Parenting Issues? Get advice from an unlikely source!
My 4-year-old daughter struggles with getting to the bathroom on time and will dribble in her underwear. Parenting is so glamorous, isn’t it? She’s been “potty-trained” for years but likes to live on the edge (of her seat, wiggling back and forth trying to hold it in). When my husband and I would see that she needed to use the bathroom we would remind her, she would insist that she didn’t need to pee (and she would NEVER need to pee…like EVER again…for the rest of her WHOLE LIFE) and by the time we had it figured out we would often have an extra piece of laundry. Needless to say, it drives my husband and I bonkers.
My husband and I have bemoaned the point repeatedly and tried out a few strategies without much improvement. This time I made an unexpected parenting move. I decided to go to her to figure out a plan that would work for all of us. Here was my process:
- We identified the problem. “Hey Z, you have been having a lot of small accidents. I know it can be really hard to stop playing and get to the potty but pee belongs in the potty and I am starting to get a little frustrated with all of this extra laundry. We are all on the same team and I know we can figure something out that works for all of us.”
- We brainstormed possible solutions. “What can we do to help so that you have fewer accidents?” She didn’t immediately have any ideas so I shared my ideas. My ideas were to go with her to the bathroom or to make clean underwear and the laundry room easily accessible so she could handle accidents independently. Once hearing my ideas she had a suggestion of her own. She suggested that instead of telling her to go to the bathroom we should yell, “PRETZEL!”
- We discussed each possible solution and decided on a plan together. She wasn’t thrilled about the idea of me following her to the bathroom so we crossed that off the list. We both giggled about the idea of yelling “PRETZEL” instead of potty so we decided to give it a shot. We also agreed to the environmental changes so that in the event of an accident she could independently “make it right” (clean underwear and access to the laundry room).
- We tried it! It worked! Will it work forever? Probably not, and that’s okay because when it stops working we can revisit it again. It has added a level of humor to the tired back and forth we were doing before. She has even come up with a code word for when she goes independently without a reminder, “DANDELION!”
My frustration and stress level plummeted immediately. As did hers. Win-win!
Sure, there are other ways I could have handled this. I could have made up a rule that when we told her to go to the bathroom that she had to go immediately until we could trust that she would go on her own. Would this have been a terrible route? Not at all. But by involving her in the problem-solving I demonstrated that we were on the same team and working together. I showed her that her opinion and ideas matter in this family.
So do I let my kids start making all the decisions?
Before you panic, let me clarify! I’m not advocating that you begin letting your child call all the shots. Otherwise, we’d all be eating gummy bears and whipped cream for breakfast and replacing their bedtime with 800 trips to get just one more sip of water. What I am talking about is looping your child into the problem-solving process when issues arise.
As parents we feel like we need to have all the answers. But let’s be honest, we don’t. (I mean, seriously, is there anything more humbling than parenting?)
To make the experience relatable, think back to a situation where a boss of yours was making a decision that impacted you. You probably felt like it was important for your boss to get input from you. As an employee you were on the front lines and had a pulse on what worked and what didn’t. Your input was valuable. Involving all levels in problem solving creates a culture of camaraderie and teamwork. It also promotes buy-in.
Why explicitly model and teach problem-solving skills?
If one thing is for certain, it is that your child will face problems throughout their lives. From squabbling with friends at recess to navigating a workplace meeting. It is impossible to eradicate their lives of problems (nor would we want to!), but it is possible to teach them and give them practice with problem-solving skills so they can independently and confidently overcome bumps in the road.
Effective problem-solving skills are linked to higher emotional well-being and lower anxiety and depression (link here). It makes sense, right? Without a system for problem-solving, the options are to avoid the problem, stress about the problem or solve it ineffectively.
When you teach and engage your child in these problem-solving sessions, you are modeling healthy problem-solving skills that they will then generalize to other aspects of their lives and practice over and over as they develop. Research has shown that higher parental social problem-solving behaviors were related to indicators of family well-being, including better overall family functioning, and fewer parent–adolescent conflicts.
What does involving children in problem-solving of daily issues look like?
- In a calm moment, bring the issue up to your child. First, validate the child’s emotions or intent but explain what the problem is and why it needs to be addressed. Be sure to model a positive outlook and a belief that the problem can be solved. (Research has shown that a positive problem-solving orientation promotes emotional well-being.)
- Then, open the floor to possible solutions. It’s important to always bring a couple solutions of your own to the brainstorming session. Listen to your child’s possible solutions and suggest your own. If you want, write them down.
- You then discuss each one, rule out ones that don’t work for you or your child and come to a conclusion. For example, if you’re having bedtime routine issues and your child suggests that bedtime be moved back to midnight, explain why that doesn’t work for you and cross it off the list!
- Try it out!
- Not working? Wash, rinse, repeat!
This type of problem-solving is most appropriate for the 3+ age group.
Remember to keep the conversations simple and age-appropriate. You’re not going to be involving your 1.5 year old in a conversation about how to get her to stop biting, but it might be appropriate to involve your 4-year-old in a conversation about what to do about the daily fight he and his sister have over which color cup they get.
Involving your child in problem-solving about daily issues is just one way to teach and reinforce strong problem-solving skills. Curious about other ways to incorporate problem-solving into your daily parenting? Trustle experts are full of ideas!