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Preventing Violence the Problem-Solving Way

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 1999
12 pages
Based on more than 20 years of research on specific interpersonal cognitive problem-solving (ICPS) skills, intervention methods were developed to test the hypothesis that behavior can be modified by focusing on thinking processes rather than on behaviors themselves.
The ICPS skills relate to high-risk behaviors that may develop into serious problems such as violence and substance abuse, and the ICPS approach to childrearing deals with social cognition and social adjustment. The central theme of the approach is that certain interpersonal cognitive thinking skills play a crucial role in the social adjustment of both parents and children. To identify the relationship between ICPS skills and behavior at different age levels, children as young as 4 years of age were studied. It was found that deficiencies in two ICPS skills, alternative solution thinking and consequential thinking, were most strongly associated with impulsiveness, withdrawn behavior, and lack of prosocial skills in children between 4 and 8 years of age. Believing it would be optimal to reduce and prevent high- risk behaviors at the earliest possible age, interventions were initiated with urban, primarily black children in federally funded day care programs. Preschool and kindergarten teachers were trained to implement ICPS skills through games, role plays, and dialogues applied to real life situations. The study showed the 113 children exposed to the interventions improved their problem-solving abilities more than a comparable group of 106 children who were tested but not trained. Given positive results of ICPS studies, tests were administered to parents to measure problem-solving skills and styles of handling problems using a sample of 40 low-income black mothers of 4-year-olds. Testing indicated a mother's means-ends skills regarding hypothetical child-related problems had a direct impact on her childrearing style. A more systematic study examined how and if changes in ICPS skills and childrearing styles of mothers would affect their children's ICPS skills and behavior. Relative to matched controls, mothers who went through the training significantly improved in their ability to solve hypothetical child-related problems and in childrearing styles. A longitudinal study of children in kindergarten through fourth grades showed ICPS interventions had positive behavioral impacts. Policy implications of teaching ICPS skills to parents and children are discussed. 51 references and 4 photographs

Date Published: April 1, 1999