Continuing Professional Studies

Dr. Ablon's Revolutionary Approach to Helping Children with Behavioral Challenges

Posted by Nick Gray on September 04, 2012
Dr. J. Stuart Ablon from Think:Kids with Janine Francolini of the Flawless Foundation
Dr. J. Stuart Ablon from Think:Kids with Janine Francolini of the Flawless Foundation
Photo: Cheryl Simon


Consider this scenario:

Teacher: How many times have I told you that you can’t be late to class? You are close to failing this class. I know you are smart, but you have to wake up in the morning and get here on time. You can’t waltz in the door 10 minutes before the period ends and expect to receive a passing grade.

Student: I don’t care about this stupid class anyway.

Teacher: Don’t talk back to me or I’ll send you to the principal’s office.

Student: So, what? I learn more there than I do here, anyway.

Teacher: Fine, then get your things and go.

As an educator or parent, you might look at that exchange and think, “I would never talk to a child that way.” But in moments of frustration, most people’s reactions might not be too different.

Dr. J. Stuart Ablon, a psychologist at Think:Kids who specializes in treating children with behavioral challenges, believes adults can learn a more effective approach.

On August 7 - 9, Dr. Ablon elaborated on his approach at Bank Street College in a training program attended by 140 educators, parents, and clinicians. The event was co-hosted by Bank Street’s Continuing Professional Studies and the Flawless Foundation—an organization that promotes awareness, support, and treatment for children with behavioral challenges.

Earlier in her career, Janine Francolini—who founded the Flawless Foundation—took graduate courses at Bank Street and worked at the College’s Family Center and School for Children. For her, hosting Dr. Ablon’s training at Bank Street was meaningful on a personal level:

I am so thrilled to have returned to my professional foundation, the place where I first learned to embody what we live at the Flawless Foundation which is to "see the perfection in every child.”

“Kids do well, if they can”

The core belief at Think:Kids is, “Kids do well, if they can.” Rather than viewing bad behavior as an effort to test limits and get attention, Dr. Ablon sees it as a sign of “lagging cognitive skills”—the child simply doesn’t yet have the tools to deal appropriately with the challenges in their lives. Grasping that as the root cause of challenging behavior helps adults to adopt more positive, collaborative tactics to help a child learn those skills.

Participants at the August 7-9 Bank Street event
Participants at the August 7-9 event
Photo: Cheryl Simon

Participants challenged themselves to change their thinking about children with the most difficult behaviors. As Dr. Ablon wisely pointed out, these children know the consequences of their actions; reiterating the consequences isn’t necessary. Instead, implementing what Dr. Ablon calls a Collaborative Problem Solving Approach can identify the root cause of the problem behavior and create a plan for teaching the skills needed to handle similar problems in the future.

When a participant asked whether the approach was too lenient and perhaps didn’t prepare children for the “real world,” Dr. Ablon smiled. He replied that conventional wisdom using punishments and threats hadn’t work so far, and that it just created a cycle of repeat offenses. But when a collaborative approach was used, over time the child acquired the skills needed to handle the situation and similar situations in the future. Just as some children need additional help in reading and math skills, some children need help to express their needs or finding a solution to a challenging situation in their life.

New Skills Ahead

Teachers who attended the Bank Street training reported that they were eager to return to the classroom equipped with a fresh perspective on working with kids with behavioral challenges. One teacher reported,

The most important idea was how to approach students from a collaborative, problem-solving, skill building perspective. To not be personally offended by offensive, explosive behavior and to approach the situation strategically rather than defensively.

Dr. Ablon’s visit was part of Bank Street’s ongoing efforts to support broadly accessible learning and professional development opportunities. Up next from CPS:

And there may be more collaborations with the Flawless Foundation ahead. Francolini notes,

We are looking forward to continuing a robust and promising partnership with Bank Street, and are grateful for the opportunity to have changed thousands of children's lives this summer through the training with Dr. Ablon.