Problem Solving and Talking Through Problems

The biggest problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges when parenting teenagers is taking the time  to listen properly. It is easy to jump in with our opinions, our solutions. That often just escalates an already difficult situation. Here are some ideas from John Sharry and Carol Fitzpatrick at Parents Plus from their Adolescent Parenting programme.

Problem Solving and Talking Through Problems

When talking through problems with teenagers, the important thing is not to use the time to criticise or give out to them, but rather to take time to help them think through their actions and feelings (and those of other people) and then to come up with solutions. There are six stages to remember.

1 Set Aside Space to Talk

It is important to pick a good time and space to talk about a problem. Don’t try to talk about something important when you are both tired, annoyed, in a rush or during your child’s favourite TV programme. Choose a time when you will not be disturbed when you are both relaxed (e.g. after dinner, on a walk, or driving in the car)

2 Listen to your Child

Start positive. Try and start positive and first focus on what is going right or what is already going well, for example: “I’m glad you told me about the problems at school today”.                                                                    “You and your sister often get on well….which is great”.

State a goal. Rather than just talking about the problem, state a goal e.g. we want  to find a way of everyone getting on together.

Help your child to open up. It is really important to first listen to your child about how he or she feels about the problem. The most important skills are active listening, where you listen for the child’s feelings helping him/her express them. Once their own feelings are acknowledged, children are far more likely to be able to hear the feelings of others and be able to consider the problem from other people’s perspective.

3 Give Your Own Point of View Respectfully

After you have first listened to your teenager then it is time to give your point of view or to raise what you are concerned about. It is important to do this respectfully. Rather than criticising your child for the problem, express your views positively about what you want to happen or what you want to be different:                                                                                                                                                                  “I really want you and your sister to get along at lunch” or ” I need you to                                                  help out with housework”.

4 Think Up Solutions

At this stage it is important to try and think up solutions or ways to solve the problem. The key is to first ask your teenager to come up with solutions and ideas, before you add your own ideas and suggestions. It is also important to help your teenager generate as many alternative solutions as possible.

Focus on solutions that have worked in the past. Remind your child of times that things have gone well, ask. What was different then? What solutions were we using then?

Don’t criticise your child’s ideas. At this stage don’t criticize your child’s idea. If he/she comes up with an inappropriate suggestion, just move on and say “any other ideas..”


5 Make a Plan/Choose the Best Solution

During his stage the parent and the child decide we which solutions they are going to use, that is, which ones have the best consequences both for the child and others. A good question to ask the child is:                                                                                                                                                                 “Which solutions are best for everyone and will leave everyone feeling happy?”                                  (Mum, Dad, brothers, sisters and child).


6 Review Later

Make sure to agree a time to talk again to see how the plan is going. Many problems will require many conversations and many different plans before progress is made. The key part to problem solving is to follow up and the fact that you will return to talk again and again about problems – in the long term it is communication that makes the difference.

If you are finding parenting challenging and would value having someone to talk to please phone the Donegal Parent Support Line on `1800 112277 (freephone). One of the team of Family Resource Workers and Youth Workers will be able to phone you back to offer a listening ear, guidance and tips for how to move forward. You can also PM the Parent Hub Donegal Facebook page with your name, number and brief details of the issue you would like support with. We all find parenting challenging some times. There is no reason to struggle alone

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