I Can Problem Solve (ICPS) for Schools
Raising A Thinking Child for Families
Myrna B. Shure, Ph.D

Teachers as Trainers: Preschool/Kindergarten

Children were studied over a two year period (Shure & Spivack, 1982). In the nursery year, 113 African-American inner-city children (47 boys, 66 girls) were trained, while 106 (50 boys, 56 girls) served as controls. In kindergarten, 69 trained youngsters were still available, 39 who would receive training both years (15 boys, 24 girls), and 30 (12 boys, 18 girls) who would receive no further training (to test for holding power). Of the 62 still-available controls, 35 (15 boys, 20 girls) were first trained in kindergarten, and 27 (12 boys, 15 girls) would constitute the never-trained controls. All four groups were initially comparable in age, sex distribution, Binet IQ (range, 70 - 147), and teacher-rated behavioral characteristics.

  • Prior to preschool (in the Fall), 36% of the children to be trained were rated as behaviorally adjusted (not impulsive or inhibited), and 47% of the controls. Following the intervention in the Spring, 71% of the trained youngsters were rated adjusted, compared to only 54% of the controls.
  • Of the 44 trained children rated as impulsive prior to the intervention and 39 controls, 50% of the trained became adjusted compared to only 31 % of the controls.
  • Of the 28 initially inhibited trained children and 17 controls, 75% became adjusted, only 35% controls.
  • At six-month follow-up, 71% of the 80 still-remaining children adjusted at the end of preschool remained adjusted, compared to 42% of the 65 comparable controls, and one full year later, with 30 trained and 27 nontrained, 77% of the trained retained their adjusted behavior vs. only 30% of the controls.
  • Also at six-month follow-up, 25 of 29 (86%) still-available initially rated adjusted before ICPS training in nursery maintained that adjustment throughout nursery and at six month follow-up, compared to only 18 of 31 (58%) of comparable controls. After one full year, at the end of kindergarten, 8 of 9 still-available youngsters initially rated adjusted maintained that adjustment compared to only 4 of 10 controls. These findings suggest a preventive as well as an intervention impact of ICPS training in the nursery year.
  • Of the 35 initially adjusted children first trained in kindergarten and the 27 controls, 83% of those trained were adjusted following training, only 30% controls. Of 20 trained youngsters initially showing either impulsive or inhibited behaviors and 16 controls, 70% were rated as adjusted in the Spring (end of kindergarten), and only 6% controls.

The behavior gains together with ICPS score gains being in the same children, suggest that the behavior gains were associated with gains in the trained ICPS skills, and the gains were not explained by initial IQ nor IQ change. Linkages were stronger for solution than for consequential thinking in both the preschool and in the kindergarten, but consequential thinking linked more strongly in the kindergarten than in the nursery. Perhaps thinking simultaneously of what to do (now) and what might happen (later) is developmentally more possible at age five than at age four. The results also suggest that if training were not conducted in nursery, kindergarten was not too late. The percentage of adjusted controls tending to decrease by the end of the two year period suggests the possibility that impact of ICPS intervention can reverse that trend.

Parents as Trainers: Preschool

Studied were 40 African-American mother-child pairs, twenty of whom received training and 20 non-trained controls (Shure & Spivack, 1978). The children were comparable in mean age (4.3), school behavioral adjustment level, and sex distribution (10 boys, 10 girls per group). All regularly attended federally funded day-care. To study the maximum impact of ICPS training by mothers on the behavior of their children, mothers of children displaying school behaviors classified as impulsive or inhibited were recruited. Training consisted of 3 initially adjusted, 13 impulsive, 4 inhibited, and controls were 4, 12, and 4, respectively.

  • 71 % of the trained youngsters moved from an impulsive or inhibited behavioral classification to adjusted, compared to 31% of the controls.
  • Gains in alternative solution skills linked more strongly with behavior gains than consequential skills - a finding similar to the 4-year-olds trained by teachers in school.
  • Mothers who improved in their own problem solving thinking skills and applied "ICPS dialogues" when handling real problems at home had children who most improved in the trained ICPS skills and behaviors.
  • The improved behavior of children trained at home generalized to the school, suggesting that the benefits of acquiring ICPS mediating skills are not situation specific.

Teachers and Parents as Trainers: K/Grade 1: Five-year longitudinal study

A five-year longitudinal study of children trained in kindergarten, or kindergarten and grade 1, and followed through grade 4 (Shure, 1993) was the culmination of twenty years of research to test the ICPS/behavioral mediating hypothesis.

The primary aim was to address long-term effectiveness on cognitive and behavioral outcomes of two amounts and two forms of program reinforcement (in school and at home) in the operation of an already validated mass-targeted competence-building prevention program designed for young children.

Studied were 542 inner-city African-American low SES kindergarten youngsters (264 boys, 278 girls). Of these, 120 boys and 132 girls remained throughout the five years of the study.

