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Powerful terms for working in partnership with your child

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

It’s easy to get caught up in the behaviour when a difficulty presents itself with our children. What tends to happen is we focus on, and get stuck on, modifying the behaviour rather than tuning into the underlying needs of the child.

That is why the new terms I recently learned to talk about children’s challenges within a strengths-based framework are so powerful:

“Lagging skills and unsolved problems”.

Just let that sit a moment because it’s big. And it’s a far kinder and more effective way of moving forward than when we are solely behaviour focused.

If I say, “Your child is aggressive and impatient towards their peers during free play-time at school” - where does that lead your brain? Probably ‘defeat’ and then we’d start thinking about reward charts or how to modify the behaviour.

But if I say, “Your child has some unsolved problems when participating in play-time at school with their peers”, how does that change what we say and do next?

Yes, it increases curiosity and opens the conversation up to helping

build the child’s skills.

An unsolved problem is an expectation a child is having difficulty meeting, and lagging skills mean this child needs more time and help from us to get to where they need to be. We move away from the BEHAVIOUR and into something far more useful, and likely to bring about change.

We can list the lagging skills and actually start to address them. For example:

· Turn-taking

· Understanding social cues

· Compromising with peers

These new terms I learned and am sharing come from Dr Ross Greene, as part of his Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model. He asks this question:

Why are challenging kids challenging?

And he gives this gem of an answer.

“Because they’re lacking the skills not to be challenging. If they had the skills, they wouldn’t be challenging”.

Dr Greene’s philosophy is that kids do well if they can. He also says, “behaviour is simply the way children communicate that there are expectations they are having difficulty meeting”.

So rather than a traditional description of behaviour that may be presented like this:

Sally bites, kicks, tantrums and displays defiant behaviour each morning when asked by mum to brush her teeth.

We can frame it as an unsolved problem/lagging skills, to look like this:

Sally has difficulty brushing her teeth every morning when asked to by mum. Same Sally, but a very different way of looking at what is happening, right?

The first statement focused on her behaviour, it doesn't lend itself to curiosity about the needs or underlying issues which could be sensory related, anxiety about her day, or a myriad of other reasons.

The second statement is simply expressing what Sally herself is expressing - that she is having difficulty meeting the expectation of brushing her teeth each morning. Her behaviour is purely the communication tool she is using, not what we need to hone in on.

Helping Sally will start at the point of difficulty.

If you haven’t already, Dr Ross Greene’s books, ‘The Explosive Child’ and ‘Raising Human Beings’ are well worth the read, and there is more information of this brilliant approach at

You’ll be amazed at how just changing the way you look at things helps because you then start working with your child to solve the problem together.


Co-Authored by Jamie Blank & Tessa Taylor (C) Sensory Pathways OT Ltd.

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