I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Kim Hopkins from Lives In The Balance (who works closely with and trains people on Dr Ross Greene's methods (Author of The Explosive Child to help bring his strategies into practice). Kim was AMAZING and full of incredibly practical information and helpful advice on dealing with challenging behaviours.
Below is the transcript (incase you prefer to read rather than watch the video):
Hi, it’s Sharon here and I'm here today with Kim Hopkins, and she is going to talk to us a little bit about what she does. She's obviously worked with Dr. Ross Greene who has written the explosive child. So Kim, welcome, welcome to The Functional Family it is so great to have you here.
Thanks for having me happy to be here.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you do and why you do it?
Sure. Well, I'll try to be succinct because it's like my favourite thing to talk about! So I am a trainer of Dr Greene’s model, collaborative and proactive solutions, and I also work for his non-profit called Lives In The Balance. What we do with Lives In The Balance is two main things, one, we try to create free resources for parents, educators, providers, nutritionists, you name it, and to help disseminate Dr Greene's model for free because, you know, it's about doing right by kids and there's a lot of research that backs up that our way of thinking through how to handle unmet expectations is actually what's in the best interest for kids and it does work.
So that's one thing we do. And the other thing that we spend time doing is advocating on behalf of kids with concerning behaviour, and all of their caregivers, in hopes of changing the system to be more supportive of what kids and caregivers really need. So that's, that's kind of our two main focus areas these days.
That is fantastic. You mentioned the theory of giving kids the skills so kids do well when they can, but can you talk about some of the other theories that you guys come across and what makes your approach different.
Sure, well a lot of models for parenting, educating, I would say to treating kids in a clinical setting, they're very reactive in nature. We call them ‘downstream models’ and they're very focused on what do you do when the kid is drowning in their behaviour. They're in the water, right, and how do you, you know, and it's they're focused on behaviour they're focused on severity and frequency and intensity and target, right, of behaviour and they're focused on like throwing the kids life rafts and hoping for the best and teaching coping skills, right. Our model, while you can apply it in the heat of the moment or when the kids in the water, that's not really where you get your mileage, where you get your mileage and real durable solutions that stand the test of time is when you get out of the water and you go upstream and you figured out what pushed the kid in the water in the first place. And when you go upstream, what you find are problems the kid didn't have the skills to solve, and behaviour, therefore is not the focus.
It's not the most observable data all behaviour does it signal to you hey, there's an unsolved problem up there, go find out what it is because I lack the skills to solve it, right, and then once we focus our interventions upstream on what push the kid in the water in the first place we prevent them from falling in the water. We don't focus on rewards and consequences and carrots and sticks, which a lot of models do. You know we're taught to, as parents, you know, if, if it doesn't work to take away the things they like and make it hurt, you know, to really send the message that you didn't like what they did. Well, you just got to get more creative about what it is you're taking away and make it hurt even more right. And, you know, we don't put any stock in that, all consequences do, or tell kids that we didn't like what they did, but they knew that before they did it. So we're sort of wasting our breath, you know, we want to think well, they knew that we wouldn't like it. They didn't wake up this morning thinking ‘okay at 2:10pm I'm going to throw my lunch across the kitchen just to see what happens’, right, but they know we don't want them to throw the lunch, so it's time to get curious and figure out what got in the way. The behaviour signalled that there was an unsolved problem that the kid didn't have the skills to meet, and our role as their caregiver, and their partner, we talk a lot about partnering with kids, this is something you do with kids not to them.
Can you tell me, for my beautiful exhausted parents, tell me a few easy things that they could do at home to make their life easier with these beautiful kids.
I would say. Remember, probably the number one thing is to remember, that if your kid is not meeting 20, 30, 40 expectations in a given day or week, you do not have to pursue all of them at once. In fact, you will just exhaust yourself trying to do that. And a lot of parents come to us, almost like, for permission to set some expectations aside temporarily. And so we talk a lot about something that we call Plan C which is doing just that. It's not the model, it's not CPS, but it's really critical in stabilising and in helping parents to prioritise because that's what you have to do when you can't work on everything all at once, right, and it helps everybody sort of take a breath. So we have a huge community on Facebook, one of our groups is called V team there's about, last I checked, nearly 57,000 members in there. And a lot of the stories have to do with like, oh, ‘Plan C taught me I didn't have to pursue every expectation my child is not currently meeting’, right. So the goal is once you do the work of making your kid predictable and figuring out, and we have a brief assessment that helps you do that, you do the work to get that list of unmet expectations that happen in a given week, or month, right, then you prioritise, you only work on one or two at a time. Everything else is Plan C, whether that's just not bringing it up or you have some sort of band aid plan to keep a lid on things, but we're not teaching anything we're just sort of like sidestepping it temporarily. That would be our number one advice for parents who were who are tired and exhausted and trying to do everything it’s a measure of self care that we might not always think of is when we do parent in a way we wish we didn't, we raised our voice or something like that, acknowledging it to our kids, and saying, like, I'm human. I did not want to do that. That's not how I wanted this to go. I'm working on it, and I want you to know that I bet you're upset and you have every reason to be and I'm committed to figuring out a different way to take care of issues, right. So, honouring it, noting it, owning it, can be very cathartic for the adult, not to mention the kids jaw just dropped there like you're saying you made a mistake that's kind of cool and what that's amazing modelling to do that so not discounting the power of just owning your human and being transparent it's a super respectful move, and it's actually really healthy for yourself, it’s a very versatile model very caring. Yes, and I would say that if I think about my life as an adult, right. I rely on my collaboration and problem solving, flexibility skills ,adaptability skills more than I have to rely on my ‘Yes sir, yes ma'am’ skills, right. And so, teaching collaboration from a very young age is actually time really well spent, right. The other thing is, our kids, you know, the ones with behavioural concerns, they don't have the skills to adjust to ‘Yes, ma'am. Yes sir’, right. So, even though they could run into that by working with them this way we're going to actually skill them up to handle it when they're out there and they're say at a job or something and they're running into somebody who's rigid and inflexible and is saying ‘you can't’, right, rather than them having some behavioural signal, we're going to give them the flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance and problem solving skills to handle it.
