Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

The Best Way to Solve Your Child's Problems

"Let there be times when you don't tell someone everything you know about her problem, even if your understanding of it is better than hers." - Guy Finley

"Self Esteem comes from feeling capable in the world, as well as from being loved unconditionally." - Ty and Linda Hatfield

E ver notice how kids don't really want to hear your solutions to their problems?  Teenagers, particularly, often react with downright hostility when we give them our good advice. That's because they need to see themselves as capable. Every time we tell our child how to handle something, we're implying that he isn't competent enough to figure it out for himself.  We're undermining his confidence, which erodes his self-esteem. 

I know, you thought you were being helpful. And I do believe your advice is wise and would help your child!  But kids feel more capable when they get a chance to figure things out for themselves. If you're like me, that means you might have to bite your tongue sometimes.

That doesn't mean you can't help your child solve his problems. But think of yourself as the support person, not the boss.

  • Listen. (Note: same letters as 'silent'.)
  • Empathize. "It's so upsetting, I know."
  • Validate. "Wow! This is a tough decision, Honey."
  • Reflect and help clarify. "So you're worried that if you decide on Option A, then......"
  • Ask questions that help your child think for herself. "Sounds like you've thought this through...Are we sure what time they close?"
  • Wonder aloud. "I wonder how she'll respond?"
  • Reassure your child that it's okay to make mistakes. "I hear how sorry you are about this....Everybody makes mistakes, and it sounds to me like you've learned something important here."
  • Help your child make amends. "What do you think you could do to make things better?"
  • Offer to help him practice if he's nervous. "I hear you're nervous about talking with the coach...I get it, he can be a bit fierce. But I'm hoping he'll understand once you explain your thinking....Want to practice with me?"
  • Express confidence. "It's a hard decision, Sweetie....But it sounds like you've really thought it through....And both outcomes will give you something positive. I don't think you can go wrong with whatever you decide."

You can start early. Even five year olds like to think they can solve their own problems. And they can. Especially if they have a parent who can manage her own anxiety enough to really listen, and simply reflect what they say.  "Hmm...So you got pretty mad, huh?....You don't like it when he.....So you think you'll tell him.....I wonder how he'll respond?...Hmm....You've got a point there....you're wondering if it might be better to....."

Before you know it, your kid gives you a quick hug and dashes out the door.  With lots of confidence in his ability to sort out his own life.  What a wonderful parent!  And what a lucky kid.

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