The third step to helping upset children and adults: Invitation to find a solution

When dealing with problem behaviours you first want to listen empathetically to the other person then you want to share with them how this affects you.
Thirdly you want to find a solution to these two competing examples.

You have already taken the first two steps for helping an upset person manage their inappropriate behaviour. At a time when they were calm and more relaxed you:

  1. listened with empathy
  2. defined the problem

The third step is not the time for you to say how you think things should be, rather you want to invite the other person to come up with their possible solutions.

In the book The Explosive Child by Ross Greene the author offers a third magic formula.

“I wonder if there’s a way we can…” + (address kid’s concern) + “but that still makes sure to” + (address your concern) +“Do you have any ideas?”

This steps helps them to take other people’s feeling into consideration when problem-solving. When you let them have first go at coming up with a solution you signal that you are interested in their solution to the problem and that you are not just going to impose your will on them.

When you use these skills with children you will help them grow into successful adults. Using it with adult will do the same.

The two conditions for a good solution to work:
• It has to realistic – the other person can actually follow through with their idea
• It has to be mutually satisfactory – it must solve the concerns of both parties.

This may take time and need to be repeated several times. Not everyone can come up with the right solution first time.

As my favourite blogger Eric Barker says there are no bad solutions only those that aren’t realistic or mutually satisfactory.

The second step to helping upset children and adults: Define the problem

When dealing with another person’s problem behaviours the first step is to use empathetic listening to uncover what might be the underlying issues that cause their outburst. [Read about step one HERE]

The next step is to work out how they can come up with new behaviours that don’t impinge on the life of others.

Often the person (child) doesn’t realise that their behaviour affects other people even if you think they should know this. The second magic formula from the book The Explosive Child can be helpful to use with your child or with colleagues.

Magic formula two:

“The thing is…” + (communicate your concerns about the problem).”

Stay gentle and calm. Avoid saying the word “you” in this conversation. Stick to the word “I” and talk about your feelings. This will help the other become more aware of other people’s perspectives.

“The thing is that in those moments when you don’t want to go to school I get highly anxious because I will be late for my work myself and I can’t afford to be late.”

This is an opportunity for each of you to understand where the other person is coming from, what affects them and what they worry about.

This is not a solution finding stage, it is still in the exploratory stage of the process. Given that you are having this conversation when things have settled down, it is not a problem to take your time. Let these ideas land in the other person’s consciousness. Stay relaxed and non-judgmental.

Watch out next week for the third step.

The first step in helping upset children and adults: Empathy

Sometimes you might think that an adult is acting like a child when they have an emotional meltdown. They have an outburst just like a child might.

You may be tempted to become judgmental and tell them to “act like a grown up” but that won’t help the situation. It’s better to understand that they are overcome with emotion and need someone to help them through this distress. Perhaps no one has ever taught them how to manage their emotions or it might be that today they are simply overwhelmed by events.

You could learn a lot from Ross Greene’s book The Explosive Child: Parenting children who frequently exhibit severe fits of temper. These excerpts are courtesy of my favourite blogger Eric Barker.

Actually, these skills apply in a whole range of cases, but it is good to learn from someone who has developed techniques for use in extreme situations.

Steps to empathy

It is not helpful to try these things when the child ( or adult) is highly worked up. Wait until a quieter moment. Address the problem before it becomes another nuclear explosion in your house or at work.

The purpose of the empathy step is to gather information from the person in meltdown, to understand his or her concern or perspective about a given unsolved problem.

Ross Greene’s magic formula for the empathy step:

“I’ve noticed that…” + (problem) + “What’s up?”

As an example you might say for a child who doesn’t want to go to school.

“I’ve noticed we’ve been having difficulty when it’s time to go to school. What’s up?”

Be calm and gentle. It isn’t an argument nor an interrogation. You may get an answer like “I don’t know” which is perfectly understandable. They don’t necessarily know. Be patient, ask questions, and encourage them to talk. Try to find out why this problem occurs when it’s time to go to school and not at other times. Apart from that, the important thing is to keep your own mouth closed. This is not a time to give your analysis of the situation or to offer solutions.

Be patient and gently ask questions. Don’t judge. This formula can work for anyone who is having difficulty and needs someone to listen them so they can work out what is really going on for themselves.

Stay tuned next week for the second step.