Information for Preteens:
Family Problem Solving
A "problem" is defined as "something that lacks an easy solution." As you can see, a "solution" is part of the definition.
The first step in approaching a troublesome family problem is to think that the solution is in there somewhere – all you have to do is find it. An alternative approach is to treat the problem as something you have to live with every day. In other words, you ignore the problem and deal with the problem all of your life unless it just happens to go away one day.
As you can imagine, the first approach may have very different outcomes compared to the second approach. It is important to try to find a solution to your problems by involving all members of your family – try to find the solution together rather than simply ignoring the problem altogether.
There are some common hazards that can swamp your attempts at family problem-solving. However, you can work around them. For starters, you need to complete following list of difficult tasks:
- Get everyone to agree that there is a problem – sometimes family members don't see that a problem exists!
- As you discuss the problem, write out two or three decisions that might help resolve it for you or your family. Ask yourself if those are the most important decisions. Pick the most important one. (You have taken a basic step: set a decision-making priority.)
- Remember that problem solving involves several levels:
- It involves the "power balance" in your family
- It involves logical and creative thinking
- It involves change (which can sometimes be scary)
- It involves your overall relationships
- Ask a family member involved in your "top priority" if he or she would sit down with you and discuss how to tackle the decision or address the matter in a new way.
- Explore alternatives together. Write them down as you go – that will help clarify the decision(s) to be made.
- Be straight, not manipulative; listen carefully; stay on the issue; be cool; and be patient.
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Hazards & Quicksand Traps
There are some common hazards that can swamp your attempts at family problem-solving – or does it? Getting agreement on this basic starting point is often hard because everyone first must agree that (1) something's wrong, and (2) a group effort can lead to a solution.
When a problem is identified, there is a tendency to rush to find a solution right away rather than to take time to define the problem clearly and outline possible solutions. The following list can help you and your family reach a solution faster and potentially with less frustration.
- Families tend to tackle problems at the end of the day, when the energy level is low and irritability is high. Pick a time when everyone is ready to discuss the issue.
- People have a well-documented tendency to "piggy-back" unrelated issues – bringing up old hurts and things that make solutions harder to find. Stay on topic! Deal with the problem at hand, not other things that are "bugging" you.
- Families tend to thinks he/she knows where the others stand. (But they usually don't.) Again, talk and listen to each other before looking for a solution, so that you know what the real problem is in the relationship.
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Additional References & Sources
- Veroff, J. & Feld, S. Marriage and Work in America: A Study of Motives and Roles, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1970.
- Carlfred Broderick, In Power in Families, Wiley & Sons, New York, 1975.
- Miller, G. A., Galanter, E. & Prinbram, K H., Plans and Structure of Behavior. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 1960.
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Portions of this page are taken from Family LifeSkills (copyright 1988-1997 Palo Alto Medical Foundation)
Family Lifeskills is a program to strengthen and enrich family interactions – with the purpose of making each person and the family as a whole as strong as possible. It was developed jointly by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation for Health Care, Research & Education and Palo Alto High School.
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