Make your child feel safe

Who Owns the Problem?  

Peace at Home July 14, 2023 | Ruth Freeman

Kids have problems. It’s a fact of life. Teaching them how to solve them on their own, is one of the greatest gifts you give them. If you try to solve their problems, you are creating a lot of headaches for yourself. More importantly, you are denying your child important learning opportunities. Teens who perceive that they can solve problems, tend to make safer choices during adolescence. If you’ve been giving your kids unsolicited advice or just giving solutions when asked on a regular basis, your child will then turn to their peers for solutions when they reach adolescence. That will be a risky proposition for kids who don’t believe they can create solutions to their problems. 

Understanding when a problem belongs to a child to solve and when it requires adult intervention is crucial. An important first step is to determine which problems belong to your child and which are yours to solve. Sometimes, especially when kids are teens, problems may be shared between you and your child. So how can you tell the difference? 

Ask yourself 3 questions:

  • Is my child too young to solve this problem? Your 10 year old is disappointed that they were not invited to a friend’s birthday party. Are they too young to solve this problem? No. Might they have strong emotions? Yes. Might they benefit from your support? Absolutely. But this problem ultimately belongs to your child to solve. The challenge is to understand how to be supportive without “fixing” the issue. On the other hand if your 10 year old tells you that they feel scared of their teacher, your child is likely not mature enough to talk with the teacher about this issue without your support. So now we have a problem that belongs to you or is at least a shared problem.
  • Will there be harm to a person or property? Your 5 and 7 years old are in the other room calling each other “poopy heads.” Will there be any harm done? Not likely. So that problem belongs to the kids, if they perceive it as a problem that is. But if one child throws a toy truck at their sibling, the situation has become unsafe. You need to be involved in finding a solution. 
  • Am I being disrespected? If your child is in the other room expressing frustration about creating the craft project they envision, are you being disrespected? No. However, if you are talking with your spouse and your child comes into the room yelling about their frustration and interrupts your conversation, the problem now belongs to you. You have the right to have a conversation and when children don’t respect our rights, the problem belongs to us to solve. 

If the answer is NO to all 3 questions, the problem belongs to your child to solve. If the answer is yes to any of the questions, the problem is yours to solve or in some cases, may be a shared problem. Discerning who owns a problem clearly depends on understanding your child’s developmental stages and capacities. 

The next step in supporting your child’s problem solving skills is to learn how to respond in helpful ways. If the problem belongs to you, effective communication and sometimes positive discipline will be the best responses. If the problem belongs to your child, you may need to learn to step back once you determine that your child owns any given problem. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything about the problem. If the child comes to you with their issue, responding with active listening can go a long way:

  • Give them your full attention, maintain eye contact and provide a safe space for them to express their thoughts and feelings.
  • Encourage them to describe the issue clearly and check that you understand the problem according to the child. 
  • Reflect your child’s emotions by naming them tentatively – “Sounds like you’re feeling frustrated.” If you child corrects you, accept their words for their feelings. 

Sometimes this response is enough and your child might go on the way. However, if your child needs more support in order to become a problem solver, reach out to us at to learn how to coach problem solving skills without giving solutions. By discerning when a problem belongs to a child to solve and when it necessitates parental involvement, we can empower our children to become independent problem solvers. Remember, by allowing children to navigate challenges themselves, we nurture their confidence and building a strong foundation for their future success.

Let’s do this together. 

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