Sunday, September 7, 2008

Save the Words for the Happy Times, Part III: How to Bring Your Child in on the Solution

So far in this series we've looked at reasons to save the words for the happy times, and in the second part we looked at how to circle back after a difficult interaction. In this and the next post we'll need to explore a few of ways you can proceed once you've circled back. There are several options here including collaborative problem solving, following through with a delayed consequence, having the child make a written/drawn plan and using practice as a consequence.

I'm going to cover the most broadly useful one first. Collaborative problem solving is often a wonderful way to address the issue at hand. It is apt to work well if your child is five or older. Doing it with kids younger than that is like the proverbial cat herding. All the options we'll discuss in this post and the next can enhance your relationship with your child or teen. This one in particular tends to do so powefully. It is an approach to draw on especially for kids who for whatever reason feel very resentful of authority and are prone to getting into power struggles.

Step 1 Define the Problem: It might sound something like this "We've been on your case a fair amount about being on the computer too much. You got pretty upset last time I asked you to get off, and I'm really worried about how all this computer time is affecting your grades and how much time we spend together as a family. So we need to come up with a way to work out a reasonable amount of computer time for you, so you can do some of the things you enjoy, and some of the things you need to do, and so we don't have to worry about hassling you about how much you're on there." Notice the way that both the parent's and the child's viewpoint are included. Often there are more perspectives, and they can all be described briefly in the defining of the problem.

Step 2 Brainstorm Ideas About a Solution: Explain that first you're going to write down all the possible ideas that you can think of as a family (everyone involved in the problem that is), and that the brain is good at either coming up with creative new ideas, or at editing and evaluating those ideas, but it doesn't do both well at once. You'll want to use paper at a minimum. Ideally you'd have lots of space like on butcher paper, or up on a whiteboard. Never thought a giant whiteboard would be something that could enhance family life? It can. Make it a rule that no one, including the adults are going to censor any ideas. If your child says "How about I'm on the computer all day long?" I would put it on the board. This lightens the mood and expands the range of ideas, both of which make it more likely that you'll come up with something genuinely creative that addresses the problem. When things start to slow down or you start to get low on time, give a warning for a couple minutes left rather than just abruptly stopping the brainstorming. You could even say, "We've got about two minutes left, let's see how many more we can come up with."

Step 3 Sift Through Proposed Ideas: Try to identify even parts of ideas that might work. You might say things like "This is interesting. Here's my concern..." Kids can often surprise you with novel ideas that might work when they're brought in on the solution. You might circle ideas and parts of ideas that look worth giving a go. You can draw a line through ideas that aren't going to be part of the solution.

Step 4 Put Together a Plan for a Trial Run: The good news is that this doesn't have to be foolproof. It only needs to be an option that everyone involved is worth giving a try to see what works and what doesn't.

Steps 5 Evaluate and Readjust Accordingly: You likely already have the gist of this. Once you've given it a trial run, it is time to get together and talk about what is working and what is not. You then go back to Step 1, or wherever it makes the most sense to resume and try again. Rinse and repeat.

Some benefits of collaborative problem solving:
  1. The nature of using visuals, especially when larger, is that the problem is experienced as something that you can "get perspective" on. There are lots of technical cognitive psychological reasons for this that I cover over at GTDtimes, but in short, writing things down or drawing is like adding extra RAM to our brains. People who problem solve for a livng rarely do it without using some sort of visual or writing down.
  2. Problem solving is like other complex skills such as learning a language or learning to play an instrument. You get better at it by actually doing it.
  3. Collaborative problem solving models a way of handling problems that your child/teen can use in all sorts of other situations.
  4. Collaborative problem solving puts you both on the same side of the bargaining table, so to speak. You are less apt to end up in adversarial positions.
  5. Kids who are included in thinking hard about solutions, esp when they are kids who often resist adult guidance, are less apt to oppose you as they are when they feel like you are arbitrarily coming up with consequences. This is esp true if they feel like you are doing so out of anger or frustration.
  6. Because of all of the above, even when dealing with difficult problems families experience the process as bringing them closer together.
Parents I talk to about this tend to either immediately see possibilities, or they have some concerns about the process. Here are a couple common concerns.

But my child won't cooperate with this. He'll just sabotage it. Well that could be true, but what you're doing, and what you've tried before presumably weren't working. You can also offer a choice if a kid is being less than cooperative with the process. "Sam I'm wanting to try out getting you in on the solution here. If you're not willing to help out with solving this, what's your guess on the alternative I'm left with?" (up and out of the kid).

I shouldn't have to do this mamby pamby approach to parenting. Why can't I just punish him for what he did? Well the answer is that you can. I am only proposing this as one way to handle the second phase of saving the words for the happy times. My idea is that you are going to do best as a parent when you have a wide array of ways of handling problems. We'll only cover a few the possibilities over for the 2nd phase in this series, but over time at Awareness * Connection, you'll see a good deal of the array of possibilities. I only present collaborative problem solving here because it is broadly adaptable. There are times when I think a natural consequence (as opposed to punishment) is more in order than collaborative problem solving. Often which route you go is simply an intuitive choice or a value judgment on the part of the parent. I don't know any parent though who's learned how to use collaborative problem solving that has later regretting having it up their sleeve as another option.

Experiment with this. And before long I'll have our last installment of Save the Words for the Happy times where I'll cover a couple more methods for dealing with the problem at hand.

In the meantime have any of you experimented with something along these lines? How did it go?

If you enjoyed this article please vote for it on Digg, above, or Netscape or one of the other options below. You can also bookmark the site to the right. I appreciate your support.

blog comments powered by Disqus