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Trouble-Shooting  Guide

If you try F-A-X Listening and things don’t go well, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I focus on facts or did I acknowledge their feelings?
  • Did I minimize or overreact to the problem or did I respond appropriately?
  • Did I interrupt or talk about myself or did I give them a chance to talk freely?
  • Did I tell them they were interpreting the situation wrong or did I ask questions so they would figure this out on their own?
  • Did I give advice or did I ask what they could do?
  • Did I criticize their ideas or ask “What would happen if  . . . ?”


A Personal Story. My mother, in her parenting class, used to tell a story that I had forgotten . She reminded me of it and we compared notes on our perspectives of the situation. When we have faith in our children, it is easier to support them in respectful, empowering ways. The F-A-X process teaches children valuable skills they need when they have problems and we aren’t there.

When I was 16, my mother found me at the kitchen table at three in the morning. I told her that my boyfriend (who was 19 and traveled for his job) had invited me to visit him in California. I hadn’t decided whether I was going to go and was writing down the pros and cons of my options.

Inside, my mother thought, “You’ll go over my dead body!” To me, she said, “Well, I know you’ll think through all the things that could happen if you go, good or bad, both there and here. I’m sure you’ll make a responsible decision.” She went back to bed and stayed awake for some time, praying. The next morning, she asked me what I had decided. I told her I had decided not to go.

Now a parent myself, I asked her, “What would you have said if I had decided to go?” Inside, she would have said, “Over my dead body!” To me, she probably would have said, “I have some serious concerns about you going and want to discuss them before you make a final decision.” She would have asked me questions that would have led me to decide, on my own, that I shouldn’t go.

Looking back, I have even greater appreciation for my mother’s parenting skills. Had she told me I couldn’t go, I might have been tempted to rebel and go anyway. (Although I doubt I would have followed through.) She was wise to keep the ball in my court and give me a chance to make my own decision. I also realized how my problem-solving skills helped me make a responsible independent decision instead of an impulsive one.

The process of solving a problem is often more important than the solution we reach.



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Whenever your kids are out of control, you can take comfort from the
thought that even God’s omnipotence did not extend to God’s kids.

After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve.
And the first thing He said to them was: “Don’t.”
“Don’t what?” Adam replied.
“Don’t eat the forbidden fruit,” God said.
“Forbidden fruit? We got forbidden fruit? Hey, Eve . . . we got Forbidden Fruit.”
“No way!” she replied.
“Yes, WAY!”
“Don’t eat that fruit!” said God.
“Because I’m your Father and I said so!” said God, wondering why he hadn’t stopped after making the elephants.


A few minutes later, God saw the kids having an apple break and was angry.
“Didn’t I tell you not to eat that fruit?” the First Parent asked.
“Uh huh,” Adam replied.
“Then why did you eat it?”
“I dunno,” Eve answered.
“She started it!” Adam said.
“Did not!”
“Did so!”
Having had it with the two of them, God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own.
Thus the pattern was set and it has never changed.
But there is a reassurance in this story.
If you have persistently and lovingly tried to give your children wisdom and they haven’t taken it, don’t be hard on yourself. If God had trouble handling children, what makes you think it would be a piece of cake for you?


– – From the Internet, Author Unknown

Permission for reader to reprint this page for personal use only granted by author, Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, The Parent’s Toolshop, © 2000.


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B1: Focus  on  feelings

  1.  Identify the feeling (in your mind).
  2. Identify the thought or event (in your mind).
  3. Summarize in your own words what you think they mean.

If the child is confused or misinterpreting the situation, move to next step.


B2: Ask  helpful  questions ☆☆☆☆

  •  Ask open-ended questions to invite sharing, avoid yes/no answers.
  • Clarify details so others understand why something happened.
  • Restate possible mistaken beliefs so others can gain insight to the lessons involved.
  • Give pearls of wisdom, not lectures.
  • Guide others through their logic, to consider important points— without giving advice

If you and the child understand the problem, but need a solution or plan, move to the next step.


