By Bree Holtz, Assistant Professor, Department of Advertising and Public Relations, Michigan State University
“Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.” – Robert H. Shuller
Problem solving is something that we do everyday. However, it is definitely a skill that is learned. The teenage years are a time in human development where we can see this skill lacking, even in the smartest, most well-behaved, lovable kid. During this time, a huge transformation is taking place in the brain, which is a cause of rash decisions and actions by our child that leads us to wonder, “What was she thinking?!?!?”
This can be the optimal time to teach your child strategies for making decisions. This will provide an understanding of decision-making that is structured and controlled. Research has shown that people who can clearly evaluate issues and make reasoned decisions are more successful in their life. Additionally, strong problem solving and decision-making skills are key in diabetes care. Studies have found that these skills are associated with improved A1c, long-term adherence and overall higher quality of life.
This is a skill that can be taught and although you are still making most of the decisions about your child, it is a good time to bring them into the process. This has several benefits including showing them that you value their opinion; you respect them; and can help prepare them to make reasoned decisions as they transition to adulthood. Parents must keep in mind that teens will probably still be impulsive at times.
Below, I have laid out the stops to help guide the process. But before I get to that, it is important note a few things.
- This can NOT be done when you or your child are mad or angry at each other. Nobody is in the right frame of mind when you are in the middle of a door-slamming, yelling match with your child.
- As for how you use this approach, you will need to figure out what’s best for you and your child. Some people might prefer sitting down together and talking it through. For others, perhaps you sit down together, but write parts of it out. This could be beneficial for kids who might feel uncomfortable saying things out loud. You have to pick what is going to work best for you.
- Collaborative problem solving is a deliberate and organized process with no pre-determined solutions.
- Keep in mind that this is not an overnight process; time and repeated attempts might be necessary to successfully complete this process.
- One key to completing this process is to make sure you are really listening to your child (active listening):
- Look at the person who is talking;
- Take notes if you feel like that helps you;
- Nod your head;
- When they are done speaking, repeat in summary what you heard them say. “What I’m hearing you say is….”;
- You can also have them repeat back to you, “Can you tell me in your own words what I said.”
Problem-Solving Step by Step
Step 1: Problem identification: What’s the problem?
- It is important to differentiate between the problem and a symptom.
- Do not personalize it, the child may become defensive if they feel attacked.
- Focus on the issue – facts only, not the person or emotions.
- Try to come to an agreement on the problem.
Write down the problem.
Bad example: You keep forgetting to take your lunch to school.
Better example: Your lunch doesn’t make it to school.
Step 2: Barrier identification: Identify reasons why this is happening?
- This is from both sides, not just the parent.
- Try to think of as many as you can. Keep asking, “Is there anything else?”
- Show active listening and reflect your understanding of what your child is telling you.
- Try not to say, “That’s not a reason.” Or “That doesn’t make sense…” Or anything that could be taken as not appreciating their view of the issue.
- Write all of the barriers down, from both sides.
-Rushed in the morning
-Backpack isn’t in the kitchen
Step 3: Brainstorm Solutions
- No solution is too wacky or off the table.
- The child should try to go first, ask “Do you have any ideas on how we can solve this?”
- If the child doesn’t want to or can’t think of one, offer a solution, try to make it a silly one.
-Uber driver brings it
-Mom brings it to me
-Put backpack in kitchen
-Have an out-the-door checklist
-Get up 5 minutes earlier so you aren’t as rushed
-Put lunch on shoes
Step 4: Evaluate all of the options and decide on a way forward.
- Which options work to get you to the outcome that you can both agree on?
- If you can’t seem to agree on a solution – can you negotiate one of the solutions to make it viable and acceptable to both parties?
-Keep meal replacement bars in backpack.
-Parent will bring your lunch, two times a school year.
-Backpack goes in kitchen.
Step 5: Planning to take action
- Once you have mutually decided on a way forward, what are the steps that need to happen?
- When will the new plan start? Set an actual date.
- When will you come back together to discuss how it went? Set a date.
Step 6: Evaluation and revision
It is key in this step to be in the right frame of mind and to use your active listening skills.
- So, how did it go?
- Does something need to change? What?
- Look back at step 3 and add/revise if needed.
- Repeat steps 4-6 as necessary.
- If changes are needed to reach the solution, try to remain calm and focused on your goal. Try not to get angry or blame one another. Refocus any negative feelings on identifying barriers and revising your plan.
By working through problems with your adolescent/teen, you are showing them how to develop sound plans, set goals, problem solve and express their feelings in a positive way. Sometimes problem solving can be overwhelming and this is a way to help them understand the process in a reassuring and safe way.