Rethinking Challenging Kids-Where There's a Skill There's a Way | J. Stuart Ablon | TEDxBeaconStreet



for the past 25 years or so I have had the privilege of working with lots of different children adolescents their parents their families their teachers their helpers of all different kinds all around the issue of challenging behavior which is a big issue actually it's probably the most frequent issue that we parents talked about in pediatricians offices and family doctors offices it is certainly the biggest issue that teachers are concerned about it's the number one reason they get away from teaching the academic curriculum it's their number one cause of stress managing the classroom it's the number one cause of teacher dropout and interestingly it's also the number one cause of referrals for mental health services so it's a big big issue and I feel like I have learned a tremendous amount over the last 25 years from and with these children their families their caretakers their helpers and what's interesting is most of what I've learned during this time completely flies in the face of conventional wisdom completely and that's what I want to talk to you all about and the reality is that most of what I've learned that flies in the face of conventional wisdom can be summed up in a pretty simple phrase and this is it kids do well if they can which has become the guiding philosophy of our work the foundation of our work and when you look at it up here you probably say to yourself what so we're shattering about that and on its own it may not seem particularly earth-shattering but it actually is and I want to explain why see what kids do well if they can suggest is that if a kid could do well he would do well if she could do all she would do well and if she's not doing well well something must be standing in her way and if something is standing in her way then we all as the helpers in her life lead to figure out what's standing in her way so we can help and I'm sure that sounds like perfect common sense to everybody because it is and yet it flies in the face of conventional wisdom because the more conventional way of thinking when it comes to challenging behavior is not kids do well if they can it sounds a lot more like kids do well if they want to and you see if you believe kids do well if they want to when a kids not doing well so for instance they're not behaving well you believe kids do well if they want to they're not behaving well well then you're going to assume the reason he's not behaving well is because he doesn't want to and if he doesn't want to then what's all of our jobs to try to make him want to do well and while that probably seems like a very narrow unpleasant probably pretty ineffective role to play in the lives of these kids the interesting thing about it is when you think about traditional discipline in our homes traditional school discipline discipline in society it is all oriented around trying to make kids want to do well rewards punishments timeouts detention suspensions expulsions you name it they are all aimed at trying to motivate people to do better safe in the assumption that they're not doing well because they don't want to well you know what I don't buy it what I've learned is it doesn't make any sense what I've learned is kids do well if they can I believe kids do well if they can I believe if a kid could do well he would do well if he's not doing well you know what something has got to be standing in his way and it cannot be as simple as he just doesn't want to I also believe that it's high time we learn from more than 50 years of research in the neurosciences that has shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that conventional wisdom is wrong now there are countless examples in our history of where conventional wisdom sticks around a lot longer after it's been disproven you can go back to something like the world is flat well you know what we learned it was round but nobody wanted to part with the idea that it was flat I think we're going to find the same thing about the notion that kids do well if they want to all of the research in the neurosciences for the past 50 years has shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that challenging kids do not lack the will to behave well they lack the skills to behave well skills to behave well what kind of skills am I talking about I'm talking about skills like problem-solving like flexibility like frustration tolerance in other words what all the research in the neurosciences has shown us is that kids who exhibit chronic challenging behavior you know what they have like a learning disability except instead of areas like reading math and writing this learning disability is in areas like problem-solving flexibility frustration tolerance I think it's actually a very accurate apt and powerful analogy and here's why I'm in my mid-40s if we went back to when I was in elementary school actually not far from here if there was a child who is reading several grade levels behind his peers back then well meaning and Pathak caring educators would not have said to themselves huh I wonder if he has a learning disability I wonder if he's got dyslexia I wonder if he has a hard time phonetically decoding words no actually forty years ago those folks would have said I wonder if he is either dumb or lazy and I know that there are people sitting here listening right now who can attest to the personal pain of that to being the child in the classroom who ironically was trying harder than anybody else in that classroom to read and was completely misunderstood you know what's interesting about that guess who wasn't trying very hard in that classroom to read the students to whom it came naturally guess who was trying harder than anybody else the very kids that we used to think we're lazy what a terrible shame thank goodness we have come a long way since then but not when it comes to kids with challenging behavior here's a little bit of a news flash you know those good kids those kids we say you know they're so compliant they do what we want they're such good kids you know what they get so many kudos for their great behavior and they don't even deserve you know why they don't deserve them because they're not even trying very hard just comes naturally to them guess who's trying in ordinate Li hard to behave themselves during the course of the day the very kids were trying to motivate to behave better a very wise man who has taught me a lot in his lifetime he's in his 98th year now my grandfather he's taught me a lot one of the things he taught me early on is he said when you give a dog a name eventually they will answer to it and I have learned that if you treat kids like they are lazy unmotivated don't care aren't trying hard enough over time don't be surprised when they start to look like talk like and act like they don't care and aren't trying hard enough and you know what I don't believe it I believe kids do well if they can I have yet to meet the kid that prefers doing poorly to doing well I believe kids do well if they can now there may be some of you listening here who have two-year-olds two-year-olds are particularly poorly behaved now is that because they're evil beings no I feel that way but why are two year old so poorly behaved you know why because they stink at being flexible they have horrible frustration tolerance and extremely limited problem solving skills but we don't get too concerned because they're too and the good news is when a lot of them get to be 4 and 6 and 8 and 10 and 12 etc they get better at all that stuff but some don't and this is the interesting thing development happens at different rates so many of the kids I've worked with have incredible gifts where development is gone way ahead very quickly but in the areas of problem-solving flexibility and frustration tolerance Amy be delayed relative to their peers and I can tell you something that when adults shift their thinking from kids do well if they want to to kids do well if they can amazing things that happened amazing thing happen things happen when you put yourself in the position of trying to figure out what a kid is struggling with and how you can help as opposed to how you can try to get them to try harder to behave themselves well amazing things happen now here's the interesting thing about this learning disability of sorts that I'm referring to it's different in the sense that you know what you can't set a kid up with a tutor to fix this kind of learning disability an alternative reading program is going to help somebody who has a hard time phonetically decoding words but you know what skills like problem-solving flexibility frustration tolerance those actually need to be taught in the actual situations when you need to use them in other words you have to actually have situations where those neural networks in the brain are did to practice those very skills now anyone who spent a lot of time around kids with behavioral challenges the bad news is