Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lost at School by Ross Greene

Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them

by Ross W Greene 

Scribner; 1 edition (October 21, 2008)


I have just finished Ross Greene’s new book, Lost at School. This book describes how to implement his Collaborative Problem Solving Method in schools. Although Ross Greene does not focus on trauma, his method overlaps with ours in emphasizing the need to teach specific skills. Ross Greene has done excellent work in delineating and specifying the specific thinking skills that our kids need to learn. He is also clear that points and levels, punishments and rewards are not helpful in changing behavior- that children will show better behavior when they learn the skills which will enable them to do so. 

I would like to highlight Dr. Greene’s differentiating between people who believe that "kids do well if they want to" and those who believe that "kids do well if they can". The former assumption leads adults to employ systems to make kids want to do better- rewards and punishments. The belief that "kids do well if they can" will lead adults to teach kids skills so that they have the ability to do better and assumes that the already want to. When they have the skills, their behavior will improve. 

On pages 12-13 Dr. Greene describes some common things that are said about challenging kids, and why they do not make sense: 

"He just wants attention."

            We all want attention so this explanation isn’t very useful for helping us understand why a kid is struggling. If a kid is seeking attention in a maladaptive way doesn’t that suggest that he lacks the skills to seek attention in an adaptive way? 

"He just wants his own way."

We all want our own way so this explanation doesn’t help us understand a kid’s challenges. Adaptively getting one’s own way requires skills often found lacking in challenging kids. 

"He is manipulating us."

This is a very popular and misguided characterization of kids with behavioral challenges. Competent manipulation requires various skills- forethought, planning, impulse control, and organization among others- typically found lacking in challenging kids. In other words, those who are most often described as manipulative are those least capable of pulling it off. 

"He’s not motivated."

This is another characterization that can be traced back to the “kids do well if they want to” mentality and it can lead us straight to interventions aimed at giving a kid the incentives to do well. But why would a kid not want to do well? Why would he choose not to do well if he had the skills to do well? Isn’t doing well always preferable? 

"He’s making bad choices."

            Are you certain he has the skills and repertoire to make good choices? 

"His parents are incompetent disciplinarians."

This, too, is a popular way of thinking, but it fails to take into account the fact that most challenging kids have well behaved siblings. Blaming parents doesn’t help anyone at school deal effectively with their kid in the six hours a day, five days a week, nine months of the year that he is in the building. 

"He has a bad attitude."

He probably didn’t start out with one. “Bas attitudes” tend to be the by-product of countless years of being misunderstood and over-punished by adults who didn’t recognize that a kid was lacking crucial thinking skills. But kids are resilient, they coming around if we start doing the right thing. 

The book is very well written and contains many examples and stories. I recommend this book for its clear description of the Collaborative Problem Solving Method and how implementing it can revolutionize our schools.


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