Creative Problem Solving

A (Family) Team Sport

If anxiety lives at your house, chances are you’ve got your fair share of problems. Anxious kids often have a great deal of difficulty problem solving. When adrenaline kicks in and the heart rate is up, solving a problem can be nearly impossible. Of course, not all problems are huge, fanged monsters. Less urgent problems can be excellent opportunities for teaching your children creative problem solving skills they can put to use to manage and reduce anxiety.

When you model effective life strategies for your children to see, you are offering them healthy alternatives to fear and panic. They will learn to recognize helpful options for solving problems and facing challenges.

My mom used to have a “job jar.” It was her way of bringing in a fun approach to dividing up Saturday house cleaning chores. Was it effective? Well, yes, kinda. The chores were still the same old thing, but getting motivated to do them was a little easier when an element of play was introduced. Problem solving can be fun.

I propose a Problem Jar. When problems show up, a conflicts arise, or challenging choices have to be made, write them down and put them in the jar. At a set-aside time, tackle them as a family team with a creative problem solving system like this:

Problem Solving Steps for Anxiety Reduction

1. Draw a problem from the jar. Have the “owner” of the problem pose the problem to the team, presenting all the known data: the who, what, when, where, why. The team can ask questions for clarification. If the problem involves another team member, allow each person two to three minutes to state their perspective without interruption. This is the step that can take the most time, so try to stay focused. You might want to set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes.

2. Brainstorm possible solutions and write them ALL down.

Get creative. Don’t rule out anything – even flying cars, unicorns, or superheroes. It is not unusual to be inspired by a “silly” suggestion and come up with a winning idea because of it. An attitude of acceptance and non-judgement will encourage greater participation and ownership of the problem solving process. Consider setting your timer or wrap up this step when the team’s energy starts running out.

3. Evaluate the ideas on your list. Obviously, some will have to be ruled out. Unfortunately, unicorns are rare in these parts and robbing a bank will only create bigger problems. Some ideas will have to go. Be respectful as you eliminate ideas from the list. Instead of saying, “That would never work,” try something like, “That’s a creative idea. Do you think it’s realistic?”

4.  When you’ve got a few realistic, do-able ideas, pick one solution, make a plan (who, what, when, where, and how), and do it.

Follow up is always a good idea. If the solution hasn’t worked out, go back and revisit these steps.

Model enthusiasm and encouragement. As the saying goes, there is a gift in every problem. Working as a family team can be a very rewarding gift.

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.