The following is a widely known positive problem solving approach.

Everyone must first cool off.  A few days after the event and after everyone has calmed down, the family can brainstorm positively and then choose solutions. After a period of time, the family checks back in with each other to see if the solution is working.

Instead of telling your spouse or kids why you are frustrated as soon as you discover what the irritant is, wait to present it at the family meeting. Why? Because problem solving will not work in the heat of the argument or tantrum as human emotions in a crisis often dominate our ability to think rationally. By the family meeting, everyone will be cooled off and able to think more clearly.

So what are things our kids typically do that frustrate us and how can we solve the problem?   Your child won’t clean up their room. Your child is drinking grape juice on the couch. Your child takes too long to get ready for school in the morning.

The following are problem solving steps to use.

First ask: “What can we do to solve this problem?” All family members are asked to brain storm for multiple solutions. However, no one is allowed to criticize ideas or it will kill the creativity. Write down the solutions to validate their efforts.

Children love to give silly answers so roll with it, laugh and write those down as well. If they can’t come up with solutions, give solutions as a way of modeling how to problem solve. After all solutions are given, pick the solutions that everyone is OK with. Try to choose your child’s solutions to make them feel empowered.  At the next meeting, discuss whether the idea works at all or it needs to be modified.

So let’s say your child takes too long to get ready for school in the morning. Your family might come up with the following solutions.

    • Lay out all the clothes. Lunch packed the night before.
    • Child goes to bed earlier so he will wake up earlier and have more time to get ready.
    • Child has to get dressed in car after he arrives at school.
    • Child experiences consequences such as the parent takes him late to school.

What if your child likes to talk to you or yell while you are on the phone?

    • Child can yell in their room or go outside to yell.
    • Child can yell when the parent gets off the phone.
    •  Parent spends two minutes listening to child at eye level before getting on a long conversation.
    • Parent rubs the child’s back while on the phone to communicate she cares about child.

Problem solving is helpful for more reasons than just finding solutions. People will be less likely to get angry at each other. Children (and adults) learn that there are often multiple solutions to a problem. Finally, it will give your child the ability to solve problems when you are not around.  


Cook, Ruth, Diane Klein, and Annette Tessier. (2008). Adapting early childhood curricula for children with special needs. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Columbus Print.

Nelsen, J. (1999). Positive discipline: A to z. NY, NY: Three Rivers Press.