Please remember that you signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement before being granted access to this content. You have my permission to reprint this content for your personal use only. If you want to reprint or distribute this to others, please complete & submit a reprint request form. Thank you!РJody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE, The Parent’s Toolshop, © 2000.




Step  B:  Child  Problem  Toolbox                                                                   165





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Secure houses protect us from nature’s storms and other outside threats by controlling who enters our house. Likewise, people build emotional walls and doors that protect them from emotional storms and outside threats by controlling who enters their private world of feelings. The Child Problem Toolbox is represented by a door, because it contains the tools that help others feel trusting enough to open their emotional doors, share their thoughts and feelings, and weather the stormy problems that can happen in life.



Step B of the Universal Blueprint is the Child Problem Toolbox. In it, we begin learning about ‚ÄúF-A-X Communication.‚ÄĚ One part of F-A-X Communication is¬†sending¬†messages to others, which we learn in Chapter 10, ‚ÄúThe Clear Communication Toolset.‚ÄĚ In this section, we learn the other part of F-A-X Communication,¬†receiving¬†messages. The Child Problem Toolbox contains two toolsets that help us respond effectively to Child problems or the child‚Äôs feelings and perspective of Parent problems.

  • Chapter 7, ‚ÄúThe F-A-X Listening Toolset,‚Ä̬†teaches us the first step of F-A-X Listening, ‚ÄúFocus¬†on feelings.‚ÄĚ These tools let others know it is safe to open their emotional doors to their private world of feelings. When people feel understood, they work through feelings and problems quicker.
  • Chapter 8, ‚ÄúThe Problem-Solving Toolset,‚Ä̬†teaches us the last two steps in F-A-X communication, ‚ÄúAsk helpful questions‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúX-amine possible solutions.‚ÄĚ These are the real ‚Äúpower‚ÄĚ tools in¬†The Parent‚Äôs Toolshop, because they empower people to resolve their¬†own¬†problems.¬†

Many of the explanations in the Child Problem Toolbox are presented in general terms, referring to people, not just children, because these tools are useful in any human relationship. Wherever you see the word child you can replace it with the other person.



We can use the Child Problem Toolbox when others want to do any of the following:

  • Tell a story, express strong feelings (positive or negative), or share a problem.
  • Have others understand their thoughts, feelings, or opinions.
  • Clarify or resolve a problem.
¬† ‚ÄĘ ¬† If children have a problem (C)¬†children¬†are responsible for solving it.
¬† ‚ÄĘ ¬† If parents have a problem (P, PU, PO),¬†parents¬†are responsible for starting the problem-solving process by bringing the problem to the attention of those involved.¬†
¬† ‚ÄĘ ¬† If there is a problem that bothers or affects¬†both¬†parents and children,¬†each¬† has a shared responsibility for finding the solution.

As we learned in the Universal Blueprint chapter, the first step in resolving problems is to identify what type of problem we are facing:


Step  B:  Child  Problem  Toolbox                                                             167

We can use the Child Problem Toolbox as part of our response to any type of problem.


No  Problems  (NO)

The Self-Esteem Toolset taught us to listen to children’s feelings and opinions, so they know they are important.
The Cooperation Toolset taught us to acknowledge feelings when setting limits with positive words.
The Independence Toolset taught us to use listening and problem solving when children want information or help. This helps us avoid taking over their problems.


Parent  Problems  (P,  PU,  PO)

When Parent problems occur we ‚Äúcome into the house‚ÄĚ to respond (Step C: Parent Problem Toolbox). It is¬†vital¬† that we take Step B,¬†Acknowledging the other person‚Äôs feelings or perspective,¬†before or¬†while¬†we take Step C,¬†Setting limits, expressing our concerns and redirecting misbehavior. If we only¬†focus on our issues, other people usually feel defensive and stop listening or are distracted because they are waiting for their chance to talk. Either way, we lose our audience. When¬†we¬†have a problem (Parent problems), we briefly bring up the issue and quickly shift to our listening skills, allowing others to express their feelings. We can also acknowledge feelings¬†while¬†we are redirecting misbehavior. When we include Step B,¬†Acknowledging feelings, others can work through their emotions, which is the real issue beneath their behavior.

