Teenage Problem Solving: A Guide for Parents

 Teaching your teen problem solving: 

The best way to start teaching your teen better problem solving skills is to have a conversation about a particular incident. Do this after things have calmed down, and before you talk about consequences. Your goal here is to identify the problem, teach your teen how to solve it, and then hold them accountable --- not punish and make them miserable. 

1.  Notice Out Loud (Conversation Starter)

Tell your teen when you notice something’s bothering him or her. If you can, name the feeling you think your teen is experiencing. (“It seems like you’re still sad about your break-up, are you still feeling that way?”). This should NOT be an accusation (as in, “OK what happened now? Are you really still mad/sad about that?”) Make a casual observation that shows you’re interested in hearing more about what your teen is feeling/thinking about. 

2.  Eliminate “why” from your vocabulary. 

“Why” invites excuses and blame. Ask more productive questions to identify the problem such as, “What were you thinking about when… or what were you trying to accomplish by…?” This works well for middle school/high school aged students. 

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3.  Focus on one issue at a time. 

Talk about one problem and one problem only during the conversation. Don’t bring up something that happened two weeks ago or something your teen did earlier today. If your teen brings up another incident, let them know you will talk about that later. Tackling too many problems at once usually leads to frustration for you, and your teen.

4.  Identify replacement behaviors.

Ask your teen what they will do differently next time this problem (uncomfortable feeling-thought) comes up. Allow your teen time to come up with the ideas on their own, make suggestions only if they’re struggling. Ask what advice they would give a friend or use the “In a perfect world…” scenario. 

5.  No wishful thinking allowed.

When you ask your teen what they will do differently next time, many kids/teens will give you an answer that is based on wishful thinking such as, “I just won’t do it again” or “I’ll do better”. Wishful thinking is a type of faulty thinking that indicates your child truly believes they can change behavior without putting the effort into it. Get your child/teen to be more specific. Ask them “How will you stop cursing at me…How will you stop running from me…What will I see you/hear you doing instead?”

6.  I Do-We Do-You Do.

  1. Demonstration (I Do):  Demonstrate how you solve your own everyday problems
  2. Guided Practice (We Do):  Work with your teen to solve problems that are important to her
  3. Independent Practice with Supervision (You do):   Be present as your teen uses a visual/graphic organizer/list to solve her own problems 
  4. Problem Solving Steps:
  • Define the problem  “I need (or want) _________, but___________.
  • Teen identifies several potential solutions 
  • Evaluate each alternative  Pros vs Cons
  • Choose a solution
  • Implement the solution
  • Evaluate results  Did it work?
  • Choose a different solution if results are not satisfactory 

Elizabeth Simms, M.A., LPSC
Licensed School Counselor
Alternative Paths Training School

Miss. Simms attended Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Florida and graduated with a Bachelor of Social Sciences Degree in Psychology and Sociology. While in Jacksonville Miss. Simms worked at The Hubbard House and provided comprehensive crisis counseling services to shelter families. Ms. Simms continued on to graduate school at Eastern University in Radnor Pennsylvania, where she graduated with a Masters of Counseling Psychology K-12. While living in Pennsylvania, Miss. Simms worked in various school districts delivering comprehensive counseling services individually and in groups primarily to students with Emotional Disabilities.  Miss. Simms has obtained professional state licensure in Pennsylvania and Virginia and is an active member of the American School Counselors Association (ASCA).  She attends their professional conference annually to enhance her ability to effectively meet the academic, social, and personal needs of her students. Outside of the counselor’s corner, Miss. Simms enjoys traveling, exercise, cooking, and exploring the DC-Metropolitan area. 

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