In our previous article, we introduced the concept of setting limits to keep children within the boundary of safety, respect and responsibility. Many parents, in our workshops, share the frustration of having to repeat instructions or constantly correct the same behaviour in their children.
So, how can parents set boundaries to help children manage their behaviour? One of the tools to do this is problem-solving.
Ross Greene, the author of the book Raising Human Beings, recommends a collaborative partnership between parents and children for solving problems. He states that children are not being manipulative or lazy when they don’t do what is expected of them. His premise requires us to see children with fresh eyes. Children would do the task if they could. They find it tough to meet our expectations because they lack the skills needed. It is our job as parents to help children build these required skills through problem-solving.
Faber & Mazlish, authors of the acclaimed How to Talk books for parents lay out a step-by-step guide for involving children in finding solutions. They say parents need to be open-minded without having fixed ideas about the reason for the problem or the solution. Only then ‘out of the box’ creative ideas can emerge.
Here is one participant’s sharing of using problem-solving when he found his 14-year-old glued to the phone, over the stipulated time, totally disinterested in engaging with the family or other activities.
Step 1 — Decide on a mutually agreeable time.
Parent: I’d like to discuss something with you. When would be a good time?
Child: I’m in the middle of a video game ...Shall we talk after dinner?
After Dinner - Parent: Shall we talk now?
Step 2 — Stating the behaviour as an observation without any judgments. Here, parents listen with empathy and curiosity to the child’s side of the story.
Parent: I’ve noticed that you are having difficulty in keeping to the one hour limit on the screen. What’s up?
Child: I don’t know!
Parent: Want to think about it a little?
Child: One hour is so little. I have to play clash of clans, mine craft and chat on WhatsApp and Instagram with my friends.
Parent: Hmm… the time is just not enough. ( reflecting what the child says)
Child: It’s relaxing to play on the phone after a busy school day. All my friends are playing and if I don’t play the team will suffer.
Step 3 — Expressing your feelings and concerns without blame, and inviting the child to find a solution together.
Parent: You really enjoy chatting and playing games on your phone. I’m sure you learn a lot of interesting things doing this. AND at the same time ...I’d like to see you balancing the time available between the screen, studies, family and fun. I’m wondering if we could put our heads together and find a solution that makes both of us happy.
Child: I think so ...but don’t say no phone on weekdays!
Step 4 — Brainstorming for solutions together. First, listen and write down your child’s ideas without evaluating, however impractical. We need to be flexible in listening to their ideas, then share your ideas.
Parent: That’s unacceptable to you isn’t it? So, let’s start with writing down your ideas and mine.
Child: I’d like to have my phone with me all the time. I want to play on the phone for 3-4 hours a day. Maybe I could go for an extra class of football to get more exercise.
Parent: I’ve written down your ideas. Would you like to hear some suggestions I have too?
Parent: How about we restrict having the phone to 2 hours a day? No phones on the dining table or at bedtime. We could have an internet free hour between 8-9 pm where the family spends time together chatting or playing board games.
Step 5 — Examine the ideas written, and mutually decide on what ideas to keep. Precise details of what is planned. ‘Who’ is to do ‘what’ by ‘when’? etc., must be spelled out clearly.
This step needs discussion and going back and forth to find solutions that appeal to both parent and child.
Mutually decided plan:
- The phone will be with the child between 3 pm and 7 pm and time spent on games will be limited to 1 hour a day.
- No phones on the dining table and before bedtime.
- Daily internet free hour for family time.
- Football thrice a week instead of twice.
Solutions decided on don’t always work out 100% in reality. The child might cooperate for a couple of days and then revert to his old ways. A weekly review helps to support the child stay on track, and readjust the plan if required.
Setting limits by problem-solving is a continuous work in progress like any other lifestyle change or fitness plan. The most important message that the child learns is that when faced with an issue or conflict, there can be a discussion, and co-creation of a win-win solution. When the child is a part of the solution, he/she is more likely to take more ownership of the situation and the follow-up.
Author: Prerna Kalra is a certified parent educator at Parenting Matters, an organisation which empowers parents to build deeper connection within families. To know more about our programs and workshops, look us up on www.parentingmatters.in