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“Collaborative and Proactive Solutions” Approach to Treating Challenging Behaviors

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

When it comes to ADHD, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Every child has unique strengths and weaknesses, and every parent and teacher have their own way of engaging with a child. Matching appropriate treatment strategies to each child’s specific needs is essential for successfully managing ADHD symptoms.

For most kids, it will take more than one intervention to address all the areas affected by ADHD. Treatment should always include ADHD-specific, evidence-based interventions, like behavioral parent training and/or medication, but it can often be helpful to supplement with alternative models of care, like the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS) approach to addressing challenging behavior.  

Collaborative and Proactive Solutions is a model of care designed to target challenging behavior, regardless of a child’s diagnosis. The CPS model was developed by Dr. Ross Greene and is described in many of his books, including The Explosive Child, Lost at School, and Raising Humans. Schools often have counselors and social workers who are trained in the CPS model, making it a good fit for kids with ADHD who benefit from strategies that are used consistently across home and school.

Typical behavioral interventions for ADHD use positive and negative consequences to reduce challenging behaviors, like whining, hitting, and general non-compliance. In contrast, the CPS model views these behaviors as symptoms of an underlying skill deficit, which cause the child to “act out” because they simply cannot meet the expectations that have been placed on them. Rather than target the negative behaviors directly, the CPS model emphasizes identifying the specific skills that the child is lacking and the expectations that are out of reach.

The goal of CPS is to help parents, teachers, and the child change behavior without using rewards or punishments. In contrast to standard interventions for kids with ADHD, which rely almost exclusively on the caregiver and teacher to create and enforce rules and structure, the CPS approach emphasizes a collaborative partnership between the parent or teacher.

As a team, the child and adult identify strategies that will help reduce the skill-expectation gap. When the gap closes, challenging behaviors naturally decrease, and skills and confidence increase. Not surprisingly, the CPS model has been shown to reduce conflict between children and adults, improve relationships and communication, and help kids better appreciate how their own behavior affects others.  

The CPS model aims to answer three important questions before the child and adult start searching for solutions.

  1. Why is the child’s behavior challenging? The CPS model assumes that a child is not being defiant or non-compliant willfully. Instead, it assumes that the child would follow through on instructions and behave appropriately if they could. So, parents and teachers are encouraged to reconsider their previous explanations, beliefs, and labels related to the child’s behavior. For example, a child’s challenging behavior may not be “attention-seeking”; rather, it may reflect the fact that the child is unable to do what is expected of them at that time. 
  1. When is the child’s behavior challenging? What are the times of the day at school or at home when a child displays challenging behaviors? Is it in the morning before school when everyone is trying to get out of the door? Is it during homework time? Or on the playground during recess? What are the expectations placed on the child at those times? What are the skills they need in order to meet those expectations? 
  1. What behaviors does the child exhibit when they are being challenging or disruptive? Does the child whine, hit, yell, or become increasingly stubborn? Do they get out of their seat during classwork time, take ten minutes to put on their shoes in the morning, forget to bring their homework to school? The behavior is the signal that there is a gap between the child’s skills and the adult’s expectations.  These questions lay the foundation for the CPS approach to problem-solving, which is outlined in the CPS program’s Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. In my next post, I’ll discuss these three plans and will point you to resources designed to help parents and teachers use the CPS model at home and in the classroom.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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