Family Problem Solving
A "problem" is defined as "something that lacks an easy solution." "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. This approach differs sharply in its outcomes from the approach of those who feel that a problem is something you have to tolerate as if it will always be with you unless it just happens to go away.
There are some common hazards that can swamp your attempts at family problem-solving. But you can work around them. For starters, you need to complete the difficult task of:
- Get everyone to agree 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 (sometimes scary); and 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 patient.
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Hazards and 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 clearly the problem and outline possible solutions.
- Families tend to tackle problems at the end of the day, when the energy level is low and irritability 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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References and Sources
1. Veroff, J. & Feld, S. Marriage and Work in America: A Study of Motives and Roles, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1970.
2. Carlfred Broderick, In Power in Families, Wiley & Sons, New York, 1975.
3. Miller, G. A., Galanter, E. & Prinbram, K H., Plans and Structure of Behavior. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 1960.
* A COMPLETE, EXCELLENT DISCUSSION of decision-making, problem-solving and basic communication skills is in Helping Couples Change, by Richard Stuart. Guilford Press, New York, 1980.
Portions of this page is 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 and Education and Palo Alto High School.
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For help and advice, visit the Teen Relationship Web site, or call (650) 327-TEEN.