Lives in the Balance; Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS)

Do you have a rowdy kid who gets into trouble at school and has been losing step with the learning process because of his behavior? Does your school look at your kid and think, ‘this is trouble?’ Have you noticed that your kid does better when someone talks to him or her, rather than punishes them? Did you know one in seven kids in all K-12 schools in America gets suspended? Did you suspect that you were alone, rather than realizing that 32.2 million school children are at risk for being punished for their behavior instead of collaboratively brought into the process of learning how to deal with it?

Child psychologist Ross Greene from Portland, Maine has a website for you: Lives in the Balance! One of the first things you see on the website is a picture of an adult and a child in a canoe.

Are you wondering why a canoe — with an adult and child paddling together — is the symbol of Lives in the Balance? Because it symbolizes adult-child collaboration. The CPS (Collaborative and Proactive Solutions) model has its roots in the treatment of kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges…in other words, kids who are in very treacherous waters already. When it comes to helping these kids move in the right direction, many adults have a tendency to take control of the canoe and paddle alone. The problem, of course, is that challenging kids aren’t the type to sit idly by while the adult takes charge. They often respond to “control” strategies in ways that increase the likelihood that the canoe will tip. By contrast, CPS is a process by which adults and kids resolve problems together. When they approach problems collaboratively and work together toward solutions that are mutually satisfactory, things head in a positive direction. It’s very hard work, but it’s a lot better than the alternative. (Mother Jones Article).

Ready to help caregivers move beyond time-outs, stickers, detentions, suspensions, expulsions, and corporal punishment? Ready to be one of the “voices” advocating for non-punitive, non-adversarial, collaborative, proactive, skill-building, relationship-enhancing interventions? Good, because we’re going to need your help! (Mother Jones Article).

Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber’s sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene’s disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as though they were holy writ. (Mother Jones Article).

The CPS method hinges on training school (or prison or psych clinic) staff to nurture strong relationships—especially with the most disruptive kids—and to give kids a central role in solving their own problems. For instance, a teacher might see a challenging child dawdling on a worksheet and assume he’s being defiant, when in fact the kid is just hungry. A snack solves the problem. Before CPS, “we spent a lot of time trying to diagnose children by talking to each other,” D’Aran says. “Now we’re talking to the child and really believing the child when they say what the problems are.” (Mother Jones Article).

From Greene’s perspective, that’s the big win—not just to fix kids’ behavior problems, but to set them up for success on their own. Too many educators, he believes, fixate on a child’s problems outside of school walls—a turbulent home, a violent neighborhood—rather than focus on the difference the school can make. “Whatever he’s going home to, you can do the kid a heck of a lot of good six hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year,” Greene says. “We tie our hands behind our backs when we focus primarily on things about which we can do nothing.” (Mother Jones Article).

Lives in the Balance is the non-profit organization founded by child psychologist Dr. Ross Greene, originator of the empirically supported Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS) approach and author of the influential books The Explosive Child and Lost at School.


In too many settings, behaviorally challenging kids are still poorly understood, and treated in ways that are punitive, adversarial, reactive, unilateral, ineffective, and counterproductive. This scenario places these kids at serious risk for a variety of adverse outcomes. Thanks to the sizeable body of research that has accumulated over the past 50 years, significant progress has been made in our understanding of the factors underlying challenging behavior, and points toward lagging skills (rather than lagging motivation) as the key factor. However, this research has been slow to influence assessment and treatment in many settings. Our mission is to build on that knowledge, the sizable body of research supporting the effectiveness of the CPS model, and our experiences in working with families, schools, inpatient units, residential and juvenile detention facilities, and government agencies, to change the lives of behaviorally challenging kids and their caregivers. We’ve prioritized four key initiatives in pursuit of this mission: (Lives in the Balance).

Open Access: The CPS model has dramatically improved outcomes for behaviorally challenging kids in many different settings. Through this website, we ensure that Dr. Greene’s vision — that parents, educators, mental health clinicians, and staff in restrictive therapeutic facilities have easy access to vast resources on the CPS model at no charge — is realized. (Lives in the Balance).

Lead the Change: Our Kids Advocacy Action Network (KAAN) takes action whenever we learn of schools and facilities that are treating behaviorally challenging kids in ways that are punitive and adversarial, and counterproductive. Through Action Alerts, our thousands of advocates reach out and urge a shift in thinking and point people to resources to empower change (Lives in the Balance).

Share A New View: Dr. Greene’s mantra — Kids do well if they can — propels caregivers toward interventions that are non-punitive, non-adversarial, skill-building, communication-enhancing, proactive, and collaborative…and away from traditional disciplinary practices such as time-outs, sticker charts, detentions, suspensions, and paddlings. Getting the word out, through our Public Awareness Campaign, is imperative! There are lives in the balance! (Lives in the Balance).

Fix The System: At-risk kids and their families often have difficulty accessing the help they need. Systems of care often struggle to coordinate efforts and communicate, and kids and families can get lost in the process. But those things can be fixed, and Lives in the Balance has developed an ambitious, practical, realistic plan to make it happen! (Lives in the Balance)

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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