Problem Solving in groups | Teaching Self-Government

Problem Solving in groups

      Problem solving is a great group skill as well as an individual skill.  Group discussions and family meetings are great places to use SODAS.  My children are not perfect, and never will be, so we get the opportunity to problem solve together all the time.  One day, a few years ago, all four of my children ended up crying all at the same time.  This is a very unusual occurrence in our home, so I immediately noticed an opportunity to problem solve.  Obviously someone had made decisions which affected everyone.  When I am in a situation like this, I gather everyone together and tell everyone to take a minute to calm down so we can talk the situation out.  Then I start asking for reports about the situation from each person, starting with the youngest child.  I usually start with the youngest child, because he has the hardest time waiting to speak and because his account is usually the most straightforward. 

After hearing everyone’s account of what happened in the back yard, I learned that three of the four children were jumping on the trampoline when Quinton came and asked if he could join in the fun.  Selfishly, the other three children told him he couldn’t jump with them.  They said they wanted “alone time.”  This hurt Quin’s feelings and was not the way a family with our family vision should act.  Quin has watched his Dad play rough with everyone lots of times, and everyone always likes it, so he thought he would jump on the trampoline and give playing rough a try in order to get to play with everyone else.  Quin is the oldest child and also the biggest so playing rough didn’t go that well.  He was trying to start some fun to be included and they thought he was trying to push his way on the trampoline to power struggle them off.  Human perception is an interesting thing. 

            After I understood the situation completely, I explained to the three younger children that they were not kind and didn’t behave the way our family is supposed to if we are going to be best friends when we are adults.  I told them what they should have done in that kind of situation.  Next we all did a SODA together.  We verbally talked about different options, and all the disadvantages and advantages or each option.  Then we made our solution.  We sang a song to feel the Spirit of love in our home and then each child apologized to their older brother.  I dismissed the three younger children and had a private talk with Quinton. 

            At this point Quinton and I did another SODA about what his situation was and what his options were.  At the end of our SODA Quin still chose to pick the rough play idea because he really liked that one of the advantages on his list was that playing rough with his brother and sisters would make him strong.  At age 11 boys start wanting to build their muscles.  I told him I thought his decision was interesting but didn’t really know if he understood what strength was.  He looked at me and said, “Yes I do Mom.  If I can lift all my brothers and sisters over my head, I am strong, and I really want to be strong.”  I asked him if he thought doing this was the best way to be strong.  He said he didn’t see another way to become strong.  Since he obviously wasn’t negative attention seeking and really did want to talk about him becoming strong, I talked a little bit more than I usually do after a SODA.  I asked him if he thought Daniel and Mr. Miagi on the movie The Karate Kid were strong because it is one of his favorite shows.  Quin said that Mr. Miagi was strong but that Daniel had to learn to be strong.  I asked Quin if Mr. Miagi trained Daniel to have more muscles than the bad Cobra Boys.  After thinking for a minute he said that Mr. Miagi didn’t give Daniel more muscles.  Then I said, “If Daniel didn’t get more muscles how did he win the tournament then?” 

            Quin responded with, “I guess he just knew he could do it.  I guess that he just trusted Mr. Miagi to know if he could do it.  I think he had more courage.” 

            “Exactly” I said.  “Daniel didn’t need to have more muscles to be strong, he had to have more courage to be strong.  So what do you think is most important, being strong on the outside, or strong on the inside.” 

            “I guess strong on the inside.” He said.  “So do you think I am strong on the inside?” 

            “Any person who can choose the right thing in a situation has strength on the inside.  If you choose to respect and love other people you have much more strength than if you can lift them over your head.”

            “Hmmm.  I think you are right” he admitted. 

            Like I said earlier, I don’t believe in lecturing after a SODA situation, but always remember to be open to thoughts which might matter to your child or make things more clear.  A few questions finally got through to Quinton’s heart.  Problem solving should not only be done with the mind, but should use the heart too.  People’s minds are changed all the time, and may not have lasting change, but if a person’s heart is changed then the person will be changed forever.  Even if the child doesn’t do the wrong behavior again, the memory of the change of heart will bring that child to repent of his wrong doing.  When your heart is really changed, you have guilt when you do something wrong.  Guilt is a good thing if it comes from inside the person and leads them to make positive changes in their life. 

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