Friday, August 11, 2017

Problem solving skills 2017

Some of our patients are heading off to school within the next couple of weeks. It is a big adjustment for everyone. When you are no longer with your child 24/7 you want to make sure that they are prepared to deal with unexpected situations.

Today's topic is a about an important activity that you can do with your child that teaches them to be "problem solvers".  Adults need to learn to be problem solvers also. Some people 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. Whatshould you do?

  • Assess for injury; call 911 if needed
  • If you are on a highway, wait for assistance. Getting out of the car is often dangerous!
  • Do you have an AAA membership? Know where the card is.
  • Know where your insurance info is kept (make sure you have a copy accessible)
  • Take a photo of any damage
  • Take a photo of the other driver's insurance card and driver's 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.

But I do want to add one more benign tidbit here. What if you lost your cell phone or it ran out of batteries and you don't happen to 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.

I lived in New York back in the early eighties. It was a different city back then. At one point there were a rash of home break-ins and burglaries. A friend of mine who was an actress obsessed quite a bit about this. She went as far as rehearsing made up scenes for any given situation to avoid being frozen by fear. Go figure, one day someone did break into her apartment. She went right into her pre-rehearsed mode. Figuring that acting a bit cuckoo would get any 'bad guy' off balance, she immediately broke into the character that she had prepared. In a loud, shrill British accent she yelled, “Welcome!!! Would you like to stay for tea?" She did the Mad Hatter proud. She went on with a list of options. "Would you like herbal or black? I have delicious honey from local bees!" As expected, the intruder was completely caught off guard. He mumbled something, turned and ran. Brilliant. Not that I am recommending that particular course of action, but having a plan in advance is always a good thing.

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 was all about building on the concept of planning in advance for an assortment of situations. 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. 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. 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.
Preparation is power.

It saddens me we have to be prepared for things other than losing track of our kids on Muni, but that is the world we live in.
Have a family plan in place in case of emergency.  If someone other than one of the regular people is going to pick up your child, have a family “safe word” so that they know they were sent by you.

Do you have your earthquake/emergency kit ready? Does it include adequate diapers, medications, pet food? Where will everyone meet up if home is not a safe option? Find out from your school what kind of emergency plans they have in place. Teach your kids to get in the habit of looking for emergency exits, especially for your older kids who are at a concert, theater or a club.

I think that the "what would you do" exercise is actually something that you might want to do with a nanny or caretaker. Training to keep calm in any type of emergency situation is essential.

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