“It won’t fit,” the grim flight attendant declared, staring at a passenger’s bulky carry-on bag. The passenger had been trying to wrangle the bag into the overhead bin. Her efforts were cut-off by the flight attendant’s pointed remark. “It will have to be checked,” the flight attendant continued morosely. The passenger immediately protested the idea of her carry-on bag being removed from the cabin.
I sat, watching the altercation, wondering who would win.
Fortunately, another flight attendant breezed by and asked what the problem was. She thoughtfully looked at the bag, looked at the space above, and then started moving things around in the overhead compartment. She spoke out loud: “Sometimes if you turn this size of bag just so, and then angle it like this…” She worked to adjust the offending bag, along with the neighboring bags.
With the skill of a jigsaw puzzle champ, she finished her efforts, turned to the passenger and victoriously declared that she had gotten it to fit. Problem solved!
Watching all of this transpire reminded me that there are two kinds of people in this world: people who see problems and people who solve problems. The first flight attendant saw the problem and stopped there. The second flight attendant took the extra steps to try to fix it.
Maybe I’m oversimplifying things, but I feel that if my kids can learn to be problem-solvers, then they will be successful people, whatever they chose to do.
In all occupations and life-callings, problem solvers are always needed. And as technology advances, and society grows more complex, traditional jobs and careers are morphing and changing at increasing speeds. Will our kids be able to adapt? Creativity and problem-solving skills are becoming more and more vital.
If I do everything for my kids and rescue them from their troubles with my suave parenting “expertise,” then I am doing them no favors. If I help them think out loud, ask them lots of questions, expose them to lots of ideas, encourage creativity, and equip them with critical thinking skills, I think this will go a long way to helping them to be resourceful and creative thinkers who can solve problems.
One useful thing I took away from the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk was the idea of brainstorming with children to solve problems. The authors of How to Talk indicate that it could be very helpful when a child and parent disagree on something to write out what the problem is and then write bullet points of ways to solve the problem.
So, for instance, at the top of a paper, I write down a problem: “Meredith wants to play on Saturday mornings and not do chores.” Rather than me saying, “Tough luck, we have to do an hour of chores on Saturdays. That’s just how it goes,” I can help reason with her to find a mutually agreeable answer to this “problem.” During brainstorming, all ideas should be written down. They can be ruled out later, but should not be immediately discounted. (Her idea of “never doing chores” was written down, but after discussing it later, was ruled out of course, because in our family everyone must contribute and help with chores.)
Our solution: Meredith agrees to give up some play time on Tuesday afternoons to get extra chores done and I agree that if things stay picked up in her room, I will not make her clean her room on Saturday mornings. So far, she has kept her end of the bargain. I was proud of her for helping to solve this problem and coming up with a solution we both can be happy with.
I believe that as my kids’ parent, I am their authority. But I also think that there are numerous times, especially as my kids get older, when it would serve my kids best to help them figure out ways to solve their own problems and reason themselves into the right answer without me simply dictating the answer to them.
This parent-child brainstorming could go a long way toward helping my kids be the kind of adults who solve problems and make the right choices when I’m not around to help them.
Will my kids only see problems and, therefore, be overwhelmed by problems? Or will they have the stamina and creativity to do what it takes to find solutions to problems they encounter in this life?
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; second image by Amy Koons.