Archive for the ‘Weeks following: Problem Solving’ category

The difference 2 years can make

June 23, 2013

Going through photographs today, I stumbled across two photos of our family problem board taken 2 years apart. This shows what can happen when kids are given time and space to solve their own problems. Two years can seem like an eternity, I know. But this slow, steady progress is the kind that sticks. For life…

2009 Problem Board

2009 Problem Board

2011 Problem Board

2011 Problem Board

Safety zone

July 11, 2011

The other day I was asked a question that I hear a lot: “So, that parenting program, has it helped?” It always takes me a few seconds to answer because “helped” doesn’t come close. What I usually say after my pause is, “It changed my life.”

I know this sounds like an exaggeration and can be intimidating in its grandiosity. I just don’t know how else to describe the depth of the transformation.

This morning I read about a scientific study that concluded: “Parents who spend more leisure time with their children and who argue less with them have offspring that are less likely to bully each other.”

Doesn’t that sum it up nicely? More time connecting = less arguing = siblings that get along = more time connecting = less arguing = siblings that get along = more time connecting = less arguing = siblings that get along … and round and round we go.

Yes. It changed my life.

Remember Charlotte 2 years ago? Starting fights was her specialty. She was really good at it.

Last month I heard Fenner and Ellen arguing in the living room. I continued to fold the laundry. It started to escalate. I put another load in. I heard Charlotte’s voice chime in. I cocked my head to listen, but the volume had suddenly gone way down and I couldn’t quite hear.

A minute later Charlotte pranced up the stairs, “Ha, my method worked! I said I saw a funny shadow under her arm and now they’re talking about shaving and they’re not yelling at each other anymore!”

She pranced on by as I stood there with my mouth hanging open. The girl who used to pride herself on being good at starting fights had just demonstrated the fine art of distraction to diffuse her sisters’ argument.

By the way, that article went on to say: “We know that experience of sibling bullying increases the risk of involvement in bullying in school. Children who are involved in bullying at home and at school are 14 times more likely to suffer behavior and emotional problems; they have no place that is safe for them.”

No, my statement is not an exaggeration. I found the information I needed to turn our home into that safe place. And that has made all the difference.

Mea culpa

November 9, 2010

Roadmaps. They seem like hard work. I’ve been avoiding them. But this past weekend I had the privilege and pleasure of a refresher workshop with Vicki, and we spent a lot of time on roadmaps.

I think one reason I haven’t yet made them my friend is that I didn’t quite hit the mark last time. I wrote that my goal was “trust.” Trust in yourself and in each other. And that’s still important, but I realized for me it’s more than that. What do I want my kids to say about me when they’re 35? Courageous. My mom was courageous. Intentionally courageous.

I felt a little rush when I thought of it. It just fits, and I’m a good part of the way there. I take risks and try new things, I take stands against injustice, I don’t care very much what other people think (most of the time), I’m honest and can admit when I’m wrong … except … hmm … not always on that last one. I could be doing better there, especially with my family.

At a previous workshop, Vicki helped me see how much I fear being wrong and looking stupid. Hate that. And now I can clearly see how that was tripping me up – getting in the way of my having the courage to be imperfect. And isn’t that what I want for my kids? The courage to be imperfect? What a gift! But one of our mantras at the workshop was, “You cannot give to your kids what you cannot give to yourself.”

So, my new roadmap says that from now on, I am willing to:

  • Say my mistakes out loud, especially to my kids
  • Apologize when my mistakes impact others
  • Let go of arguments where I’m trying to prove that I’m right
  • Stop, breathe deep, and smile whenever I’m tempted to blame someone else for my mistakes
  • Deflect my old, defensive thinking by singing that Hanna Montana song (the one my girls used to like, but now they hate, “Everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days …” etc.) either out loud or in my head. (And maybe do a little dance too.)

I started off by apologizing to Fenner for something I did last week:

Me: “Fenner, one thing I discovered over the weekend was that I want to be better at admitting my mistakes. Like remember on Friday when I was in a rush and you asked me if I slept too late and I said no?”

Fenner: “Yeah.”

Me: “I lied. I did sleep too late.”

Fenner: “You did?”

Me: “Yes, I’m sorry. And then I blamed you guys for it, remember? I said, ‘If the car hadn’t been so full of trash I would’ve been able to get the garbage together faster.’”

Fenner: “Yeah, you did say that! Why?”

Me: “I just didn’t want to admit my mistake and feel guilty about it. Because we know what happens when you or your sisters are late in the morning — I leave without you. But what happens if I’m late?”

