"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
January 28, 2015
The Problem-Solving Question
by Amy L. Stevenson

This morning as we sat down to eat breakfast my daughter said, “Mom, I don’t have a cup.” I looked at her with a small smile and raised eyebrows that said, “Oh. That’s interesting. Why do you want to tell me that?”

The reason, of course, is that she wanted me to give her a cup so she could drink some orange juice. My response to her was one that I use regularly when my children tell me things like this: “So, what are you going to do about that?”

She immediately answered with the question, “Mom, will you please give me a cup?” A polite request — that’s what I was looking for.

I could have told her she was a healthy girl and should get it herself, and maybe she would have done that on another day. Either choice would have worked. Instead of my deciding whether to require “please” or tell her to get it herself, by asking her that question I was prompting her to make the decision.

In this situation it was perfectly acceptable that her answer was to ask me for help. I want my children to know they can ask for help without being given a hard time.

We don’t always need to come up with solutions completely on our own. It’s okay to ask politely for help. Asking a friend, parent, or Heavenly Father for help in more complex matters can bring understanding and ideas you would not have come up with on your own.

There are times when simply asking someone else to solve your problem is not acceptable. For example, saying in essence, “I don’t think I should have to be responsible or work to pay my own bills. So, will you pay my bills for a while? I won’t pay you back, but it’s just for a little while.”

That is not okay because inevitably a little while turns into a long while and that doesn’t help anyone. Rescuing does not give the taker skills to handle future troubles, so the rescuer continues to get called on to save the day.

In the exchange with my daughter, I primarily wanted her to be aware of what she wanted and for her to think about the best way to get it. Identifying a problem without working toward a solution is just complaining. Working toward a solution is what changes complaining to problem-solving.

It is important to teach children how to problem-solve so they can become successful adult problem- solvers and not find themselves passive victims waiting to be rescued.

In order to model this skill for them, some of us may need to learn it ourselves or at least be reminded how it works. Following are four steps to the problem-solving process that we can internalize and show our children how to use on their own as well. Using my conversation with my daughter as an example, let’s walk through it.

1. Identify the problem: I want a cup and I don’t have one.
Be specific to how it applies to you. The problem is not: Nobody gave me a cup. Stating it that way closes you off from having control of the situation. Find something about the problem that can be stated using the word “I.”

2. Ask the question: What can I do about it?
There were several ways my daughter could have responded. She could have walked to the cupboard and taken out a cup herself, asked for help, grabbed a cup from someone else, thrown a crying fit, or rolled her eyes and decided she just wouldn’t have a drink for breakfast.

3. Think through your possible choices
Those choices foster: independence, cooperation, stealing, drama, or sulking.

4. Evaluate the consequences and make the best choice
The last three options are ruled out because they are immoral or will not get the desired outcome. The first two are both good choices.

Going through this scenario was fairly simple, and life can be very complicated. For some situations you may need to work through several different problems at once. However, if you work through this problem-solving process by asking what you can do, overwhelming problems will come into focus and you can find peace in knowing you’ve done your best.

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About Amy L. Stevenson

Amy Stevenson grew up in central California but ventured to Utah to receive a bachelor's degree in human development from Brigham Young University. She has been using her degree every day since then as a stay-at-home-mom to her son and three daughters.

She believes that parenting is more than telling children, "Be good!" It is about surrounding ourselves with good things, and then acting in a way that reflects the good we have found. She has always enjoyed discovering how people become who they are and has a blog where she shares clean, good, uplifting ideas and resources for children and families in hopes of helping them become their best selves.

Along with her husband and children she has lived in nine different cities in three states, which has taught her that people are good everywhere and there is something to learn from every experience. She and her family now live in Simi Valley, California -- and hope to stay there.

Amy serves as a ward missionary and teaches the gospel principles class.

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