Problem Solving


A very intelligent patient of mine tells me, very often, how much good advice he got from his mother. Whenever he was at a loss or had a problem, his mother would sit him down and tell him what to do. Now, as an adult, he finds making decisions very difficult, is often confused, second guesses himself and obsesses about every choice he has to make.

As parents, we tend to deny and avoid our children’s problems entirely or to give them answers. Mary comes home from school, confused and despondent that her best friend, Susan, didn’t play with her at recess. Mary’s mother either ignores the situation entirely and says, “Get to your homework” or she wipes the problem out by saying “That’s how girls are” or she sits Mary down and fells her what to do- “tomorrow you play with someone else and see how she likes it.” What has Mary learned from this exchange? She has learned that no one wants to hear her problems and concerns and she’s on her own or that her mother knows the answers to life and she knows nothing.

There is a third and a better way. Sit Mary down and let her recount the whole incident. Ask her how she felt, how she feels and empathize. That will make her feel important, heard and understood. Then, ask her how she thinks this issue can be addressed. That will make her feel capable and powerful. Together, you can consider various solutions and Mary can pick the one she thinks is most productive to try.

For example, Mary might call Susan and tell her how she feels. In Susan’s response, she might hear something important e.g. that Susan didn’t understand that Mary would be hurt; that she was doing it as a present to the other girl because it was her Birthday…Or, Mary might decide to wait a few days and see if Susan’s behavior is temporary. Or, she might choose to become closer to another friend…

The important issue is that Mary would learn that her parents trust her to be intelligent and capable and competent to solve her own problems. She would learn that problems can be solved and would not need to go into the terrified, over-whelmed stance that so many adults experience. She would learn that there are many options and answers to a question, she would learn how to find the options, line them up and then choose. Hopefully, our children will use these skills to be confident and competent in their lives.