Now, his latest book Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child answers those parents and educators eager to apply his teachings to children whose development is more typical. The book is easy to follow, a parenting manual of sorts, stuffed with examples and mock adult-child conversations. Having spent more than three years repeatedly interviewing Greene, I recognize his ideas and his voice in this book instantly—it’s like an extended, one-on-one training session. Personally, I am relieved that I can stop trying to explain his method succinctly to my friends and neighbors, and simply recommend that they read it.
Another Greene concept that challenges preconceptions is “incompatibility”—that is, the idea that when children misbehave, what’s going on is that their skills are incompatible with the expectations they’re under or the environment they’re in. But rather than viewing incompatibility as a problem, he sees it as an opportunity—indeed, struggling with a crisis is what helps people cement their identities and leads to the most growth. In that moment, adults can help the child identify the root of the incompatibility and find a solution.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. When I first started reporting on Greene, I was struck by how effective he is in talking with kids, perhaps even better than he is with adults. Watching him—and the educators he trained—discuss a problem with a child made me realize how reflective listening is truly a skill. Whereas I would give up on a conversation after my child’s first “I don’t know,” Greene and his trainees persisted, took guesses, offered empathy, and eventually uncovered issues that pointed the way to an enduring solution. (My children can attest that I quickly adopted some of these techniques at home.)
Greene’s model, wonkily known as “collaborative and proactive solutions,” involves three steps. First, the adult raises an issue—such as dawdling over homework or running out of the classroom—with a goal of understanding the child’s perspective. Second, the adult shares his or her concern about the issue. Third, the adult invites the child to brainstorm solutions that could work, and picks one to try.
So many adult-child conflicts ultimately boil down to a power struggle. The child is doing something the adult doesn’t like and resists attempts to make him change. By shifting the goal from power to collaboration, Greene opens a whole new world of possibilities. Instead of trying to be in charge, parents simply seek to influence their children. In so many ways, it’s a relief to admit that I’m not truly in control and to stop feeling that I should be.
Under this relaxed approach, Greene categorizes the adult’s response to problematic behavior into three buckets. Plan A involves unilateral adult actions that are to be reserved for emergency situations—like yanking a child out of the way of a speeding car. Plan B is his collaborative model. Plan C applies to problems that have yet to be solved. I love the freedom to focus on just one problem at a time. When I tolerate a child making faces at me, because I’m dealing with hitting first, it’s not that I accept the faces as proper behavior. It’s just that nasty face-making has yet to make it to the top of the list. This measured approach even applies to how adults mentally frame misbehavior. Rather than viewing certain behavior as bad, they can dispassionately note that the child has trouble meeting the expectations for a certain situation, and take steps to help the child get to the point.