A top psychologist shares his 3-step method parents can take to discipline their kids

Chris Weller

Parents face no shortage of things to get frustrated about when it comes to their kids' behavior, from fussy eating habits and too much screen time to teeth brushing and belabored bedtimes.

Ross Greene wants to make life easier.

Greene is the groundbreaking psychologist behind the theory of "collaborative partnerships," an approach that discards the stuff of traditional parenting — timeouts and the revocation of privileges — and replaces them with calm, focused discussion.

"The best you can shoot for is influence, not control," Green told Business Insider. "And that means your role is more of a partner than that of lord and master."

In his most recent book, "Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child," Greene outlines a three-step process parents can take to exert that influence in the most productive way possible.

Step 1: Get to the root of the problem

Greene calls this step the "empathy step." It involves the parent asking the child a lot of questions to understand why they aren't meeting expectations. So much of explosive behavior is caused by parental ignorance to larger issues, Greene said. Perspective-taking is essential for parents to learn what's at the root of each outburst.

"I always say your least fallible source of information on what's getting in a kid's way on a particular unmet expectation is the kid," he said.

Step 2: The adult puts his or her concern on the table

Next comes the step most parents mistakenly lead with: voicing their concerns.

"The very same concern that could have led the parent to be punitive or to impose his or her will is now being addressed in a different way: collaboratively," Greene said. "Caregivers are losing nothing in this equation. What they are picking up is a problem-solving partner."

This is the step in which parents can explain why the child needs to go to bed at a certain time or eat their vegetables. And importantly, it comes after the child has already aired their grievances.

Step 3: Collaborate on a solution

In Greene's practice, this is called the "invitation" — in the sense that parents can propose solutions and invite the child to participate in making it a reality. The most important factor is that the solution is acceptable on both sides, Greene said, otherwise it won't work.

"Say a solution isn't mutually satisfactory," he said. "I promise you this problem is not solved."

If the child doesn't like the taste of his or her toothpaste, a parent can test out other flavors and find one that is more palatable. If the child doesn't want to go to bed on time, the parent can hear the reasons why and perhaps fill the evening with more engaging or phsyical activities to prime the child for rest.

Greene admits the method won't correct all problematic behaviors overnight, but if parents address one screaming outburst at a time, "I can promise you this," he said, "not only is your kid going to be meeting more of your expectations; your kid is going to be screaming a whole lot less."