Misbehaviour: “Kids do well if they can…” vs. “Kids do well if they wanna” (Dr. Ross Greene) What does this mean?


What Is Your Philosophy Re: Kids Misbehaviour?

“Kids do well if they can.” is the mantra of Dr. Ross Greene (author of The Explosive Child and Lost at School).

I’ve attended one of his full-day workshops and approximately every hour he repeats this very important message to the audience of parents, teachers, counsellors, psychologists etc.

His message is that children want to do well, but if they are lagging in certain skills then we will see  challenging behaviour, more often called “behaviour problems”.  He would re-frame this term as “areas where a child is lagging in skills”.

He reminds us that our philosophy guides our actions.  If we believe that children “do well if they wanna” (Ross Greene’s quote) then we believe we have to make them “wanna” by using punishment and rewards.  Ross Greene is opposed to this philosophy.  He believes thatKids do well if they can” given the skills they have, and if they are struggling, we need to help them develop their skills.

View this short 4 minute You Tube video of Ross Greene summarizing this philosophy:


Once we have our philosophy based in the “Kids do well if they can” mantra, then we can start to be the detectives to see why our child isn’t coping.

How to Be A Detective When My Child Isn’t Coping?

When I’m working with families or being the detective for my own children, I first assess the following basic needs:

Is my child tired, hungry, sick, getting sick, or stressed out by some other factors?  

If these needs are not being met, then we all know that it’s hard to cope.  There’s no point trying to move forward until these needs are settled.

If the basic needs are being met, then I think about the child’s temperament.  (I have written a series of articles on temperament, which help you assess each member of the family, including yourself!  The first one is called Temper, temper, temperament and this article will lead you to the others.)

All members of a family have different needs based on each person’s temperament.  Some will have a high need for activity, while others will have a strong need for rhythm and regularity.  Others will enjoy being spontaneous, while others will need lots of lead-time to transition to a new activity.  Going to noisy and stimulating places, such as an amusement park, may be some family members’ favourite destination, while other family members, who are high in sensitivity, might find the amusement park over-stimulating and draining.  Therefore, it’s important to take all family members’ needs into consideration, especially the children’s, because they are still learning what their needs are.

As parents, we are responsible for guiding our children and helping them find balance in their lives.  (*Dr. Ross Greene’s website is called www.livesinthebalance.org).  If our child has a melt-down because he/she is hungry, the child is not the one to blame. “Kids do well if they can!”  It’s hard to do well when you’re starving!

Often we have our own agenda of what we’d like to do with our family.  The extravert(s) in the family might plan all kinds of back-to-back social outings whereas the introvert(s) may prefer to engage in one activity with just a few people.  We need to communicate with each other ahead of time, to check that everyone will be able to cope.

Dr. Ross Greene has created a free PDF sheet called: Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems  This one page sheet is very useful as a discussion item for recognizing where your child may have challenges.  Having the awareness of potential difficulties, is the first step in pro-active planning.

In Behaviour Theory, one looks for the goals of misbehaviour, (escape, attention or sensory) and in Adlerian Theory, one looks for the mistaken goals of behaviour and the unmet needs behind the behaviour.

After looking after the basic needs, taking the child’s neurological profile (for example, an ADHD  or ASD profile) and temperament into account, I then look at the function of the behaviour from an Adlerian perspective.

Is it Attention Seeking (child needing more connection),

Power Seeking (child needing to feel more capable),

Revenge, (child needing to feel more counted),

Assumed Inadequacy (child needing to find their courage)

or Sensory.

This may seem like a lot of work, but as the saying by Benjamin Franklin goes…

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  

It’s easier to plan ahead and make adaptations, than to head into a full melt-down.

Take care,



PS.  Registration is now open for my Brain Science Summer Camps – teaching children ages 7-9 yrs. and 10-12 yrs. to understand anxiety and learn anxiety management strategies.  Online registration is available by clicking here and then going to “upcoming events/groups”.


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