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The problem-solving 'magic' recipe

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

A ‘problem’ could be anything that bothers you or your child or both, something that isn’t working, something either you or your child (or both)/the family are concerned about.

Sometimes the ‘parties concerned’ are two kids, not necessarily a kid and an adult, often siblings!

1. Centred & Calmed

Whenever you need to resolve a conflict, do it when all parties concerned and/or supporting are centred and calmed. Also, when there is plenty of time. Rushing is not such a good idea here. Being listened to and understood is a crucial part of problem-solving.

2. Two-way street.

Problem solving is about… relationship!

It isn’t about us parents giving out solutions - even when we are certain our solutions/ideas would work better and faster. It isn’t either about us ‘dealing with the matter’.

Yes, sometimes that might be ‘easier’, at least in the short term, but it doesn’t serve our kids. It doesn’t give them life skills, it doesn’t allow for them to practice using their voice, find what works for them, learn to come up with solutions in the first place, getting involved in the process, thinking for themselves, knowing about themselves, being accountable and learn to articulate and stand up for themselves and their ideas.

A discussion may be necessary for everyone to be clear.

Problem-solving is a life-skill

3. Idea-rain

Once both parties have stated their concerns/listen the other, start making a list of all possible solutions. And all ideas are acceptable.

A good practice is to explicitly say that everything will be written down, regardless of how either of you feel about it.

This isn’t the time - yet - to find the ‘solutions that work for both of us’.

If the problem is that your child is throwing socks every time she takes them off and refuses to pick them up, one of her solutions might be ‘someone else picks them up’. You may come up with ‘I’d like to use every thrown-sock in our backyard to plant seeds'.

If the problem is that your son is feeling anxious about going to school every morning. He might come up with ‘I just won’t go - ever’. You might come up with ‘I can set up a meeting with your teacher’ or ‘you won’t have to go - ever again’ :)

Sometimes a child may say they can’t come up with anything. If this is the case, I wouldn’t jump straight away with ‘my’ suggestions, not even offer for me to help -yet. I would remind them that I am happy to wait and that everything is acceptable.

An important point here is to take it seriously as in, be interested and don’t make fun of your child when they suggest something.

4. The winners/ Cross-out

This step will depend on the type of ‘problem’. If both of you are concerned/ affected then once everyone is satisfied with the solutions they’ve offered, you can move on to find the winners. (If ‘winning’ is not your favourite word, you can call it the ‘cross-out’ step or anything that works for you!)

Everything that doesn’t work for *all* parties concerned needs to be crossed out.

If the problem only concerns your child, then they are the ones who get to choose which solutions are possible. You may or may not have offered some solutions. It is important to constantly check in with your child regarding their input. This would most likely apply more for older kids (around the 6 and 7 year mark).

Once all possible solutions have been looked out and discarded and we have one or two, we can move on to the next step.

5. Carry out

Action, trial it, do it, give it a go.

6. Feedback

I think this step is often skipped but I believe it is one of the most important ones because it’ll give us a chance to check in and see how the solution is working, or not working.

Note: None of these steps need to be done ‘around a table’ by the way. There can be done where the concerned parties feel most relaxed and comfortable.

Often this has meant for us going for a walk, or waiting until the school holidays.

As your child gets older and if they’ve had opportunities to practice problem solving, these ‘sessions’ many not need to feel complex or long.

Many times now when I hear noise or the beginning of a cry between my sons and I’m in a different room I would say:

‘I hear crying. Do you need help?’

Sometimes I am met with a ‘yes!’

I love it when a lot of of the times though my sons replied:

‘we can solve the problem by ourselves!'.

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