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Helping Children Own Their Problems

June 10, 2011

Yesterday the chairperson of a local school district’s Committee on Preschool Special Education where I do some work handed me an article to read that had inspired her to implement some new programming for the children she serves. The article* is a relatively quick read and worth the time if you have any interest in helping young children learn social skills.

The authors describe the first step in interpersonal problem solving to be answering the question, “What is my problem?” They go on to write, “Initially, children will need guidance to reframe defining the problem as the other person’s problem (e.g., ‘They won’t let me play’) to their problem (e.g., ‘I want to play with them.’)”. This one sentence really hit home for me because it’s something that I think is so important.

I guess I’m not past the “initial” stage with my own teen daughters. I am quick to pounce on any of their attempts to deflect responsibility for something that they’ve done onto some external person or situation ~ just ask them :). That’s not to say that external factors don’t have any influence, but we can only change what we can control. So if I want my children to learn from a problem, I want them to first see their own role in contributing to that problem. Then we can start to identify possible alternatives for going forward.

My experience is that teaching children this first step in interpersonal problem solving may not be so widespread. I have witnessed too many situations where parents are quick to blame others when their child has a social difficulty rather than examining the entire context including their own child’s role. It frustrates me, and I’m not sure what the answer is. I guess I’d like to hear from any of you who have had some successes – in your role as parent, teacher, coach, friend, whatever – in helping parents assist their children in that first step of answering the question, “What is my problem?” It would be encouraging to read.

*Joseph, G.E. & Strain, P.S. (2010). Teaching Young Children Interpersonal Problem-Solving Skills. Young Exceptional Children, (11) 28-40.

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