Fenner: “You mess it up for the rest of us … That’s a lot of pressure on you!”

I looked at her in surprise. Never thought of it like that.

Me: “You’re right, it is! So we need a plan. I’ll bring it up tonight at family meeting.”

And here’s how it went down:

Me: “Girls, before we do allowance, I need your help with something. You know how when you’re late in the morning I leave without you? Well, what should happen when I’m late?”

Charlotte: “Yeah, because when you’re late, you make us all late for school!”

Ellen: “Yeah, you should have to pay! One dollar to each of us!”

Fenner: “No, ten dollars!”

Ellen: “No, wait! Every three times mom is late she has to make a pan of brownies without our help … and mom only gets to have four brownies!”

Fenner: “Or those Toll House Cookies … let’s vote!”

Charlotte’s hand came up in a fist.

Ellen: “Charlotte! What’s wrong?!”

Charlotte: “Mom should only get two brownies.”

Ellen: “Oh … Ok, vote again!”

It was unanimous.

Testing, testing 1-2-3

March 22, 2010

Phew. Definite rough patch. Yesterday the girls goofed off during family meeting and for the first time ever we ran out of time for allowance. The money was spread out in front of Charlotte, the treasurer, and when the timer went off I calmly scooped it all up and put it back in my wallet. “Thanks for the meeting everyone,” I said in my friendliest tone. “But, mom!” said Charlotte, “Why can’t we have more time?! Why only 20 minutes?” “So everyone can count on it not taking too long.” “But when the timer went off Fenner glared at me like it was my fault!” “Hmm. Well you all agreed to work on that problem, and time just ran out. I bet you’ll be faster next time.” (Lots of slumped shoulders and frown-y faces.)

Soon after that, Charlotte broke her agreement about washing her hair. As time got closer and closer to bedtime I said, “I’m available for the next 15 minutes to shampoo your hair.” She acted like she didn’t hear me and then 30 minutes later said, “Ok, mom, I’m ready!” “I’m sorry Charlotte but I’m not available to help with that now…You’re welcome to do it on your own.” “So I lose TV?” she said with the saddest puppy eyes she could muster. “Well, I need to know that you take our agreements seriously. So show me that for the next week and I’ll know you’re ready to handle TV again.”

In our house, TV is a big self-discipline challenge. They all love it and will easily watch hours and hours together at the expense of everything else – playing, eating, bathing, homework, etc. The truth is, Jerry and I love TV too, and I totally empathize with the challenge of pushing that ‘off’ button. I’m still figuring out how to make space for them to practice TV self-discipline, while at the same time avoiding the job of referee & time-keeper. Do I ban it completely during the week? Keep a timer in the living room they can use? Enforce a homework-first rule? Or just let them figure it out themselves? Maybe they have to feel it on their own for a while—watching a lot of TV can make you feel tired and yucky and suck all the time out of your day for doing other things.

We’ve discussed it with them several times. We talked about what they think the time-limit should be and ways to remember when time’s up. They agree that too much is not a good thing, and that it gets in the way of other things they want to do. But when they’re in it–when they’re on that couch with the remote in their hands–all that talk seems to go right out the window and I again find myself staring at the job of TV-police. Bleh.

It helps that the privilege of TV is tied to going to school and keeping agreements, but is there more to be done? Do we need to do something about this? Right now, I really don’t know.

Anyway, then this morning Charlotte slept through her alarm and was still in bed when we left for school. More on that later.

Happy Monday…

Best gift of all

December 15, 2009

Last night, Fenner was beside herself: “Ellen! That stocking is special to me!”

“Fenner, you had it last year!”

“Well it’s special to me!”

“So?! It’s not fair that you get it every year!”

“But Ellen, you’re not listening to how important it is to me!”

“Fenner … we should take turns.”

“I don’t like that idea!”

This went on for a long time with neither one budging. Fenner became more and more upset until she started to lose control. She tried to hit Ellen and then yelled at her in total frustration. Meanwhile, we just happened to be getting ready for our weekly family meeting. Fenner was sulking in the living room and Ellen came over to me. “Mom, Fenner wants the stocking with the trees on it but she gets that one every year and I think we should take turns.” “Hmm,” I said, “Sounds like a problem.” “I already wrote it on the board!” she said. “Oh! Yes, I see you did!” “But I like my solution so when do we talk about that?” “At the meeting we talk about everyone’s ideas and then we vote.” “Ok!”

Fenner came over next and whispered to me, still holding back the tears, “Mom, I’m afraid I won’t like Ellen’s ideas.” “Ok, well, remember we have to vote on it.” “But what if I vote no?” “Then we keep talking.” “Ok.”