B3: X-amine  possible  solutions ☆☆☆☆

a.  Brainstorm ideas. All ideas are okay. Simply list them.
b.  Evaluate each idea. “What would happen if you did this?”
c.  Choose a solution. 

Permission for reader to reprint this page for personal use only granted by author, Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, The Parent’s Toolshop, © 2000.


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Take the response you gave to the practice situations in the F-A-X Listening Toolset and continue the conversation. Practice the back and forth flow of listening, asking helpful questions, and moving into problem solving. In real life, the other person does not respond according to a script; each person will have different feelings or reasons that are hiding beneath the surface. So the best way to practice conversational problem solving is to find someone to role-play the child. Role playing also helps us practice reading nonverbal clues such as body language and tone of voice.

  1. “Emily is spending the summer at her grandmothers! She’s my best friend!”
  2. “I’m scared to go to bed. There’s a monster under my bed that comes out in the dark!”
  3. “I don’t feel like cleaning the toilets! I’ll do it after I play.”
  4. “I played soccer at recess. Brandon and Chris were the captains and I was the last one to get picked.”
  5. “I can’t believe I missed that catch. We lost the game because of me.”
  6. “Why do I have to get my picture taken? I hate to smile with these braces on.”
  7. Your preteen daughter says, “I’m not sure if I’m going to Tom’s party. John will be there.”
  8. “Finals are next week and I’ve got to work every single night!”

Possible  Answers

I am not going to detail an entire conversation for any of the situations. I have, however, done dozens of role-plays in my parenting class and have seen the variety of directions they can go. Here are some suggestions for common communication barriers you want to avoid and important points to remember.

  1.  Child: “Emily is spending the summer at her grandmothers! She’s my best friend!”
Parent: “You’re really going to miss her, aren’t you? (pause) All summer sounds like a long time, doesn’t it?”

Ask helpful questions. Don’t rescue the child by offering suggestions, “We could . . .” Use helpful questions and problem-solving to allow your child to come up with the ideas. “Can you think of a way you could keep in touch while she’s gone?” “Would you like to do something special with her before she leaves?” The child might think of ideas like a calendar to count the days until Emily returns, writing letters, and planning a going-away party. If not, the parent can offer these suggestions and see if the child wants to use any of them.

  2.  Child: “I’m scared to go to bed. There’s a monster under my bed that comes out in the dark!”
Parent: “It must be scary to think there is a monster there.”

Ask helpful questions. Sit together in the dark and ask the child to point to the things that scare them when you aren’t there. Then turn on the light and ask what the shape really is. Teach them how to talk themselves through their fear, “That’s really my coat rack.” X-amine possible options. Give them a flashlight or night light. If children refuse to believe the monsters aren’t real, tell them that any monsters that enter their room have to obey their orders. They can talk to the monsters, make friends with them and ask them to play. They can tell the monsters to get out and leave them alone. Since their imagination is creating the problem, use their imagination to solve the problem. For example, give them some magic monster spray (a water spritzer) that scares monsters. Have them draw a picture of the monster and then change the picture to control the outcome. This is especially helpful with nightmares. As we tuck them in at night, we can describe a

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      peaceful scene they can visualize. We can also pray with them, asking guardian angels to watch over them.
  3.   Child: “I don’t feel like cleaning the toilets! I’ll do it after I play.”
Parent: “I know it’s hard to work when you’d rather be playing.”

Ask helpful questions that maintain your bottom-line limits. For example, you could offer choices, such as “Do you want to clean the toilet before you play and stay out until dinner? Or go play and come inside a half-hour earlier to clean the toilet?” X-amine possible options for a win/win solution. For example, the child might be willing to trade a job with the parent. These are not the only skills available to parents. In Chapter 10, “Clear Communication Toolset,” we learn some quick and effective responses we can also use.

  4.   Child: “I played soccer at recess. Brandon and Chris were the captains and I was the last one to get picked.”

Parent: Listening response: “It hurts to be rejected like that.” Or “It’s discouraging to be the last one picked for a team.”