yeah a lot of problems all throughout the course of the day I here's some good news there are predictable problems believe it or not for the parents listening you know these are getting up in the morning and out the door to school on time this is what to wear and what to eat and how much screen time you're allowed and curfew and number one source of meltdowns across North America anyways homework there's going to bed there's all kinds of predictable problems and there's a list of predictable problems in classrooms and other settings as well so the good news is that those are predictable and Eve's immune better news is you know what that list of problems is it's not just a list of problems it's a list of opportunities lying in wait what are those opportunities for opportunities to practice problem-solving with kids because that's the only way they're going to develop those skills and what's amazing is that we've been able to watch that when you teach adults to solve problems collaboratively with kids there are dramatic results and it's actually not a terribly complicated process but in homes in schools and treatment facilities in correctional facilities even it with police forces amazing things happen when adults shift from kids to well if they wanted to kids do well if they can – this is a deficit of skill not will – we got to help them build those skills and how are we going to do that by collaborating with them to solve problems so that they can build those skills it's a pretty simple process in essence it's using a good deal of empathy to identify what a kid's concern is about a problem it's then sharing your concern about that problem not your solution but your concern and it's inviting the child to collaborate with you to brainstorm solutions that are mutually satisfactory and baked into those simple ingredients is a ton of practice in problem-solving flexibility and frustration tolerance and it's a process that can be used with little kids over little problems big kids big problems you name it so I thought I would just give a very quick example of what that might look like so I'll use the example of the the first example I gave a common problem which is everybody in a household getting up getting dressed getting breakfast packing their stuff etc and getting off to school and work on time and if that doesn't go well that's a bad start to the day for all involved so what does this process look like collaborative problem-solving well the first thing is it's predictable so the last time you want to solve a predictable problem is right when the problems happening you want to do that proactively so it looks like this first a good deal of empathy to clarify the kids concern hey you know what we've noticed we've noticed that the mornings have been pretty tough and when we're asking you to get dressed in the morning sometimes you're you're not getting dressed don't worry you're not in trouble what's going on what's up I don't know well think about it for a sec I mean do you think maybe you're not so wild about going to school no so you're okay about going to school I like school ah okay and eight year older like school right so what else could be getting in the way is it something about getting dressed no I've got well because sometimes when we're waiting downstairs with your sister and we're all ready to go we come upstairs and you were supposed to be getting dressed and we just see you sit next your clothes so what do you think it could be I don't want to be last oh you don't want to be last so like it's a race or something you think No so it's not a race but why would you not want to be last that because I don't want to be upstairs alone you want to be upstairs alone how come I don't know do you get like nervous or something maybe huh so you don't want to be left alone upstairs if everybody else is downstairs you might get a little bit nervous that sound right I notice all we did was ask some questions we took some guesses we provided some reassurance that we were really genuinely interested and we reflected what we've heard and now we know the kids concern and now it's time to put our concern on the table and what's that going to look like not our solution it's going to look like putting our concern on the table hey you know what we're just worried about everybody getting out the door on time in the morning so we start the morning off okay and everybody gets to work in school a long time here comes the third ingredient don't solve the problem for the kid so you know what I bet there's something we can do so that you're not having to be upstairs alone which makes you sort of nervous but we can all still get out the door on time and start the morning okay and then one of the hardest things for us adults to do bite our tongue you got any ideas and let the kid four take first crack at it ending the example that I'm giving you well the kids first idea was well you could wait upstairs while I get dressed and mom said well I could do that but then you'd have to get dressed quickly not because I got to get downstairs and start making lunches and stuff like that so I'm worried that if you don't do it quickly I'm gonna have to go downstairs and then what does kids say how about if I take my clothes downstairs and get dressed downstairs great idea who wins everybody who loses nobody problem solved challenging behavior reduced morning starting off better helping relationship enhanced and skills practiced and trained notice this was a trial in problem-solving in flexibility in frustration tolerance and one of the coolest things about this is not just for the child guess who else is practicing problem solving flexibility frustration tolerance the adult as well now we have found that that kind of a process is a necessity a lifesaver when it comes to kids who really struggle with problem-solving flexibility and frustration tolerance but we found incredible benefits in all kinds of other places like work places like marriages partnerships you name it because you know what's really fascinating most of the kids out in the world they actually grow up possessing enough flexibility frustration tolerance and problem-solving skills so that when there are problems with adults and we adults in essence try to impose our will upon the kids and tell them what the solution is going to be they've got the skills to be able to handle it you know there's a lot of talk out there these days about trying to prepare the next generation of adults with future-ready skills 21st century skills which looks like a list about problem-solving flexibility and frustration tolerance and yet we don't actually ask kids to practice those skills very much we hope they develop them so this process this simple process of collaborative problem-solving that demonstrates incredible effectiveness across all kinds of different settings can be used with regular old kids all the time and I got to say that in my experience I think a lot of kids who have the skills are really just waiting to grow up to become adults so that they can impose their will on other people it's sad but it's true and if you think of at any day in any day and time in our world right here you'll see lots of examples of problems being resolved via might makes right on the world stage especially it's extremely rare that you actually see examples of adults coming to mutually satisfactory solutions to problems why is that I hate to say and I'm a little pessimistic I don't think we adults are so wonderful at empathizing with each other I don't think we're great at taking each other's perspectives into account I don't think we're great at arriving at win-win solutions to problems and I'm not surprised because I don't think we get a whole lot of practice and you know what I think it's endlessly exciting to imagine a world where one day the next generation of adults might be more skilled at arriving at mutually satisfactory solutions to problems then simply lining up and figuring out who's bigger and stronger because that person's concerns are going to carry the day and you know what I believe that we can teach the next generation of adults to do just that and I am thankful to the challenging kids that I've worked with over the years who've shown us the necessity of solving problems in collaborative ways and I think we can learn from them I believe we can teach the next generation of adults those skills I believe that challenging kids deserve the same humane compassionate and effective approaches as kids with other recognized learning disabilities and why do I believe that I believe that because I believe kids do well if they can I believe if a kid could do well he would do well I believe if he's not doing well it cannot simply be as simple as he just doesn't wanna because I believe all kids want to do well I believe if kids not doing well it's about skill not will and I believe that where there's a skill there's a way I believe that kids do well if they can and I hope you will too thank you very much

