A core concept in Peaceful Parenting is the principle of problem ownership. If understood and worked with, it can have a huge impact on your family dynamic and relationships in general! Here’s the simple truth… your children, in fact everyone, can own their own problems… we don’t need to change it, fix it or try to help them to get over it quickly by blaming others… and we don’t need to own it!
Many parents believe that it’s their role to fix or suggest solutions to their children’s problems. The males in our life are stereotypically renown for this but mothers are just as likely to fall into this trap as well. We don’t like it when our children are suffering!
Fixing it or blaming others for the problem lowers their resilience
The trouble with suggesting solutions or stepping in and fixing the problem is that we are sending a message to the problem owner that they are not capable of doing so on their own. Continually doing so will make them grow up believing that they can’t do it on their own, or they’re not good enough. Then they don’t try and we start believing that they are incapable too. If always fall into the habit of blaming others, then we encourage them never to take responsibility and control of their life.
Many times parents jump in too early… without knowing the full story… getting a complete picture of what’s going on. When we jump in quickly with the solution, or begin blaming others we are cutting off the story teller before the story has completely unfolded. We sometimes don’t let them get past page one… We don’t let them get it all out before we start telling them how to fix it… telling them what they’ve done wrong and peppering them with questions about why, what and how they ended up in that situation. The dreaded “why”! Have you ever been asked “why” and not felt defensive? There’s no support offered in that question. It implies you did something wrong!
More often or not we respond (to the person with the problem) with twenty questions out of the need for us to feel better about their situation, that somehow their pain, fear or anger becomes our own. We feel their emotion and match them at their level. We can’t seem to separate ourselves from their problem.
Much of my practice is helping people explore their stories, their problems and issues and helping them uncover their own solutions. I encourage them to take responsibility, not to use blaming others as an excuse, because their is always power in accepting responsibility (see my previous post – Step 2 – Accepting responsibility without the blame). Sometimes the story can be unpacked easily and other times it can take a few sessions before the real issues are uncovered.
Before I really understood this principle, I found that if I jumped in with advice or tried solving the problem before the real story was unpacked I found that any solutions just didn’t stick they weren’t aligning with the real need of the person. This has been shown to me time and time again because the habit of offering advice, solutions or comfort when the story hasn’t been fully told just never works.
Just think for a moment… when you’ve had a personal issue, perhaps with your partner or another family member or friend and shared that with someone else…
offer advice that didn’t feel right
compare it to their experience and tell you what to do
encouraged you to continue blaming others for the problem
feel completely understood?
When they told you what to do, how they would solve it, did you
ignore it or
come up with reasons why it wouldn’t work for you?
Rarely does someone else’s solution work… and when it has… it’s because that person’s realised what your need is and has nailed the solution.
It’s in allowing the story to fully unfold that the need is discovered. Once the need is identified, the solutions become easier. By using this approach with my clients and my children the benefits have proven themselves time and time again. I’ve reduced their emotional distress. They’ve been able to speak about their problem and release the emotions associated with it which is a huge benefit for them. They’ve also been able to tap into the solution and by doing so have an opportunity to build resilience within themselves. They’ve let go of blaming others for where their life is and taken control again!
Because emotions are just energy, electrical pulses that travel through our body and make us feel good, bad or react quickly to escape the threat we feel. Some of our emotions we release easily, such as happiness, joy and all of the positive ones… Because it’s OK to let them out… it’s safe to.
The negative ones we tend to try and suppress because it is culturally unacceptable to explode at people, cry in front of others or throttle someone in frustration. So we lock those negative emotions into our body, to our detriment both mentally and physically. When we are unable to release our negative emotions they build up only to be triggered over and over again in similar situations, let me give you a simple example.
James is in grade 5 in primary school and has to give his speech in front of his class about Iceland. He has his grandfather helping him with doing his research as he’s lives with the family and is available where as mum and dad are working. English is not his grandfather’s native language, so unfortunately, when James gets up in front of the class and talks about Iceland, he pronounces it incorrectly… Issland.
The class laughs and his teacher makes a joke of him. James takes this to heart and is thrown off by the comments and the jokes at his expense and totally looses his confidence and botches the rest of his speech. He sits down feeling humiliated and of course the kids taunt him further during the day. By the time he get’s home he’s furious and upset with his grandfather. He’s rude and abrupt and mum pulls him up for his behaviour and asks what’s wrong.
James tells her that he said Iceland wrong and it’s his grandfather’s fault and they laughed at him at school. She immediately defends her father and tells him he should have checked or asked or researched it on his own instead of asking his grandfather.
She just offered 3 solutions. None of which James appreciates of course. He’s more upset and mum tries to give him a hug telling him it’s all right, the other kids will forget, he needs to toughen up.
He’s not all right, he can’t let it go and the solution of toughening up just doesn’t work (ever). So James is left angry, humiliated and eventually he gets over it right?
James has trouble doing speeches in front of his class all the way through school, it becomes a brick wall for him. He avoids it and it continues on…
As an adult, he also avoids it.
He avoids jobs where he has to do presentations.
He avoids having to do speeches at any family events.
He’s plagued with it for the rest of his life.
Simple because he wasn’t able to get his whole story out.
He was shut off with solutions and platitudes.
If only mum had chosen to listen instead…
So next time your child shares their story with you…
Allow them to tell it and own it by
Offering NO ADVICE,
NO “you’ll be OK”
NO “buck up”
NO “Just do..”
Just allow them to tell it, empathise, acknowledge how it was for them. Encourage them to own their problem instead of blaming others by redirecting them back to their experience (and not allowing the focus to change to the blamed person). Reflect back on what they are telling you. Let them tell it until they are calm and ready to move on.
Which brings me to step 7 (coming next week)…