It’s time for Plan C

This past Tuesday, I gave a talk for UC Berkeley on using the Collaborative Proactive Solutions model (Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child) to help students who are struggling during these difficult times.  This is a great introductory workshop for anyone wanting to get oriented to the model. You can watch the talk here! The the slides are available here, and the handouts I refer to are available here.

Here’s the gist:

Kids do well if they can. If they are not doing well, it’s because the expectations and demands of the current situation exceed their skill set.  To help, we need to talk to them, proactively – to figure out what’s challenging – and work with them, collaboratively – to find a solution that works for everyone.

When your child is having difficulty meeting an expectation (and is telling you through their challenging behaviors), there are 3 ways to respond:

Plan A:

The adult comes up with a solution and tells the child what will happen.  Even when this comes from a thoughtful and empathetic place, there are still some predictable potholes that can cause problems.

Plan B:

Solve the problem collaboratively and proactively.  This is the goal! This means identifying the expectation the child is having difficulty meeting, and using a structured conversation to figure out what’s making it challenging, and how to come up with a solution that will work for everyone. (For more on this, watch the workshop!)

Plan C:

Remove the expectation entirely.  Yep.  Just say – ok, you don’t have to. And right now, Plan C is your best friend.

 The Power of Plan C

Plan C is not giving in.

Plan C is not “the child gets what they want.”

Plan C is a proactive, intentional, collaborative way to take some things off your child’s plate, so that they have the bandwidth to deal with what’s most important.

Some examples:

  • I’m wondering if it would be helpful to take a break from math homework for a while so we can really focus in on writing.  
  • It means a lot to me to have you at the dinner table with us, but I can also see that you’re just tapped at the end of the day.  For now, you can eat where you feel most comfortable.  Someday we can see if there’s a way to make dinners easier for you. 
  • I’m not going to restrict your screen time today.  Let’s take a mental health day.  I’ll email your teachers.

One parent told her child they did not have to shower every day – just once a week.  Shower time went from a daily, explosive battle to a once-a-week independently done task. Another parent shared that when he started thinking of homework time as a bonding activity, and stopped worrying about what got done, his child actually started completing more work.  When the parent set the goal, the child fought all the way and did nothing; but when he removed the expectation, the child began doing a little bit, at his own pace.  And they both felt proud.

 Consistency.  Not Rigidity.

We have expectations for a reason.  Why would we want to back off on these?  Don’t we need to be consistent during tough times to help our kids feel safe?Consistency is different than rigidity.*  Creating a safe, supportive environment means prioritizing what’s most important, allowing for flexibility, and being responsive to the child in front of you – the version of the child in front of you who is trying their best to respond to the situation surrounding them. 

We all have limited bandwidth right now. 

Your child will not likely be able to meet the same expectations they could before.  “Getting work done” in the classroom is a very different set of skills than “getting work done” at home, in the middle of a crisis, without the routine and supports they’re used to. By taking expectations off the table, you are responding to this limited bandwidth.

Plan C is…

  • Temporary – You are taking the expectation off the table for now, not forever.  You can come back to it when your child is ready to work on it. 
  • Proactive – You are not “giving in,” but sitting down with your child to figure out what is possible and what is not.  
  • Responsive – In the moment, taking an expectation off the table can reduce dangerous behaviors and help restore calm.  
  • Liberating – Having fewer expectations can help kids have confidence to tackle what’s most important.  
  • Relationship-saving – Spending less time battling is good for everyone.

And you may be surprised what your child will do when the demand is removed.  After all, kids do well when they can. 

For more on this topic

  • The Lives in the Balance website walks you through the specifics of how to have a collaborative problem-solving conversation with your child.
  • The B Team Facebook group. 
    • Search “Plan C” for some recent posts that have knocked this concept out of the park. Also search for “Ask 3 Questions” and you will find a very helpful video on a concrete strategy for kids who have a hard time hearing “no.” 
  • Finally, School Psychologist, speaker and author, Rebecca Branstetter, just published a piece in the Greater Good Magazine on reducing emotional stress to help kids thrive. 

 Wishing you all well.  Stay safe and choose connection.

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 *Special thanks to Dr. Wheeler and her recent, inspiring post.