Problem children

Ok, I’ve been sitting on this post for a long time. We introduced problem solving into our family meeting several weeks ago. I was apprehensive. More? We’re doing more? More to think about, more to remember, more to figure out. Yes. More.

I remember Vicki describing how her own kids would run to her saying, “Mom! She did this and he did that!” and Vicki would look calmly at them and say, “Well, that sounds like a problem for you!” and cheerfully point in the direction of the problem board. Her kids would then roll their eyes and say to each other, “Come on! We gotta go figure this out so we won’t have to put it on the problem board!” And they’d run away all charged up to solve their own problems.

Sounds like la-la land, right? But I’ve had so many other pleasant surprises with this program, so why not this too?

So I got a big sheet of paper and stuck it to the wall and wrote at the top, “I have a problem when someone …” And then I waited for the next problem report so I could point to the board and watch them roll their eyes and run away to solve it all themselves. (We carefully went over the whole concept at the last family meeting, including the no name, no blame policy, etc.)

Well, turns out they didn’t come to me at all, they just grabbed a pen and started writing!


I know that’s hard to read, so here’s a transcript:

  • Threatens to go into my room and mess things up
  • Gets too close to me so I have to push her away (this was written twice)
  • When someone hides my stuff
  • Shoves a cricket in my face
  • Bosses me to get up and get ready for school
  • Says I’m dumb or stupid
  • Accuses me of something I didn’t do
  • Annoys me whenever I’m doing something important
  • Steals the tennis balls when we’re trying to play
  • I have a problem when somebody yells
  • Doesn’t give me what I need right away
  • Comes in my room, gets on my bed, climbs on me, turns my alarm off, says she didn’t see me, and runs away
  • When someone makes someone else’s area a mess
  • Doesn’t get ready fast enough so we’re all late for school

So the board filled up right away and I felt a little overwhelmed, but then three things happened:

  1. our first problem-solving session revealed several, “Ohhhh, yeah, that’s not really a problem anymore…” a couple of, “Well, that only happened once, so … let’s skip that one…” and many, “Nah, let’s not do that one now.” And the list quickly became much more manageable;
  2. after the initial flood of problems, we’ve now gone almost two weeks with nothing new added to the board; and
  3. they figured out very quickly that bringing new problems to family meeting put their allowance at risk if they took too long coming up with an agreeable solution to try.

After three sessions, we’re already getting much better at it, and it feels more doable. I proudly managed to either keep my mouth shut, or come up with the most lame solutions:

  • “How about we nail boards across your bedroom door so your sisters can’t get in?”
  • “Fenner, you could sleep in a tent at school and then you’d be right there and never be late!”
  • “I know, lets keep Charlotte awake all night so she doesn’t have to wake up in the morning.”

To my delight, at our last meeting Ellen moaned, “Moooooom, you always come up with terrible ones!” 🙂

Our most challenging problem yet was two sides of the same getting-ready-for-school-in-the-morning coin. Fenner has a problem when someone “doesn’t get ready fast enough so we’re all late for school” and Charlotte has a problem when someone “bosses me to get up and get ready for school.” Fenner had actually taken over the job of bossing Charlotte around quite often since I had decided to quit that  job months ago. And it was weighing heavily on both of them. I found this note that Fenner had written to Charlotte, and where Charlotte had shown what she thought of Fenner’s note and then added her response underneath:


You get the idea. So family meeting went something like this:

Fenner: “You won’t get ready unless I boss you!”

Charlotte: “If you boss me I won’t get ready!”

This went back and forth for a few minutes. Then we talked about what it feels like to be bossed around and how it happened that Fenner took on the job of trying to “make sure” about Charlotte. We figured out that Charlotte was still getting used to her alarm clock, and that Fenner lived in fear of Charlotte getting distracted and not getting ready in time. Then they brainstormed and voted on their solution: Charlotte would have another week of practice remembering to set her alarm clock, and I would ring a small bell twice each morning: once 40 minutes before it’s time to go, and a second time 10 minutes before it’s time to go. And they agreed the bossing each other around would stop. We clarified that offering help and encouragement was still ok, but no more bossing. (Fenner even said she might put tape over her mouth!)

After that meeting, Fenner seemed happier and lighter, like a weight was gone. And Charlotte was immediately more cooperative. I’ve been ringing the bell each morning, and Fenner’s bossing has decreased significantly.

Can’t wait to find out at our next meeting if they think it’s working …

Explore posts in the same categories: Weeks following: Problem Solving

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