  • Among the 200 boys and 180 girls still remaining at the end of grade1 (first program assessment), youngsters trained by their teachers in kindergarten, in kindergarten and 1st grade, and by their teachers in kindergarten and their mother in 1st grade were, compared to never-trained controls, ahead in both ICPS skills, especially alternative solution skills, and in mean scores on both positive and negative behaviors, especially those trained two years by their teachers, and especially as rated by independent observers (on the Achenbach Direct Observation Form).
  • Beginning in grade 2, ratings by independent observers were more valid than those by teachers or peers. These ratings showed that among the 162 boys and 162 girls still remaining, mother-trained girls were the least impulsive, the least inhibited, and showed the fewest total behavior problems, with the same being true for boys trained by teachers one or both years.
  • In grade 3, with 142 boys, 148 girls still remaining, two-year teacher-trained boys were the least impulsive and showed the fewest total behavior problems.  Importantly, however, mother-trained boys and girls who most improved in behaviors were those whose mothers best learned to apply the ICPS dialoguing approach (involving their child in thinking about what they're doing, and why) when actual problems arose at home.
  • In grade 4, now three years after the final training, and with 120 boys and 132 girls still remaining, some dramatic sleeper effects emerged. On all three factors rated by independent observers -- external (impulsivity), internal (inhibition), and total problem scores, the two-year trained group emerged dramatically superior in both boys and girls. Again, in the mother-trained group, children whose mothers best applied ICPS dialogues were still maintaining their significant gains at the end of grade 4.

Teachers as Trainers: Grades 5 and 6

Ninety-two children (47 boys, 45 girls) were studied in both grades 5 and 6 (Shure, 1984). The primary aims were to study the impact of interpersonal ICPS training beginning at age 10, in grade 5 as compared to ICPS training earlier in life, at ages 4 and 5, and to compare ICPS training with impersonal Piagetian Critical Thinking (CT) skills at that age. Children trained in grade 5 only or in grades 5 and 6 in either the ICPS or CT groups were comparable in behavioral adjustment and ICPS test scores prior to the interventions in grade 5.

  • With pretest scores, IQ, and academic ability controlled, ICPS-trained youngsters gained significantly more than CT-trained controls in the trained ICPS skills of alternative solutions, consequential thinking, and means-ends thinking (sequential planning skills), as measured at the end of grade 5, and maintained those gains through grade 6, especially the two-year trained ICPS group in alternative solution and means-ends thinking.
  • Positive, prosocial behaviors (e.g., liked by others, cares, shares, cooperates, concerned for the feelings of others in distress), significantly improved in ICPS- vs. CT-trained youngsters whether rated by teachers, peers, or independent observers.
  • Impulsive peer-rated behaviors as aggression, overemotionality, and impatience decreased in the two-year ICPS - vs. CT-trained groups by the end of grade 6 in both sexes, more dramatically in girls.
  • Shy peer-rated behaviors were significantly lower in ICPS- than CT-trained youngsters at the end of grade 6 for both boys and girls.
  • Linkage analyses support the notion that ICPS skills, particularly solution skills are significant mediators of behavior change, especially as rated by peers, and most powerfully for prosocial behaviors. That is, ICPS-trained youngsters who most improved in solution skills also most improved in the extent to which they were liked and sought out by peers, and showed concern for others in distress.

While it took only one three-month exposure to decrease negative behaviors in preschool and kindergarten, it took a repeated exposure (in grades 5 and 6) to decrease these behaviors in older children. However, some negative behaviors increased in CT-controls from grades 5 to 6, again suggesting a preventive impact of ICPS intervention.

While it may take longer to affect negative than positive behaviors in older children, it is not too late for ICPS to have beneficial impact on children's mental health and early high-risk behaviors at age ten or eleven.

Standardized achievement test scores and reading grade book levels also improved, suggesting that less stress fostered by ICPS skills allow children to concentrate better on the task oriented demands of the classroom, and subsequently, do better in school.


Impulsivity consists of aggression, and inability to delay gratification and cope with frustration, significant predictors of later, more serious problems as violence (a form of hurting others) and substance abuse (a form of hurting oneself).

Inhibition consists of inability to stand up for one's rights, and fear and timidity of other children, a significant predictor of later depression and other forms of mental health dysfunction. ICPS intervention can provide children with skills to think about how to solve problems when they are very young, and reduce and prevent these early high-risk behaviors in ways that will increase their chance of success and social competence in junior high, high school, and beyond.


Shure, M. B. (1984). Problem solving and mental health of ten- to twelve-year-olds. Final report #35989. Washington, DC: National Institute of Mental Health. See also Shure, M. B., & Healey, K. N. (1993). Interpersonal problem solving and prevention in urban 5th and 6th graders. Presented to the American Psychological Association, Toronto.

Shure, M. B. (1993). Interpersonal problem solving and prevention. A comprehensive report of research and training. A Five year longitudinal study; Kindergarten - Grade 4. #MH40871. Washington, DC: National Institute of Mental Health.

Shure, M. B. & Spivack, G. (1978). In Problem Solving Techniques in Childrearing, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass. See also Shure, M. B., & Spivack, G. (1979). Interpersonal problem solving thinking and adjustment in the mother-child dyad. In M. W. Kent and J. E. Rolf (Eds.). Primary Prevention of Psychopathology: Vol: 3. Social Competence in Children. (pp. 201-219). Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Shure, M. B., & Spivack, G. (1982). Interpersonal problem-solving in young children: A cognitive approach to prevention. American Journal of Community Psychology. 10, 341 -356.A

NOTE: All research reported above was conducted with low-income, primarily African American populations, and funded by the Applied Research Branch and the Prevention Research Branch, National Institute of Mental Health.

Research by others nationwide has now replicated the impact of ICPS on a diversity of lower- and middle-income groups, including Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Oriental, and American Indian children, as well as with special needs groups, including ADHD and Asbergers Disorder.

For further information about the research of Shure and Spivack, as well as others, contact:

Myrna B. Shure, Ph.D
Drexel University
Department of Psychology
3141 Chestnut St.
Stratton Hall Suite 119
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Ph: (215) 553-7120
Fax: (215) 895-4930