Why Problem Solving Wins over Fixing Behavior

Why Problem Solving Wins over Fixing Behavior

Let’s think about the challenging moments of parenting. You know, the frustrating moments that make you wonder why you ever had kids in the first place.

Here is an example: For the past few weeks we have been having daily battles over socks. Yes. Socks. My 5 year-old daughter whines and complains that she “hates wearing socks.” It’s winter time here. The ground is covered with snow and ice. Not only is she boycotting socks, if left to her own devices, she would only wear sandals.

Yet…It’s not my daughter that needs to be fixed. Not wearing socks is the problem I want to fix.

fixing behavior problems


Problem Solving vs. Fixing the Behavior

Turning frustration into deeper connection.

How do you define the problem in these moments? Sometime I think about parenting challenges as a struggle of wants. Or more specifically, the struggle between what I want in any given moment and what my daughter wants in the same moment.

Often I find myself going back to this reminder:

Even when we are both frustrated and angry, what we both want more than anything else is connection.

  • Sometimes this means me stopping myself and just sitting down on the couch and shutting up.
  • Sometimes this means trying to see things from my daughter’s perspective.
  • It always means that I try to stay calm and look for win/win solutions.
  • And often staying connected means reminding myself that my child is tired and that my job as the adult is to help her with the upset feelings that are driving her to drive me crazy.

Let me be clear that I fully embrace the idea that my daughter gets to be the boss of her own body and comfort. I sneak socks into her backpack, just in case she changes her mind. In the first version of a truce, she resigns herself to wearing boots. I do a little silent celebration.

But after a few weeks the boots are STINKY – the kind of stinky that when she kicks them off in the back of the car I am immediately assaulted by the awful smell. We have a new conversation. It goes like this.

Me: “You need to wear socks or you need to bathe more often. Your feet stink. You can choose.”
My sweet daughter: “NO! No, no, no, no.”

She doesn’t even want to be part of the conversation.

I try again. “What if we go to Target and buy some really cool, thin socks that feel more comfortable?”
My sweet daughter: “Thinner socks? Cool socks? Shopping at Target? Sure!”

That afternoon we go to the store. I look for thin socks that sit below the ankle. I figure less is more. I show my daughter a pair. “Oh, no, mom. Those are white.” We finally settle on a 6 pack of neon colored socks with cupcakes and cookies on them. My daughter is delighted.

That was a week ago. We have not had a conversation about socks since then. She LOVES her new socks. She likes to show them off to her dad and her friends. Does she love wearing socks? No. But she is perfectly willing to wear these socks without a daily battle. I would say that we have found a win/win solution.

I don’t want to suggest that the solution is always about going shopping. Or that it’s usually this easy to figure out the win/win solution. Remember that we spent weeks fighting about socks before this.

If the regular battles are most usually about us wanting different things, it’s also true that sometimes I just don’t get what I want. I’d like my daughter to wear something other than her birthday suit to bed at night. It’s totally my own paranoia. Her nightly nakedness makes me slightly uncomfortable in a way I’m not particularly proud of. But again, I remind myself that it’s her body and I want to teach her to be able to be the boss of her own body. I remind myself that when it’s a question of safety, it’s my call, no question. But how she wants to sleep, alone, in her room, is up to her. She’s perfectly content to wear pajamas when she stays over with a friend.

Stop trying to fix the child. Focus on problem solving. This goes with the reminder to pick your battles. The clearer you can be about what is really important to you, the easier this gets. For me this was what I chose to pick. Socks? No. Stink? Yes. Pajamas? No.

The next time you notice that you are repeating the same argument with your children try this instead:

  • Stay connected
  • Be curious about your child’s perspective
  • Stay calm
  • Look for win/win solutions

Please let me know how it goes. I always love to hear what’s working and what’s not working for you.


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Dr. Andra Brill is an innovator in the growing field of mindful parenting. She is the founder and senior consultant at HappyMindfulFamilies.com and runs Mama's Mid Week Retreat, an online community for smart moms raising happy, well-balanced children. Using her unique blend of mindfulness practices, psychology and neuroscience, Andra improves the well-being of modern families just like yours.

