SOLVING THE PROBLEM OF PROBLEM SOLVING

Here is a problem for you. Your child calls you from school and tells you that he has forgotten his sports kit: so what do you do? The vast majority of parents will drop whatever they are doing, be entirely inconvenienced, mutter under their breath, and deliver the required articles to the school office. Problem solved! Not! Your child’s immediate problem may have been solved but the problem still remains – not the problem of the missing sports kit but the problem of his sloppy self-discipline and his demanding expectations. All you have done is take his problem and make it your problem.

So let us rewind the tape: your child calls to say he has forgotten his sports kit. What do you do? What would happen if you said, “Sorry, son, we can’t help you”? We know what would come next: “But, Mum, I’ll get into big trouble if I don’t have it.” We do not respond by saying, “Oh, I never thought of that!” Yes, we of course had thought of that! What we can offer instead is: “Sorry, son, but you will just have to accept the consequences.” Knowing how keen you are on sport, he may follow this up with: “But they won’t play me on Saturday if I don’t have my kit today.” Will that convince us? Definitely not! Instead we must respond gently, “OK, thanks for letting me know, my boy. You’ll just have to train extra hard next week to force your way back in.”

Many parents reading this will think such a response would be gross negligence on the part of the parent but our role as parents is not to bail our child out of trouble all the time but to help them deal with problems they face, whether they are self-inflicted or not. We are to help them learn how to solve problems, not remove the problems from them. The child who thinks that one quick phone call can solve his problem, that one click of his fingers and the world will come running, that one earnest plea will change everything, such a child needs to learn that he must face the consequences of his actions in order to prevent him committing those actions again. He may not play the match and so lose his place in the team but he may learn next time to bring his sports kit to practice. The so-called ‘problem child’ may only be the problem because they have never had to solve problems. That is the real problem! It is not a “Who-dunnit?” scenario though – it is more about “Who will do it?”

Parents must help their children to learn to solve their own problems. It is not for the parent to rush off to the school to deal with the teacher who put his child into detention or confront the pupil who said something nasty to his child. The parent who does that will produce a child who will always depend on others to resolve their situations – the child will call in big brother or dad or whatever other group might inflict mafia-style pressure to get his own way. Some might say that the child is solving the problem by doing that but he has to realise that there will not always be big brother to help out – or that the other person might actually have a bigger brother!

The parent rather can help the child by talking about what led to the detention or about what led to the broken relationship between his child and his child’s friends. Once the child has thought through the issue for himself (using the skill of critical thinking), then the parent can ask the child what he thinks he could do to change the situation. Soon he will not require the assistance of the parent and he will be able to resolve the situation without looking for back-up or outside assistance.

Zimbabwean pupils have been noted to be failing in this area of problem solving and they need to be helped in all areas, by parents, teachers and sports coaches alike. We must not do things for them that they could and should do themselves. We as parents must give them the tools to deal with the problems (not the keys to the car to drive home and get the kit), not least the ability to determine what the problem really is before trying to solve it, in particular by looking at their own life before
blaming everything on the other party. We can help them as well by discussing potential problems in advance and possible strategies to deal with them. We as parents can also give them the opportunities to resolve problems – we must not place them in a cocoon where they are protected from problems. We may help them too by inserting a few clues when necessary and by asking them questions, to guide them to find an appropriate solution for themselves.

The problem is that we do not. So, parents, how are we going to solve this problem? Over to you!