Finding solutions can be challenging. Maybe you don’t know how to start the process, or your children won’t respond, or even if you do develop a plan, their enthusiasm wanes quickly, and you’re left feeling discouraged.
You can successfully solve problems together when you pick a challenge or request that both of you have an invested interest in solving and follow my 5 Step Joint Problem Solving Process. Challenge examples are: getting out of the house on time, completing homework, or planning a vacation.
Realize that your joint plan can be derailed by emotional or physical distractions in the moment. Depending on your child’s age, their immature prefrontal cortex can create poor follow-through. Be prepared to use effective director parenting strategies to ensure plan completion.
The 5 Step Joint Problem Solving Process teaches and develops reasoning, judgment, planning, evaluation, cooperation, creating consensus, impulse control, and memory. These are important executive function life skills.
Step 1: Stop Blocking Communication
In an attempt to “help” kids, adults often use words that shut down communication, which can lead to anger and hurt. A communication block, as defined by Michael Popkin, PhD., is any remark or attitude by the listener that injures the speaker’s self-esteem enough to break communication.
Examples of blocks are commanding, giving unwanted advice, placating, interrogating, distracting, psychologizing, sarcasm, moralizing, being a know-it-all, “me too”-ism and yelling.
Step 2: Listen Openly to Feelings
The crucial listening step develops empathy and a deeper level of connection and influence between you and your child. Children cannot discuss ideas when in an emotional state. They will refuse to “move on” and make a plan with you until you have listened respectfully and responded with empathy and nonjudgment to their thoughts and feelings.
Your gift of listening provides an opportunity for better self-understanding which will lead to improved problem solving in step 3. Delay evaluation of ideas until then.
Here are examples of adult responses that can release your child’s emotional tension and build connection.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“That seems really hard.”
“You seem frustrated (hurt, upset, etc.).”
“That sounds like a real problem.”
“It’s hard to know what to do.”
“I can see why you are upset, (want to quit, having a hard time, don’t want to do it, etc).”
“I’m here if you need me.
“It looks like you’ve worked hard.”
Step 3: Discuss and evaluate Ideas
Remember that you will decide on a plan together rather than promoting your idea. Keep these thoughts in mind during this process.
- One of the greatest life skills I can teach my child is how to face problems and solve them rather than be afraid and defeated by them.
- My role is to encourage dialogue rather than advise.
- We learn from our “mistakes,” so if the first solution doesn’t work, we’ll try another solution.
Examples of problem solving statements and questions:
- “Let’s think about ideas of what we could do and the possible results of each choice.”
- “It’s hard to know right away the best solution.”
- “It’s important that we both agree to try the solution.”
- “Let’s take turns coming up with different solutions. What’s your first idea?”
- “That’s one possible solution. What do you think could happen if we tried that?”
- “Just take a guess.”
- “What’s another possible idea? “
- “There is no right answer so we can come up with many possibilities.“
- “I don’t feel comfortable with that solution, so I want to cross that one off.”
- “Of the ideas we’ve come up with, which one do you agree to try first?”
- “We’ll try it for a week ( _days) then have another meeting to see if it’s working out for both of us.”
Step 4: Make a plan together
Write down your agreed upon solution with everyone’s signatures. Gently remind each other to follow through and if needed, try the “after …. then…” Director Parenting Strategy. Changing behavior patterns takes time so be patient and compassionate. Check yourself to make sure you don’t take over or expect too much.
Step 5: Follow-up to determine success and try another idea, if needed.
At the follow up meeting, congratulate each other on your success or make another plan. Don’t be angry with their lack of follow-through. Continually look for opportunities to solve problems together rather than tell your kids what to do. Problem solving develops self-esteem, so allow many opportunities to struggle, fail, and win.
Additional articles to improve your problem solving skills.
©2015 Cynthia Klein × bridges 2 understanding ×https://bridges2understanding.com × 650.679.8138 × Family Success Coach × Private parent coaching, parent education classes, and presentations. Thank you to Michael Popkin, PhD author of the Active Parenting Programs for the foundation of my five step process.