Exploring Alternatives: Helping Children Solve Problems By Marta Adelsman, Psy.D.

guidanceExploring Alternatives: Helping Children Solve Problems

By Marta Adelsman, Psy.D.

How tempted are you, when your child has a problem, to give her advice?  In some cases, telling our kids what to do may help them.  In the long run, however, it will more likely thwart the development of their self-esteem.

Giving advice trains your child to depend on you for answers they can provide for themselves.  Also, if the advice doesn’t work, it sets you up as the target for blame.  It’s better to support the child to discover her own solutions.

The best way I’ve found to offer that support occurs through a skill called Exploring Alternatives, as described in a parent training program about which I have written before – STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting).  With the tool of Exploring Alternatives, you guide your child to name possible ways to solve his problem.

Here’s how:
1) Listen thoroughly to your child’s feelings. In a caring and sensitive way, reflect back to him the feelings you hear or sense, which encourages him to tell you more.  “It sounds like you’re feeling mad and disappointed that Billy won’t play with you.”
Sometimes, through reflective listening, your child will discover his own solution.  If not, be careful not to short-circuit the process of fully hearing and understanding his feelings by moving to the next step too soon.

2) Help him brainstorm possible alternatives for solving the problem.  After thoroughly hearing his feelings, ask, “If you’re interested in getting along better with Billy, what are some things you could do?”  Tentatively offer your own suggestions only after he has exhausted his solutions: “Have you thought of…?”

3) Support him to pick a solution from the brainstormed possibilities.   Ask, “Which idea seems like the best one to you?”

4) Ask him to project possible outcomes of the action he chooses.  “What might happen as a result of doing that?”

5) Support him to commit to one of the alternatives.  “What have you decided to do?”  You can support him to commit to the action he chooses with the question, “By when do you want to do this?”

6) Then set a time to evaluate how well the idea is working:  “How about if we talk about this again on Wednesday to see how it’s going?”
Use Exploring Alternatives with a range of challenges, from a broken toy to receiving poor grades to becoming the target of bullying.  This process, when you engage it out of respect and appreciation for your child as a capable human being, will support her to develop traits of self-reliance and self-esteem.  You insure that she internalizes a sense of confidence to navigate obstacles she encounters in life.
You will feel delighted at the increased trust and respect that develops between you!

Dr. Marta practices as a Life Coach In Communication and Spiritual Consciousness in the Verde Valley of Arizona.  She writes a newspaper column and is author of the book, Why Wallow When You Can Soar?   For appointments (couples, parents and individuals in-person or by phone), email drmartacoach@gmail.com or call 928-451-9482.

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