Emotions and Problem Solving – No. 1

Emotions and Problem Solving – No. 1

Learning to solve problems is a life-long skill. Unless you are one of those people whose ability to focus kicks into hyper drive under pressure, most of us just tend to flip out, get stressed, and revert to our familiar patterns of handling problems which is usually, not good.

Why is that? Because we are human and we react emotionally. Even though we know that emotions and problem solving don’t generally make great companions, we just can’t help ourselves.

To put it in milder, more everyday situation, some of us already have a hard time staying calm when food stuff is going everywhere but getting into bellies, rude words and crude jokes flying back and forth between siblings, crazy pranks your “precious” kids pulled on someone that you were just hearing about… then there are worse things that make you wonder, “What happened to that sweet little kid that can do no wrong?”

Instead of staying cool, we feel our face flush, our heart race, our breath quicken… nasty thoughts in our heads with evil words on our tongues, waiting to be deployed. When we see the trigger: an attitude, a tone, a pile of dirty clothes, a-tripping over the stuffed bear, we explode with words that we regret and punishment that go too far. At the end of the day, do these explosions help us achieve the end results that we desire most? A quieter and tidier household? A more respectful and cooperative child? A fulfilled and productive home life?

If the answer is no and there is a genuine interest in getting results instead of getting trapped in the endless loop of emotional explosions, then learning to keep our tempers cool and our reactions to a healthy limit is the first key to our parental success.

Keeping it cool however, does not mean leading a Spock-like existence, communicating only in a clinical, logical, and linear way, devoid of humanity, empathy, and love. Quite the opposite, by staying even keeled and level-headed in an emotionally charged situation, we are also modeling the most humane and loving way to teach the valuable skill of problem-solving to our children.

But before we learn how to untangle ourselves from the web we inadvertently weave between emotions and problem solving,  what could be some of the reasons that get us all riled up?

Emotions and Problem Solving: photo showing a spider web.

Yelling, Screaming, and Too Much “Emoting”

Ever been at a gathering, a park, or a home where screaming and hollering reign supreme whenever a misbehavior from a child is spotted by a parent?

Instead of running over to intercept little Johnny who has decided to pull his pants down in full view of friends and family, the parents smiled embarrassingly and screamed at the child to stop. Instead of swooping in to lay a firm hand on little Janie who was toddling rapidly out of the safe confine of the park at a fast clip, mommy looked up annoyingly from her phone and hollered for her to stop. Instead of putting away little Joey’s once attractive plate of hot lunch  and telling him no more food or snacks until dinnertime, daddy threatened to cut him out of his inheritance unless he finished every last crumb off the plate.

Well okay, maybe that last one is a bit exaggerated but you get my point. A reactionary household is tense, noisy, high strung and utterly unproductive. There is little action to discipline, correct, or train since everyone is too busy “emoting!”

Emotions and Problem Solving: young boy staring out of a rain drenched window.

Being Overly Sympathetic to Our Children’s Pain

It might seem like a startling thing to say that we should not fuss over our little one’s trials and tribulations but after having observed many cases of so-called “trials”, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of what we’d call “problems” are entirely the creation and propagation from the parents.

From a young age, children have been “rescued” out of dangerous-looking play equipment, discouraged from riding the wagon down a grassy slope, or even banned from  playing tag at recess.

We’re quick to remove the steamed broccoli that offends, replace that funky piece of chicken that have seen better days, and barter terms so that medication can be taken in a timely manner.

Are you guilty of nagging repeatedly for your kids to pick things up only to swoop in minutes later to do it yourself?

Do you feel compelled to buy your child ice-cream, toys, and other unmerited rewards in order to soothe her feelings over not making a team/ a grade/ a friend, etc…?

Have you ever gone as far as to warning other kids to be nicer and gentler to your kid (provided that he is mentally and emotionally capable of fending for himself) — basically sanitizing the world before he steps into it?

Are you personally offended and continuously resentful long after your child has gotten over her hurt?

By stepping in too soon to “help” or to relieve, you are guilty of not allowing your child to fail in order to learn from his mistakes. His ability to solve problems on his own will be stunted and his confidence will not develop unless other outside factors force him to grow out of this parental “greenhouse”.

Emotions and Problem Solving: sign with the word "disappointment" on it.

Dealing with Your Own Anger and Disappointment

A lot of times we get emotional because we’ve colored the issues with our own unrealistic expectations. You expect Janie to get an “A” on her math test but she comes home with a dismal “C”. You expect your children to be hospitable when new friends visit your home but they are resolutely cold, unwelcoming, and even uncharacteristically selfish! You expect Mason to be cooperative when it comes to his normal well-baby checkup but he fusses, cries, and spits up all over the place. Ugh!

A dozen things we are quick to say and pain we want to inflict now to “teach them a lesson” but… once the emotions cool, do we not sometimes quickly come to realize that we are just overly concerned with own “face” — our reputation, or too eager for them to perform well in public and in front of strangers, or too unrealistic to demand things according to some arbitrary standards we set up? Have we tried to put ourselves in their shoes to figure out what the problem might be?

Emotions and Problem Solving: binder with a thick stack of school papers in it.

Being Led by Other’s Expectations

Sometimes the false expectations come from friends, relatives, your own parents, school standards, some experts, your next door neighbor, just by-standers… whoever that matters to you at the moment. Well-meaning or meddlesome, these benchmarks are often thrown out there without true knowledge or genuine understanding of your child. They might be familial, cultural, societal, developmental, bureaucratic, arbitrary, or even unreasonable, ill-formed, and harmful. But some hapless parents somewhere invariably buy into some of these “standards” and believe that if their children fail to meet these expectations, something is very wrong with them.

So on top of their own expectations to manage, meeting still other outside benchmarks creates another source of high emotions that cloud the issues at hand and hinder the clear visions and level-headedness that are sorely needed to tackle the situation.

To become an effective problem-solver, we first need to be trained to separate our reactions to the problem from the problem itself. This is where we learn to take the emotions out of conflicts.

In our next post, we’ll explore the way to keep our cool and learn to handle problems like professional moms and dads!


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