So our parents at home can understand, like a very specific example about, you know, a problem that you would be presented with, and then a strategy that you would ask a parent to implement like, you know like looking at a predictable problem like just a very, you know, specific example so that parents can I understand what sort of things that you would do to advise us.
Sure, yeah. And I can actually do one better and talk about all your options for handling a problem, including the one that we like the most. So, to take a recent parent that that I've ran into one of their unsolved problem is difficulty getting along with your brother. When you're, you're not winning. When you guys are playing Monopoly. So we would say, Yeah, the, you know, the two kids might be going at it a lot and having difficulty going getting along a lot, we would say, you got to narrow it down if you hope to get any information from your partner that's going to help you durably solve this problem. So don't talk about every time they don't get along. Pick a highly specific recent time so difficulty getting along with brother that's the expectation when you're not winning, and you guys are playing Monopoly, right, that's highly specific because I want to go, I want to go narrow to go deep. And then once I solve that problem. I'm going to then hopefully go wide from there and see what other times that the solution will work for us because here's the thing, sometimes like if they're also not getting along when they're riding in the car to school in the morning, that actually even though it looks the same. It could be for very different reasons. So that's another reason to kind of go narrow and then we'll see we'd go wide, right. So if you were going to go traditional on this problem, we call it Plan A, A stands for adult, that's one way to remember it, you would do something like, ‘If you guys can't get along playing Monopoly I'm just going to take the game away’ Or, ‘if you guys can't get along playing this game, I'm just gonna send you both to your rooms’. So you could do an all these three options for handling on expectations have two applications here the moment we're proactive so if it's happening right in front of you that's heated the moment that's when you're like that's it, everybody's done with the game go to bed, that's plan a proactive plan A, they're not playing Monopoly but you say you know what guys, it’s occurred to me if you can't handle this monopoly playing I'm just going to make a game this year. Right. That's Plan A, Plan A makes things worse, actually, because kids again with concerning behaviours don't often have the skills to adjust to it, so they can fall in the water or if they're already in the water, they get pushed farther downstream, their behaviour gets bigger.
It also hits kids and adults as adversaries right us against them kind of thing. So, the relationship takes a hit and we're not teaching any skills, or planning. Now if you decided that this is an unsolved problem that we need to work on, but it's not priority we have bigger fish to fry right now, and you are going to do Plan C, Plan C in the moment, you might not say anything, right, you might just sort of let it play out. Now if you're like well we can't do that, it gets too unsafe, then you're going to need a proactive bandaid plan, which you co create with your kids and you would say, yeah guys I noticed Monopoly gets tough sometimes, you know, particularly when one of you feels like you're not winning, we're not working on it right now, so what can we do in the meantime, just to keep things calm, right, and there could be a variety of things because your partners might have really good ideas actually, right. And notice when you know you're not selling anything you're not teaching anything but the relationship stays intact, and we're not making things worse, and we're keeping a lid on things, right.
That's Plan C, ‘child’ as a way to remember that. Plan B. B stands for both, if you want to remember it that way. That's when you're deciding to work on it and you're going to do the collaborative and proactive solutions, model, which we would suggest, highly predictable then talk about it when it's not happening, that's your best bet, right to get this durably solved. So, proactive plan B on this one. Plan B has three steps. The first step is the empathy step, that's where you're going to gather information from your partner as to what's getting in the way of having this problem be solved, right. That step takes a little time, because just because you do this beautiful like ask an entry into the first step doesn't mean your kid's gonna be like ‘well I'm glad you asked, here's what's happening’, and like lay it all out, right. So you know we call it drilling for information which is like this neutral curious way of asking questions, by the way we have tons of resources on all this, video and downloadable stuff on our website which is livesinthebalance.org, and then when you feel like you've got your kids perspective and they've said yep that's all I have to say on that on the matter, right, and it makes sense to you then you move into step two which is where you would say your concern. One sentence though, we're not lecturing , and you're not repeating the expectation, you're talking about what worries you when the expectations not being met, then you're ready for step three, which is the invitation step and that's where there's a lot of repetition because there's actually tons of informal skills training happening here. That's where you're going to repeat what your kids said, and then you're going to add to it, what you said and say can we come up with something that works for both of us. So, in Plan A, we don't even like, think about the kids perspective in Plan B, we want it, we work hard to know their perspective and then we give it equal weight to our own.
And that's when beautiful things happen, now they don't have to agree with your perspective and you don't have to agree with their perspective but you have to know understand them and honour them and hold them together and that's when beautiful things happen.
Kim's contact details are:
Website: Contact | Lives in the Balance
Email: [email protected]
Resources: PARENTS/FAMILIES | Lives in the Balance
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