Ask questions that help children realize on their own that people have different reasons for making choices and we can get our feelings hurt when we incorrectly assume someone’s motives. In this situation, here are some possible questions to ask: “If you were the captain, how would you decide who to pick?” “How do you think Brandon and Chris decided?” “Do you think that not picking you means they don’t like you or that they just wanted to win?” If the child continued to play soccer, but was feeling discouraged, you can probably stop at this step. If the child quit when he was rejected, use problem solving to help the child consider other possible responses. “What else could you have done? What do you think would have happened?”

  5.   Child: “I can’t believe I missed that catch. We lost the game because of me.”

Parent: “I can tell you’re really disappointed you missed that catch. It’s hard to make a mistake at such an important time.”


If we have discussed children’s feelings and shown we understand, but they are wallowing in self-pity, we can ask helpful questions. “Is it possible your team might have lost the game anyway?” “Has anyone else missed a catch like that? How did you feel about the person? How did the other team-mates treat the person? What did the person do?” Timing is everything, here. If the child is still caught up in his feelings, he will get more frustrated with these kinds of logical questions. If he has released most of those feelings, however, this will help reveal any unhelpful or inaccurate beliefs and can lead to problem solving. “What do you think you’ll do at practice tomorrow?”

  6.   Child: “Why do I have to get my picture taken? I hate to smile with these braces on.” 
Parent: “Are you feeling self-conscious about your braces?”

Ask helpful questions to help children consider different viewpoints. Here are some possible questions: “Are there other students who have braces? How do you think they feel when they get their picture taken? Have you noticed how they smile in their pictures?” Use problem solving to help children plan a solution that meets their (and your) needs. Here are some possible options: children can practice smiling in a mirror, they cannot get pictures taken that year, or, if parents want the pictures, they could agree to only give the pictures to relatives.

  7.   Child: Your preteen daughter says, “I’m not sure if I’m going to Tom’s party. John will be there.” 
Parent: “You sound like you aren’t sure you want to see John. Any particular reasons?”

If we have listened effectively, the daughter has probably revealed the real  reason she doesn’t want to see John (he’s mean to her, she has a crush on him, or another reason). Depending on her reasons, it might be helpful to offer a few small pearls of wisdom about people’s defensive


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  reactions when they are mad or how people can act uninterested even if they have a crush on someone. If we tell someone, “don’t let it bother you,” we are minimizing the problem. We also need to be careful not to offer advice unless she asks. We can use helpful questions to clarify the problem and evaluate possible solutions, “What would happen if you . . . ?” “What do you think John would do?” “If you didn’t go to the party, how would you feel? If you go and John (possible behavior), what could you do?” Practice any communication or anger management skills that would help her when she carries out her plan.
  8.   Child: “Finals are next week and I’ve got to work every single night!”
Parent: “Wow, you’re under a lot of pressure right now. You have extra studying you need to do, but they need you at work, too.”

Ask helpful questions that can help the teen X-amine possible options, “What do you plan to do?” “Would you get in trouble at work if you asked for one night off?” “Do you have any extra time you can spend studying for finals?” If the teen gets defensive with these questions, stop. Show respect for the teen’s ability to work out a plan.


We have completed our tour of the Child Problem Toolbox. Practice the F-A-X process daily. When we take the time and make the effort to really listen and understand others, we accomplish so much: We open the lines of communication and build trust. Others learn problem-solving skills through first-hand experience. We also discover just how capable our children (and others) are of solving their own problems.

Chapter 9, “Keep Your Cool Toolset,” is the first stop on our tour of the Parent Problem Toolbox (Step C of the Universal Blueprint). We review the process of identifying Parent problems and the toolsets we use to resolve problems that affect us. In the Keep Your Cool Toolset, we discuss healthy anger and stress management skills we can use every day in any setting—at home, work, or social settings —and can teach these skills to our children. It is critical to manage our anger before using any of the other tools in the Parent Problem Toolbox or it turns the tools into destructive weapons.



  1. For more information about fostering healthy sibling relationships and dealing with bullies and victims, read Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (Norton Books, 1987).