45 thoughts on “Rethinking Challenging Kids-Where There's a Skill There's a Way | J. Stuart Ablon | TEDxBeaconStreet”

  1. A lot of good theory here. I think the mind shift to kids do well when they can could be very beneficial for many fathers.

    I'm going to consider this information and make sure to share this will all the awesome dads in the Actidad family! Dads rock!

  2. I love this message! I do think Dr Ablon should give credit to Dr Greene who originated this material. How is this not plagiarism if he is not acknowledged? It is Dr Greene verbatim.

  3. I'm a teacher and this man's message should be taught in our teacher development meetings as soon as possible. Our schools are in an epidemic of behaviorally unskilled children. Respect for each other is at its lowest. Kudos to the teachers who have his message figured out already.

  4. Love this! It's also being able to communicate very well! I've tried the win/win with my daughter and it does work!

  5. Education for the weak. horrible advice that your kid can't for whatever genetic reasons. An educated person like the one in this speech, told my father when he was 25 year old and broke, that he would never ever succeed in life. My father was never good in school, hardly finished highschool and now he's a millionaire due to his endurance, great strong spirit of stand up after multiple failures and nonstop work effort. He never had any skill other than the spirit to never give up.
    justifying yours kids that they can't not that they are not trying hard is the an insult philosophy to what I've experienced and learned in life.

  6. I am a new Behavioral Health Nurse it is so exhausting at times. This video is very informative. I need more information like this any suggestions?

