuine curiosity. 

Step 2: Define Adult Concerns 

Clearly articulate your concerns and needs regarding the situation. This step promotes mutual understanding and acknowledges the importance of addressing both your child’s and your concerns. 

Step 3: Invitation to Collaborate 

Invite your child to brainstorm possible solutions together. Encourage them to consider a range of ideas and evaluate each option based on its feasibility and effectiveness in addressing both your child’s and your concerns. 


Real-Life Examples of Collaborative Problem Solving 

Example 1: Homework Struggles 

Lagging Skills: time management, sustained attention, and frustration tolerance 

Unsolved Problem: difficulty completing homework independently and on time

Step 1: Empathy 

Ask your child about their perspective on the homework situation, and listen to their concerns and frustrations. 

Step 2: Define Adult Concerns 

Share your concerns about the importance of completing homework to support their learning and academic success. 

Step 3: Invitation to Collaborate 

Brainstorm possible solutions together, such as creating a homework schedule, breaking tasks into smaller steps, and providing support as needed. 


Example 2: Sibling Conflicts 

Lagging Skills: emotion regulation, perspective-taking, and conflict resolution 

Unsolved Problem: frequent arguments and conflicts between siblings 

Step 1: Empathy 

Talk to each child individually to understand their feelings and perspectives on the conflicts. 

Step 2: Define Adult Concerns 

Share your concerns about the impact of the conflicts on the family environment and the importance of fostering healthy sibling relationships. 

Step 3: Invitation to Collaborate 

Involve both siblings in brainstorming possible solutions, such as setting ground rules for communication, establishing a conflict resolution process, and practicing empathy and active listening. 


Example 3: Bedtime Resistance 

Lagging Skills: transitions, self-soothing, and sleep hygiene 

Unsolved Problem: difficulty settling down and falling asleep at bedtime 

Step 1: Empathy 

Ask your child about their feelings and thoughts related to bedtime, and listen to any fears or concerns they may have. 

Step 2: Define Adult Concerns 

Share your concerns about the importance of a consistent bedtime routine for their health, well-being, and overall development. 

Step 3: Invitation to Collaborate 

Work together to develop a bedtime routine that addresses both your child’s and your concerns, such as establishing a calming pre-bedtime activity, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and gradually adjusting the bedtime schedule. 


Collaborative Problem Solving offers a compassionate and effective approach to addressing challenging behaviors and family issues. By understanding the underlying causes of these difficulties and engaging in a collaborative, empathic problem-solving process, parents can help their children develop lasting solutions and strengthen their relationships. By following the principles and steps outlined in this resource guide and adapting your approach to meet the unique needs of your family, you can support your children in achieving positive, sustainable change. 


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