What is collaborative parenting? How should you and your child work together to create solutions?
According to Ross Greene’s book The Explosive Child, collaborative parenting is when a parent works with their child to move toward a goal. This strategy is effective when a child is emotional and lashing out.
Continue reading to learn why collaborative parenting is crucial for corrective behavior, and how to practice it.
Brainstorming and Testing Solutions Together
Greene says collaborative parenting involves working with your child to find a solution that works for both of you. You shouldn’t go into this process having already decided on a solution since it might narrow your thinking. Whatever solution you land on should be realistic and should satisfy everyone—otherwise, it’ll only breed resentment and increase tension over time, leading to future conflicts.
While you might think this step gives your child too much power or lets them take control, Greene argues this isn’t the case. You’re still determining a way they can complete the practical challenges you give them, after all.
(Shortform note: The process of coming up with and testing a number of solutions can be time-consuming and draining, something critics of collaborative parenting styles tend to focus on. These critics argue the involved processes of collaboratively working through each issue (as opposed to using clear rules and punishments) are sometimes unrealistic for parents, especially those who can only spend a limited amount of time with their child each day due to work or other concerns. While collaborative approaches can have their benefits, critics concede, parents shouldn’t feel guilty if they struggle to employ them.)
Greene outlines a three-part plan for brainstorming potential solutions: recap your concerns, offer initial ideas, and then revisit and refine them.
1) Recap Concerns
Recap your and your child’s perspectives. This will help keep in mind what your solution has to address. For example, Liz revealed that she has trouble getting up on days when there’s nothing she likes for breakfast. Liz’s dad will recap this as well as his concerns about lateness.
(Shortform note: Repeating ideas in conversation not only helps you remember what was said, but it also proves you’ve been listening and helps your conversation partner feel heard and understood. This then encourages them to be more open and expressive moving forward, since they know they’re getting through to you.)
2) Offer Initial Ideas
Brainstorm some initial ideas for solutions, asking your child first. Since this is their struggle, they might already have some ideas of how to address it or a perspective different from your own. Then, you can offer your own ideas or modifications. For example, Liz suggests she should pick what she has for breakfast every day. Liz’s dad modifies the idea slightly, suggesting they plan breakfasts for each week together.
(Shortform note: The authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk offer concrete advice for this early brainstorming stage to make sure things go smoothly. They suggest you start with any and all ideas on the table (even ones you can’t agree to, like letting your child do whatever they want), writing them all down in a list. Then, both you and your child can go through this list and cross off any ideas you don’t like, explaining your thoughts and feelings along the way. These extra steps will help your child feel like you care what they think and are really working with them rather than against them.)
3) Revisit and Refine
Work with your child to implement your solution, changing it as needed. Try out your solution for a while and see if it helps your child address their practical challenge or lowers the number of outbursts they have. If it doesn’t, continue having follow-up discussions with your child to try and determine what works, what doesn’t, and whether another solution might be better. Remember, this is a process, and you might not get it right on the first try.
For example, Liz and her dad discover that their weekly breakfast plans often become power struggles, so they continue communicating openly and eventually decide to scrap this solution and look for a new one. Unlike when Liz’s dad used the demand strategy, though, they’re still making progress even though their first solution failed—they’re getting better at opening up to one another and understanding each other’s perspectives.
(Shortform note: Many parenting experts emphasize the importance of consistency when it comes to rules and discipline, arguing that it makes your child feel more secure and less anxious by helping them know what to expect from you. However, solutions are all about finding a way to make practical challenges manageable for your child—and if a given solution doesn’t do that, then continuing to use it won’t do anybody any good. If anything, it will only raise your child’s anxiety more by leading to more conflicts and power struggles. Therefore, you can forgo consistency until you find a solution that works.)
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Explosive Child summary:
- How to get your life back when you have a child with behavioral problems
- Common myths about the causes of outbursts and why they really happen
- Why prevention is key for addressing long-term behavioral issues