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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Problem-solving for resilience Part 2

In the previous post I highlighted the key steps in successful problem-solving. These include being able to:
1. identify your emotion
2. control that emotion enough to
3. identify the problem,
4. identify your resources for dealing with the problem,
5. identifying choices and consequences,
6. select and implement the best choice,
7. analyse how this worked in a balanced way,
8. and assessment and rewarding self for successes.

Last post I also talked about ways to help children with identifying and controlling their emotions. In this post I will look at step 3.

Step 3: Identifying the problem

As mentioned previously, if a child is anxious or their emotions are still “out of control”, identifying the problem will be difficult. One of the things that may prevent them from “calming down” is that they see the problem as insurmountable or more serious that it really is.

How bad is the problem?
In the previous post I talked about the feelings thermometer. Another way this has been used is to help children identify just how “bad” the problem is. For example, see the thermometer by cognitive therapy for kids

This is a way of helping children identify the nature of the problem so they can then set about ways to solve it. It can also help them decide if they need help, or whether they can solve it themselves.

Describing the problem:
Some ways to help children identify the problem after they calm down or identify how “bad” the problem is on their thermometer:

- Get them to tell you what happened if they have good language.
For young children, make sure you get down to their level and use re-assuring physical contact (such as holding their hand or rubbing their back – each child will have a different preference).

For older children, make sure you give them eye-contact and your full, calm attention (BeyondBlue). Avoid trying to finish their sentences, and wait patiently with minimal prompting for them to explain what happened. And, most importantly, avoid making statements like “Why are you making a fuss about that?” Lead them into making their own judgements about the problem by asking questions like, “Do you think we can do something about it?” or getting them to rate the problem on the thermometer as discussed previously.

- Get them to show you what the problem is if they can’t tell you.
On of the difficulties with very young children who have high learning abilities (what has been called “gifted”) you will often find that their language lets them down. That is, their childish language does not give them the vocabulary they need to communicate the complexity of their thoughts. This can also be the case for children with expressive language disorders. This is a very frustrating experience, and can lead to “melt-downs” or “tantrums”.

The best way to deal with this is to get the child to point, role play, demonstrate or even draw a picture of their problem. The process may take a little longer, but it will be worth it.

- Get them to write it down.
For older children or teens who may be reluctant to talk about their problems, they may find it easier to write down the issue. For example, a youth who is living with depression may find it much easier to express themselves in song, poetry or journaling than in speech. However, you need to be careful about this. There needs to be some structure to the journaling or self-expression.

For example, a child with depression is likely to have a negative outlook on life and underestimate their own abilities to solve problems (Beyond Blue). So it is important that they are encouraged to write positive things in their journal. You might ask them to write one positive statement about themselves, or record their achievements, as well as journaling about their problems. Or you might format the beginning of their problem-solving journal like this:

You should also encourage them to share the key points in their journal with a trusted person, such as a mentor, buddy, counsellor or parent.

This will ensure that the journal does not just become one huge list of problems or dark thoughts. This is likely to make the child feel more overwhelmed, helpless and discouraged.

Some good references/websites


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