In contrast, cooperative problem solving means that when you identify a problem, you assume the solution will come out of (1) being curious about your child’s concerns, (2) telling your concerns to your child, and (3) together brainstorming solutions that will work for both of you. This approach is the foundation of my parenting philosophy because it works better than top down discipline to help children do what's expected of them; it works to build a trusting and mutually supportive relationship between adult and child; and it empowers children to develop the personal skills and strategies they need in order to be successful throughout their life. Cooperative problem solving can take many different forms, so it can help families with children of all ages and personalities.
On the spot problem solving can happen anywhere, anytime.
- I see two kids and only one blue truck. What do we do in a case like that?
- I’m a dad whose only clean bowls this morning are small, and you’re a daughter who only likes to eat cereal from big bowls. How can we solve this problem?
- There’s clean laundry all over your bed, and you don’t want to put it away. What do we do in a case like this? (You never know - your child may surprise you. My son recently responded to this type of question by saying his Lego guys would do it, and then the Lego guys did do it, if you know what I mean.)
Brainstorming ideas during an advance problem solving conversation.
- It's hard to stay focused during homework writing assignments
- It's hard to respect a sibling’s space while they’re reading
- It's hard to clean up after Lego play
- It's hard turn off a video game before dinner
- It's hard to come home in time for curfew
I’ve noticed it can be hard to stop the video game when it’s time for dinner. What’s it like for you?
Once you’ve learned your child’s concerns, you can share yours.
The problem is, I want dinner to be a peaceful happy time when we all get to be together, so a period of upset at the beginning of dinner makes it hard for all of us to enjoy that time.
Then brainstorm together.
What do you think we can do so that you don’t lose your progress in the game, and we still get to enjoy family dinner together?
Learning to problem solve with your children can take some time and effort, but it will change your life. You don’t need to worry if you’ve been doing things “right” so far, or even if you understand “the right” way to do things because you can continue to bring in new ideas and learn as you go. If you’re raising your child with someone else, the two of you don’t even need to have a “united front” on the best approach to solving a particular problem your child is having.
When you take on cooperative problem solving as a way of life in your family, addressing an unmet expectation or other problem is just a matter of you and your child using a proven structure that will help you figure out a solution that will work for all of you. Once problem solving becomes your go-to approach with your kids, it will also find its way into your other relationships - spouse, siblings, colleagues. It works so well that instead of feeling fear when you find yourself in conflict, or notice your child really struggling, you feel confidence - this is painful right now, but we have a process that will lead us to a mutually satisfactory solution.
In my nine-session, small group Zoom parenting series, we cover a wide variety of relationship based parenting strategies, but developing proficiency in problem solving with your children is a link that runs throughout the program. We watch and read examples, practice the different steps, and learn how to overcome common pitfalls and obstacles. The class is capped at 10 participants and there are only 2 spots left in the 2020-2021 series as of this post. Register now! Feel free to contact me with any questions.
P.S. There are some great books out there on problem solving with children - my favorite authors on the subject are Stuart Ablon, Ross Greene, Faber & Mazlish and Mazlish & King.