Everyone came to the meeting and after appreciations and contributions we got to problem solving:

  • Ellen: “Ok, let’s do the stocking one. … I think we should takes turns every year. “
  • Fenner: “No!”
  • Ellen: “Fenner you won’t like anything I say because you’re mad at me.”
  • Silence.
  • Me: “I know, we’ll put all the stockings away and you can each pick out your favorite ski sock and we’ll use those!”
  • Ellen: “Noooooooooo, mooooooooom!”
  • Jerry: “What about the other two stockings? They’re being left out, poor stockings, they’re really nice …” I caught his eye and and gave him the ‘zip-it’ signal. “Ok, well, what’s wrong with Mom’s idea?”
  • Ellen: “You can’t fit as much stuff in our ski socks, they’re too small!”
  • Silence.
  • Me: “Timekeeper? How’re we doing?”
  • Jerry: “Four minutes to go.”
  • More silence.
  • Fenner, throwing the coveted stocking across the table to Ellen and holding back a fresh surge of tears: “I guess I’ll just take one of the other ones.”
  • Charlotte: “How about we buy another tree stocking?”
  • Fenner: “I don’t want another one, I want that one!”
  • Fenner and Ellen glared at each other across the table.
  • Me: “We might be able to find another one but dad and I aren’t willing to pay for it.”
  • Fenner: “How much do they cost?”
  • Me: “I think about 25 dollars.”
  • Fenner: “I don’t have that much!”
  • Silence.
  • Jerry: “One minute.”
  • Just then Ellen got very excited: “Hey, I think it doesn’t matter which stocking I have because the stuff I get will be the same no matter what so it doesn’t matter! I just realized that!!!” And she happily tossed the tree stocking back to Fenner who broke into a huge grin.
  • Me: “Ok, let’s vote! Raise your hand for or against the solution of Ellen realizing that it doesn’t matter which stocking she uses!” All hands went up. No fists in sight.
  • Ellen: “Ok! Now, here’s allowance!”

Ellen as the treasurer doled out the money just as the timer went off and the meeting ended with all smiles. Jerry and I looked at each other in amazement.

After that they wanted to decorate the tree. In years past, Jerry and I would put the lights on (assuming that was too difficult a job for the girls) and then I would hover over the decorating, making sure they were doing it right and evenly and all that.

This year, Jerry and I acted too busy to do the lights. “Mooooooom! We need help!” said Fenner several times. “Ok … um… after I’m done with this!” I kept saying until, after a while, Ellen closed the door to the living room and called out, “We want to surprise you!”

I don’t know how they did it, but when they called us in, the lights were on all the way to the top, and most of the ornaments were on (with the breakable ones out of the cats’ reach). I didn’t hear one fight the whole time and their smiles and pride filled the room.

I was genuinely surprised and impressed (and blissfully free of that whole job!!!!) but I didn’t say a word. I just stared and smiled and then hugged them all.


October 25, 2009

“So last week we addressed bossing and getting ready in time for school,” I said at family meeting today. “I’ve been ringing the bell at 7:00 and 7:30. So how’s it going?”

“Good,” said Fenner, “Except when someone forgets to set her alarm.” And she shot a look at Charlotte.

“Well that was just on Monday, right? So what about the rest of the week?” I asked everyone.

“No, mom, mom!” said Ellen excitedly, “Charlotte and I made this really great system where if she’s up first she comes and wakes me up, and if I’m up first I wake her up and then we both come down and get ready together!”

“Hey, teamwork!” said Jerry.

Ellen continued, “And then Fenner comes down really late, like right before it’s time to go.” She glared at Fenner.

“Well that’s because I don’t have to make a lunch anymore so I can come down later!” Fenner shot back.

“The question is, do we need to make any changes to the solution you came up with?” I asked.

“Nooo,” they all said.

“Ok, so we’ll stick with it for now?”

A chorus of, “Yeaahh.”

“Ok, so let’s see what else we have here…” I proceeded to go down what was left on the list of problems, “Is this still a problem?” “Noooo.” “How about this one?” “Well, sort of, but not really.” “This one?” “Um…noooo.” And on it went until we had no problems left on the board. Abracadabra–gone! “Wow, you guys have become real problem solvers. Look at all these problems you solved!”


“Let’s celebrate!” said Jerry.

“Let’s make a cake!” someone else said.

So today, instead of voting on a solution, we voted on what kind of cake to bake. It was unanimous: double vanilla … with rainbow sprinkles.

Problem children

October 23, 2009

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 …