Friday, November 28, 2014

Problem solving skills

Strange stuff happens to my daughter Alana all the time. Folks that know her refer to her life as "Alana Land". Aspects of this range from winning an incomprehensible percentage of raffles to creating lasting friendships with random people that she meets on public transportation. Once, as she walked to Muni after her late night shift working at the suicide hot-line, an odd procession of old men playing Dixieland jazz music followed her for several blocks on the otherwise empty streets When she got to the station, they tipped their hats and veered away. So, when I got a text from her earlier this week telling me that she had the "weirdest evening ever" I couldn't wait to hear the tale.

Alana is currently living in Ann Arbor working on her Masters in Social Work. She shares a house with 5 other grad students. The other night the doorbell rang and one of her housemates opened the door to find an "old woman" there having trouble breathing. His idea of problem solving was to holler for Alana who appeared and took over.

Among the things this stranger was saying was that although she was not a religious person, God had told her to come to this house where she would get help. She also talked about wanting to kill herself. Alana managed to calm her down, get contact info for family members, contact the social work department at the hospital, and ultimately get this woman to an emergency room. There are a lot of adults who would have found this overwhelming.

Since we all can work on our problem solving skills, in honor of her handling that situation so well, I am updating and rerunning this post from last year.

What  would you do if?
I have been doing these little weekly emails for just about 2 years now. Some posts are clearly more relevant to parents with young children while others are much more applicable to older children. Some are more global and your child's age doesn't matter so much. This is the latter.

Today's topic is a about an important activity that you can do with your child that teaches them to be "problem solvers".

Although at first glance it may seem targeted to parents with older children, in fact everyone could learn from it. Adults need to learn to be problem solvers also. Some are much better at this than others. For instance, if you got in a fender bender, what would you do? Many folks would just freeze and panic. What should you do?

*Assess for injury' call 911 if needed
*Know where your insurance info is
*Take a photo of any damage
*Take a photo of the other driver's insurance card and drivers license...etc.
*Always have a charger in your car for your cell phone so that a low battery is never an issue.

Having a plan in advance could help you stay calm. That is the main theme of this post.

Years ago, the concept that everyone would carry around an individual cell phone seemed as futuristic as the communicators on Star Trek. Now, of course it is hard to imagine how we got along without them. It was, however, the lack of the cell phone that prompted me to create a game that became a favorite in our family.

It must have been 1994 and I was on my way to pick up Alana from preschool. She was about 4 years old at the time. It was one of those days. I was uncharacteristically running late. Then, I got stuck in terrible traffic. To compound things, I took some random turns to try to work around the congestion and ended up utterly lost. (Remember that this was also before Google maps or GPS)  My stomach was in a knot and I wondered what my younger daughter would do when mommy was late picking her up.

It turned out that she was calmly waiting for me in the office, but that was the day that the "what would you do if" game was created.

It went something like this:
I would ask a question such as, "What should you do if mommy is late picking you up? What are some of the choices? Which is the best one?"

Getting a teacher or trusted grown up to wait with her or take her to the office was clearly the right answer and I praised her for figuring that out on her own.

Alana loved this game. We created all sorts of situations

" What if we were at a store and you couldn't find me?
Alana.." I would go to the check out and ask them to page you"
We never made it too simple...
Mommy :"What if they refused?"
Alana :"I would demand to talk to the manager"

Our scenarios covered any number of little emergencies including earthquakes, fires, and getting lost or separated. We didn't cover the "what would you do if a strange, suicidal old woman shows up at your door?"  It turns out that the better you are at problem solving, the easier it gets to improvise.

This game came in handy more than once. The shining example that comes to mind happened after years of playing this game. Alana and I were walking the dog on the beach one day. I had donated blood earlier that morning and didn't realize how foolish I was for doing anything strenuous. I got very light headed and ended up down on the sand trying hard not to completely pass out. Alana was ten at the time and she went right into problem solving mode. We did have cell phones at this point. She got the dog on the leash, patted some water on my forehead and calmly called daddy. I could vaguely hear her talking. "Mommy fainted...I think she is okay"

The game was such a success that my sister taught it to her kids. Hers had an interesting spin because they lived in Alaska at the time:

"What would you do if you saw a bear?"
"What would you do if a Moose wanders into the yard?"

There were actually times when these things happened, and my nephews were able to act calmly and appropriately!

Topics can range from handling a bully to getting separated on Muni. Being prepared for unexpected situations can be invaluable.

If your child finds themselves without you and in need of assistance, finding a grown up wearing a uniform is often a valid option for some of the difficult situations. Finding a parent who has a child with them and asking them for help, might be another safe option.

This game is meant to empower. It is wonderful for some kids, but could be terrifying for others. You need to assess your child's temperament before playing. Either way, identify a problem or situation. Start with simple, less scary ones. Discuss all the possible solutions and then agree what the best plan should be for any given situation.

Stressful situations happen. Teaching your child to take a deep breath and use their problem solving skills is one of those things you can do now that can have lasting implications for them when they grow up.

Even teaching a very young child to dial 911 in an emergency can be life saving!

You have to figure out if this will be empowering for your child as it was for Alana. My daughter Lauren never liked to play it. In fact, I remember one day when Lauren and I were taking a walk, I tripped on something, stumbled and fell. I was perfectly fine, but Lauren's reaction was to start screaming. I think she was ten at the time. As she says, "mommies aren't allowed to fall". Every kid is different.
As your child grows, the situations that you might want to bring up will increase in scope.
Just this month a child right in Noe Valley avoided a potential kidnapping situation by making good choices in that terrifying situation.

I think that the "what would you do" exercise is actually something that you might want to do with a nanny or caretaker. Having them be able to manage a crisis with a clear head is essential.

I want to add one more tidbit here. What if you lost your cell phone or it ran out of batteries and you don't have a charger? Do you know important phone numbers, or do you count on speed dial. Having a list of important numbers in an accessible place is a good idea for everyone.

Preparation is power.

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