7 Responses to Why Problem Solving Wins over Fixing Behavior

  1. Hello –
    As I do much training in the field of child education and parenting, etc..
    I truely do love & appreciate the Positive Parenting newsletters that I have been
    receiving for a couple of years.
    However – really would appreciate it So Much More – If you would include pictures of children from many races and cultures (maybe yo have not noticed this, take a look
    at your past issues & Please do become more Inclusive).
    Thanks for considering this.
    Maggie L.

  2. This is perfect for what I needed today! The last few weeks, my just turned 3 year old son has only wanted to wear the same pajama outfit EVERYDAY ALL DAY! I don’t care that he wears pajamas during the day, it’s that, he won’t change in to clean ones. We bought a few pairs of similar pajamas so he can wear those, but once he goes through them all, he wants them all washed immediately. I feel torn. I know he loves the comfort of these pajamas, but I don’t’ want to wash the clothes just because he wants them clean. Keep in mind it is just 1/3 of a wash load… Am I being ridiculous? What I tried doing, and emphasizing with my husband, is let’s wash the clothes on Friday, that way, more dirty clothes can be added to the hamper and sometimes he will wear other “day” clothes if there aren’t any pajamas left. BTW, he hates fleece so none of that is getting worn. What o you think? Any tips? Stick with the Friday wash? I feel sad seeing him upset but at the same time I feel like we need some limits with the laundry 🙂

  3. Maggie,

    Thank you so much for your positive feedback and suggestions. Did you notice the cover of our COMPASS magazine for the winter issue? Or the very darling girl in our validation poster? The beautiful family in the encouragement post? I would love nothing more than to feature images from the families of those that are part of the positive parenting community so we can represent the dozens of countries and more 1.5 million parents that visit the site for information and support – but most parents, rightfully so, don’t wish to have pictures of their children on the internet. I truly appreciate your feedback and I will really reflect on this and try to discover more diverse stock photography.

  4. I feel your pain. The key here is to come up with something that is workable for both of you.

    Our conversations often go something like this:
    1. Reflect back what you think you understand your son’s position is: I know you want to wear your pjs every day. I understand that they are super comfortable.
    2. Explain your position: I don’t want to do the laundry all the time. In fact, I’d like to be able to do the laundry once a week.
    3. Ask him to help you solve the problem: So, what how do you think we can figure this out together?

    I’m a huge fan of written agreements (even for non readers). You might create a week long calendar and draw 3 or 4 pairs of pjs on it and then he can cross out the pjs and put an x on the day that he wears them so that he has a more visible way of keeping track and feeling more in control of his decisions.

    Let me know how it goes.

  5. I love the ideas in the article. These are the kind of things that typically work for me with my girls. We have been having epic and dynamic battles over bedtime and going to preschool. These things are have not typically been areas that my four-year-old argued with us about in the past. Suddenly she is like a broken record.” I want to be with you, I want you to stay with me, don’t leave me, and so on.” Ever since we took a family vacation and she had some extra time with us, the whining, and begging has become incessant. This isn’t really something that I can negotiate with in terms of taking on a shopping trip, offering different choices, etc. I had to go back to work, she has to go to school, everyone in the house has a bedtime. I’m just not sure what to do.

  6. Anna, have you thought about having some special one on one time in the evenings to reconnect after school / work? Children often love having say 10 minutes of that time together, they tell you what they want to do, set a timer, no distractions, 10 minutes to just follow their lead, laugh, giggle, play, dance…this helps undo the separation from the day and can relief pent up emotions as well. What do you think?

  7. Anna, sometimes I set up a “special” 10 minute morning snuggle with my daughter the night before. We talk about how much we want to feel connected and how hard it is to do this AND get to school on time. I usually just ask my daughter what she think might help. At times I offer a special snuggle (she likes to play baby with me) in bed before we get up and start our morning routine. Sometimes this helps us all get clear on what needs to happen the next morning and things go much more smoothly. (And sometimes it’s still hard.)

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