  7. When my 6 year old comes home from school with a smiley face.. I just about have a Party. Because IN KNOW he has tried SO SO SO hard. His school can't stand that he can't keep his feet still but yet his grades are good. It makes me sad for him.

  8. he needs to go to schools and help the teachers, counselors and Principals understand this behavior more. Because the teachers, counselors and Principals are making things worse, to the point where kids don't want to in school anymore. I have child like this and its not his fault, all the school he has been in, make him feel like it all his fault.

  9. i agree and yet disagree. Meet my son lol I do all of these things and yet he still refuses to do everything.

  10. Excellent!!! I´m from Brazil, and there are so few good material about this issue for us, parents… My boy, 8, TDAH with TOD. But I also ask how exercise him if the hipercinetic problem blocked the listen, the asking questions, how you exemplified.
    And.. if you has a kind of course for daily issues that we have with challenge kids

  11. I have to do this for homework and don’t understand any of this can someone explain this in a paragraph in simpler terms.

  12. Nice Video! Forgive me for the intrusion, I would love your initial thoughts. Have you tried – Trentvorty Kids Science Theorem (just google it)? It is a good exclusive product for becoming an excellent parent minus the headache. Ive heard some pretty good things about it and my m8 after a lifetime of fighting got great results with it.

  13. If you're watching this and are struggling with behavioral issues I HIGHLY recommend Dr. Greene's book "The Explosive Child"

  14. In terms of educators some or maybe many may not possess the very skills like problem solving, flexibility and frustration tolerance and even empathy.

  15. See Gordon Neufeld. Hold onto your kids. It's about getting your children to do what you want through CONNECTION.

  16. I would love to have your answers to all of these questions and problems as well as the million others that come up.

  17. I'll tell you this much….it is pretty much ONLY in the quiet times that it's possible to deal with things in that "perfect" way. And even then the child has to be willing to CHOOSE TO listen let alone discuss the less savory of their behaviours. And the rest of the kids have to be on their best behaviours, asleep or not home at all in order to do this in the first place. And there's no guarantee it will have cured the problem for when he wakes up the next morning.
    You are IDEALIZING the situations a parent faces. Each kid does not exist in a vacuum. You can't stop time for the rest of the world while you cater to each child's will. If a child randomly chooses not to dress themselves by the age of four or five then it's not because they CAN'T.
    My dad and mom would tell us or show us what was expected and then say "there. Now there's no excuse for not doing it right from now on."

  18. What o you suggest when the 11 year old does some variation of this nearly every morning and the younger kids start copying his behaviour?

  19. What do you suggest when the 11 year old child who is sent to his room to get dressed just WON'T? Or, if he goes to his room he pulls all the drawers out of the dresser, rips the sheets from the mattress then the mattress from the bed all the while screaming and pounding on walls and doors because he knows the baby is finally asleep and he wants to punish mom just for asking him to do the very same things that are expected of him every single morning of his life? Things he CAN do…getting dressed, coming for breakfast, putting on his shoes and coat and going to the bus stop!

  20. I didn't finish my 3rd sentence in that last text so the rest is….
    ……it is next to impossible to put these ideas into practice.

  21. I agree with some of this. In theory. When dealing with more than one child at a time, especially if they ARE hyperactive or otherwise challenged.
    Everything isn't aimed at making people WANT to do well. Rules and Laws are in place with lists of consequences to encourage people to NOT want to break the rules. Do you think we all drive the exact speed limit because we CAN? OR because we WANT to? I'd say more often than not (by a huge margin) people don't speed because they don't want to experience the consequences.
    OMG I could write for hours on this subject matter.

  22. How about coming up with effective ways to dissuade children from "bad" behaviour in the absence of corporal punishment of any kind?
    How about addressing what's to be done with the other children while you take the time to talk things over with the first one to cause a problem in the morning or at bedtime, etc.
    Explain how my daughter could possibly just leave the 3 year old boy and the 5 year old girl (who are just waiting for mom to be distracted so they can try on her makeup, eat a cup of sugar, fight and otherwise do what they wouldn't when she's looking, ) as well as ignore the crying, hungry 3 month old baby while she sits and chats with the oldest one who IS actually CHOOSING noncompliance about getting dressed etc. ??

  23. Both of them are acting like explosive children. Their programs must not work business, academics or psychology professionals. An immature greedy degradation of their work. Regardless, this communication and listening CPS method (empathy/unconditional love/ABC) works on kids with more serious challenges in their lives than the ones Greene and Ablon are struggling with at this time.

  24. As far as I'm concerned, Dr. Ablon is a fraud. Ross Greene is the author of this model. This "lecture" is almost verbatim of Dr. Greene's presentation. MGH needs to go back to the table and get the originator of CPS back behind the wheel.

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