MGH Laboratory for Youth Behavior

MGH Laboratory for Youth Behavior

The MGH Laboratory for Youth Behavior, directed by Alisha Pollastri, PhD, uses modern research tools to examine the cognitive, biological and social underpinnings of behavioral challenges during childhood.


Rethinking Challenging Kids

The Laboratory for the Study of Childhood Behavior Disorders is affiliated with Think:Kids in the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry. Under the direction of Stuart Ablon, PhD, Think:Kids teaches Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS), a revolutionary, evidence-based approach for helping children who struggle with behavioral challenges.

Childhood Behavior Disorders

Children with behavior disorders are often referred to as oppositional, challenging, explosive, difficult, defiant or aggressive. They often display externalizing behaviors such as temper tantrums, defiance, deceit, destruction of property and verbal or physical aggression.

These children may carry a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder (CD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or intermittent explosive disorder. They could also display defiant behaviors as part of a larger set of symptoms that have been identified as a mood, anxiety or development disorder.

These behaviors have significant costs. They have a negative impact on the parent-child relationship, and cause additional stress for parents and teachers. There are also significant financial costs associated with treating children with disruptive behaviors in juvenile detention centers, specialized school programs, residential facilities, inpatient psychiatric units and outpatient community agencies.

Our Laboratory

Our laboratory takes a broad approach to studying the causes of challenging behaviors during childhood, and explores how, why, and for whom different treatment approaches for disruptive behavior disorders are effective, with a focus on studying the CPS approach.

Group Members

Meet our Staff:

J. Stuart Ablon

J. Stuart Ablon, PhD
Director, Think:Kids

Robert Waldinger, MD

Alisha Pollastri, PhD
Director, Laboratory for the Study of Childhood Behavior Disorders

Kristen Paadre, BA

Kirsten Paadre, BA
Research Coordinator

Julia Lesnick

Julia Lesnick
Research Intern

Research Projects

The research arm of Think:Kids is focused on exploring how, why and for whom different treatment approaches for disruptive behavior disorder are effective, with a focus on the collaborative problem solving (CPS) approach.

Ongoing and planned research projects in our laboratory include the following:

  • Outcome improvement before and after adoption of CPS: A quasi-experimental comparison
  • Cost-savings related to decreases in restraint and seclusion: A CPS case study
  • Validation of the Thinking Skills Inventory as a brief screening tool for lagging neurocognitive skills in behaviorally challenging children
  • Mechanism of change in CPS parent training groups
  • Change in teacher stress after school-wide implementation of CPS
  • Change in job stress after agency-wide implementation of CPS in a residential treatment facility
  • Family outcomes related to CPS training in therapy groups for foster parents
  • The effect of adding a mindfulness component to the CPS parent training group
  • Predictors of outpatient treatment response for childhood challenging behaviors
  • Improvement in executive functions: A mechanism of change for CPS?
  • Mechanisms of change in response to in-home therapy conducted with CPS
  • A randomized controlled trial of CPS for behavioral Parent Management Training non-responders

Research Positions

At Think:Kids, in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, we teach and study Collaborative Problem Solving, a revolutionary, evidence-based approach for helping children with behavioral challenges.

Think:Kids offers a variety of clinical services, support and resources, and provides training and coaching on Collaborative Problem Solving for parents, mental health providers, and educators around the world.  The Research and Evaluation team at Think:Kids conducts clinical research on outcomes and mechanisms of Collaborative Problem Solving. In addition, the team provides consultation on outcome evaluation to clinical partners and conducts research and quality assurance efforts in the Think:Kids outpatient clinic. 

At times, we seek Research Assistants, Research Coordinators, and Research Associates to help us in this endeavor. These positions report directly to the Director of Research and Evaluation. Specific projects assigned to these staff members depend upon education, interest, and experience. Occasionally, we also seek interns who are currently attending college or graduate school in a related field and would like research experience for 8 to 12 hours per week. 


  • The ideal candidates for these positions will have an undergraduate or graduate degree in psychology, statistics, education, or a related field
  • Strong candidates will have excellent written and verbal communication skills, a high degree of flexibility, and excellent attention to detail
  • Strong candidates will have hands-on experience in data analysis, program evaluation, or related research practices, with experience conducting quantitative research and/or impact evaluation studies. Doctoral-level staff should have a demonstrated knowledge of how to perform and interpret statistical analyses, a publication record, and experience with grant-writing is preferred
  • Experience in child development or family services environments is preferred
  • Agreement with the mission, vision, and values of Think:Kids is a must!


Alisha Pollastri, PhD
Director of Research and Evaluation
Think:Kids at Mass General

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The Collaborative Problem Solving Approach: Outcomes Across Settings Pollastri, Alisha R.; Epstein, Lawrence D.; Heath, Georgina H.; Ablon, J. Stuart. Harvard Review of Psychiatry. 21(4):188-199, July/August 2013.

Use of Collaborative Problem Solving to Reduce Seclusion and Restraint in Child and Adolescent Inpatient Units. Ross W. Greene, PhD; J. Stuart Ablon, PhD; Andrés Martin, MD, MPH. Psychiatric Services. 2006; 57(5):610-612. doi: 10.1176/

Effectiveness of collaborative problem solving in affectively dysregulated children with oppositional-defiant disorder: initial findings. Greene RW, Ablon JS, Goring JC, Raezer-Blakely L, Markey J, Monuteaux MC, Henin A, Edwards G, Rabbitt S. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2004 Dec;72(6):1157-64.

A transactional model of oppositional behavior: underpinnings of the Collaborative Problem Solving approach. Greene RW, Ablon JS, Goring JC. J Psychosom Res. 2003 Jul;55(1):67-75. Review. PMID: 12842233 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Contact Us

Alisha Pollastri, PhD
Director of Research and Evaluation
Think:Kids at MGH

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