We need to make a clear distinction, at this point, that allowing negative feelings and opinions is different from allowing hurtful actions. Feelings are okay, they are there and they are real. If hurtful actions are involved, that part of the problem is a Parent problem (SHARP RV). Listening is the first step (Step B), which could only involve a half-of-a-sentence, followed by steps C1 and C2, which set limits and redirect the misbehavior. Once parents and children understand the problem, the parents can come back to the Problem-Solving Toolset to get agreements for future behavior. 

Effective communication is the key to resolving problems and F-A-X Listening is the most important communication tool. 

Let’s quickly review what Child problems are and how to diagnose them. Then, we will learn the specific tools for resolving them.


Child  Problems

When a problem arises, we stop to consider the Child (PESS) and Parent (SHARP RV) issues.

  • If the problem¬†only¬†involves any PESS issues (Peers, Emotions, Siblings, School),¬†the problem is a 100% Child problem. We¬†only¬†use the Prevention and Child Problem Toolboxes.
  • If there is more than one problem¬†and¬†it involves any SHARP RV issue, (Safety, Health,¬†Appropriateness, Rights, Property, Rules, Values), we also ask ourselves,¬†‚ÄúIs¬†any¬†part of this situation a problem for the child (other person)?‚Ä̬†
    • If the answer is ‚Äúno,‚ÄĚ we¬†briefly¬†use the Child Problem Toolbox, maybe only a half sentence, to¬†Acknowledge children‚Äôs feelings or perspective, as we bring the problem to their attention.
    • If the answer is ‚Äúyes,‚ÄĚ this is a C/P combination problem. We¬†alternate¬†between the Child and Parent Problem Toolboxes, depending on which part of the problem we are addressing.


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In this section, Step B, the Child Problem Toolbox, we are only going to focus on resolving Child problems. Once we know how to use these tools to their full potential, we can also use them to help resolve Parent problems.



Imagine a problem being like a ball. When people show us a ball (a problem), they are not saying, ‚Äútake this ball.‚ÄĚ They are really saying, ‚ÄúLook at this ball I have.‚ÄĚ When adults see a child‚Äôs ball (problem), many take it away and say, ‚ÄúI know this ball! I had this ball once! What I did is . . .‚ÄĚ This is taking the ball and running with it. We need to ‚Äúkeep the ball in their court.‚ÄĚ Notice the ball and find out how the child feels about having it. ‚ÄúLook at that ball! Is it heavy? I see some spikes there, does it hurt to hold it? What do you plan to do with that ball?‚ÄĚ If we always take a child‚Äôs ball (problem), the child will stop showing it to us. Instead, we want children to learn how to handle different kinds of balls (problems) on their own.

The difference between being responsible for others and being responsible to them:

Taking responsibility for others involves fixing, protecting, rescuing, controlling, and taking on their problems, feelings, and responsibilities.

Being responsible to others involves listening, showing empathy, offering encouragement, and guiding others, side-by-side (not dragging them), through the problem-solving process.

Parents are often confused about the difference between being responsible¬†for¬†others and being responsible¬†to¬†them.1¬†When we take responsibility¬†for¬†our children‚Äôs problems, we offer solutions, give answers, and worry about whether our children will ‚Äúdo the right thing.‚ÄĚ This approach suggests children are not capable of making good decisions for themselves. Many parents think adults have better ideas than children‚ÄĒand if we deny them opportunities to grow and develop problem-solving skills, these beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies. If we, instead, support and guide people as they figure out solutions to their own problems, their creativity and independence blossom. This is being responsible¬†to¬†others.¬†

When other people have a problem or are experiencing strong emotions, we can do one or more of the following:

  1. Let them figure out the solution on their own by showing respect for their struggle and giving encouragement.
  2. Use the F-A-X Listening Toolset to help them work through their emotions, but leave the final decision up to them.
  3. Use the Problem-Solving Toolset to help them explore alternatives and plan a solution to the problem.


1  Listening for Heaven’s Sake, by Dr. Gary Sweeten, Dave Ping, and Anne Clippard, (Teleios Publications, 1993).