Everybody needs to solve problems every day. But we’re not born with the skills we need to do this – we have to develop them. When solving problems, it’s good to be able to listen and think calm, consider options and respect other people’s opinions and needs and constructive solutions, and sometimes work towards compromises.
When you’re working on a problem with your child, it’s a good idea to do it when everyone is calm and can think clearly – this way, your child will be more likely to want to find a solution. Arrange a time when you won’t be interrupted and thank your child for joining in to solve the problem.
The first step in problem-solving is working out exactly what the problem is. This helps make sure you and your child understand the problem in the same way. Then put it into words that make it solvable. Focus on the issue, not on the emotion or the person. Your child could feel attacked and get defensive, or feel frustrated because she doesn’t know how to fix the problem.
Help your child describe what’s causing the problem and where it’s coming from. Try to listen without arguing or debating – this is your chance to really hear what’s going on with your child. Encourage him to use statements like ‘you need … you want … you feel …’, and try using these phrases yourself. Be open about the reasons for your concerns and try to keep blame out of this step.
Make a list of all the possible ways you could solve the problem. You’re looking for a range of possibilities, both sensible and not so sensible. Try to avoid judging or debating these yet. If your child has trouble coming up with solutions, start her off with some suggestions of your own. You could set the tone by making a crazy suggestion first – funny or extreme solutions can end up sparking more helpful options. Try to come up with at least five possible solutions together.
Look at the solutions in turn, talking about the positives and negatives of each one. Consider the pros before the cons – this way, no-one will feel that their suggestions are being criticized. After making a list of the pros and cons, cross off the options where the negatives clearly outweigh the positives. Now rate each solution from not good to very good. This will help you sort out the most promising solutions. The solution you choose should be one that you can put into practice and that will solve the problem.
Once you’ve agreed on a solution, plan exactly how it will work. Your child might need some role-playing or coaching to feel confident with his solution. For example, if he’s going to try to resolve a fight with a friend, he might find it helpful to practise what he’s going to say with you.
Once your child has put the plan into action, you need to check how it went and help her to go through the process again if she needs to. Remember that you’ll need to give the solution time to work, and note that not all solutions will work. Sometimes you’ll need to try more than one solution. Part of effective problem-solving is being able to adapt when things don’t go as well as expected.
Ask your child the following questions:
- What has worked well?
- What hasn’t worked so well?
- What could you or we do differently to make the solution work more smoothly?