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Five Steps to Parent Problem-Solving

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    Five Steps to Parent Problem-Solving

    Five Steps to Parent Problem-Solving

    Identify the problem
    When children learn problem-solving skills, they are more self-confident. They have fewer behavior problems and get along better with other people. This enables them to do better in school and in relationships with friends and authority figures. They also tend to have strong emotional health, which gives them the ability to deal with life's challenges and difficult events.

    When you learn to coach your child through a problem, instead of solving it for them or ignoring it, you are empowering him to become independent. You are giving him the ability to smooth out life's bumps in the road, and thereby be able to travel farther down it. You are showing him a key tool to success.

    Identify the Problem
    There are several steps to identifying a problem; the first is to recognize that there is a problem. Once that is determined, you need to name the parties who are part of the problem. Often it is one person, but many times there are two or more. After that, you must clearly define the problem you wish to solve.

    Psychologist Abraham Maslow said about conflict and problem-solving: "If the only tools you have are hammers, every problem begins to look like a nail." There is no truer statement when you are trying to help your child figure out the solution to a problem. Learn the skill and make it unique to your family.

    Separating the Issues
    Quite often, there is more than one problem in a particular situation, and you must be able to separate them and confront them individually. For example, one child takes a toy from another, and the other child reacts by hitting the first child. In this example you have two problems: the taking of the toy and the hitting of the child. Although you will have to deal right away with calming the child who got hit, you first need to identify the action that caused the ruckus and deal with it. Afterward, you can deal with other problems (such as calming the child who was hit) that developed from the reactions to the initial problem.

    Begin by asking one child what happened, and give each child a turn in giving her version of the events. Then state that there is a problem that you, as a group, need to solve. State clearly which problem you are solving. In this instance, you are attempting first to solve the problem of the child taking the toy first, and then you will use problem-solving skills to come up with alternatives to hitting another person.

    Get to the Root
    Coming on a scene where one child is crying sometimes causes parents to put on blinders to everything else that may be going on. Yes, it is extremely important to make sure that the child who is crying is not hurt. Once that is determined, it's time to get to the root problem. If you ignore what caused the scene and don't try to fix the problems that resulted first, you will be teaching the children that you can fix things with bandages instead of teaching them a way to solve the next problem. Therefore, they will continually need you to be there to apply the bandage.

    All too often when a problem occurs between two or more children, there isn't an adult in the room. Therefore, identifying the root problem can get tricky. This can lead to another problem: lying. Try to get an account of what happened from one child at a time. If you suspect that a child may not be telling the truth and may make it hard to figure out who to believe, shelve the entire mess. Have everyone, including you, take a group time-out. Once everyone is calm, move on. If you've determined that it's impossible to figure out the problem accurately, trying to find the problem becomes the problem. You never want to guess, because you could be wrong, which will cause guilt and possibly shame in someone who doesn't deserve it. Shelve it, move on, and pay closer attention to the group from here on.

    Determine the Goal
    After you have defined the problem, you must figure out what the best outcome would be; what is the goal? The goal of this problem is that each child is happy. The goal is not that a child gets the toy that is being fought over. With only one toy and two children, that goal would be self-defeating. Therefore, at least one child needs to be happy without the toy for the problem to be solved.

    List the Solutions
    There are many possible solutions to every problem. You can verbally list them or write them down. Let everyone who is involved in the problem give options that would solve the problem. You may have to help younger children come up with different solutions. Offer them suggestions, but let them choose. Allow them to get creative and give them plenty of time to come up with options.

    The most important part of listing solutions is that you allow all of the possibilities. No solution is too stupid, silly, or impractical. If one child in the example feels that leaving and going to Disney World is the solution, then that is a viable option to him and it needs to be respected. Think about your goal. When you tell a child that the goal is for everyone to be happy, Disney World really is an option. Once everyone has given his or her opinion, it's time to choose a solution to try.

    Using a paper and pencil will help you remember all of the options listed when you are ready to choose a solution. You will cause hurt feelings if you forget a solution that a child has come up with. Avoid this by simply writing down all the options mentioned.

    Not all solutions work and sometimes they lead to more problems. This is normal. Instead of trying to fix all of the new problems, see if going back to the original problem and choosing another solution will help.

    Choose a Solution
    Evaluate each option as if it is doable, listing the pros and cons for each suggestion. This is a good time to set limits on what is allowable and what is not. For instance, say, one of the children in our ongoing example offered the option of keeping the toy as a possible solution. You listed it because it is a possible solution. But, it is not within the limits of good behavior since it would be a selfish act. Therefore, it is not a solution that the children can try out as an answer to their problem.

    Help each child go over each option. You may also have to have the last say about whether an option is viable. If you do, give a reason that it is not a good option to try, but do not get into a power struggle over it. Say no, give the reason, and move on.

    Did the solution you chose work? Would it have worked better if there were slight changes? Do you need to try another option?

    Do not throw away a solution if it doesn't work the first time. Follow through with it again, possibly a couple of more times. Often it just takes everyone getting used to the new solution to this particular problem because they had handled it differently in the past. If, however, the decision doesn't work at all, begin to problem-solve the original problem again.

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