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Chapter 3: The Universal Blueprint                                                             53






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Once our foundation is set and balanced, we are ready to build our house. We first review the blueprint with the workers, so they know the general plan they are following. “First, the carpenters will build the structure, then the electricians will install the wiring . . .” If the details of the blueprint seem overwhelming, we reassure the workers that we are going to build the house one step at a time. Later, when the workers are focusing on specific tasks, they can refer to the blueprint to see how all the different parts fit together.

Parents also need a blueprint for child-rearing—a general plan that tells them where to find the specific tools they need and what steps to take. “First, we want to prevent problems. Then, if problems arise, we first identify what type of problem it is . . .” Parenting can seem overwhelming, so it helps if we summarize our general plan before focusing on each part. Later, when we focus on specific problems and their solutions, we can refer to the blueprint to better understand the details of each step we are taking.



This chapter teaches us the tools we need to meet our first two mission goals (see page 9 in Chapter 1):

STOP and THINK for 1–10 seconds and PLAN an effective response. We learn two important skills in this chapter:

  • Countless situations can occur in a relationship, but each individual situation will fall within one of six general problem “types.” This chapter explains how to identify each problem type.
  • There is a basic flow to effective responses. Once we know what type of problem we are facing, we follow certain steps in this universal response formula. Within each step, there are a variety of tools we can choose.

When we combine these two skills, we can take any situation, identify what type of problem it is, and follow the universal response formula in an individualized way, using tools we learn in later chapters. As we look at examples of the different types of problems, we refer to some of the individual tools, but you do not need to remember them. The only skills you need to learn now are the two listed above. Don’t worry if you get to the end of this chapter and don’t have the fine details of the Universal Blueprint memorized. The rest of the book follows the Universal Blueprint, step by step, repeating and reinforcing the problem-identification process and universal response formula.



At any point in time, in every relationship, we are in one of the “problem areas,” because one type of problem is a “NO problem.” Therefore, we use the Universal Blueprint all the time. We make a special effort to use the Universal Blueprint, however, before we respond to problems. The Universal Blueprint helps us correctly identify what type of problem we are facing so we will choose the most effective tools for our response. With each problem, the steps we take and tools we choose depend on the type of problem and the individual needs of the situation or child. When we use the Universal Blueprint regularly, this process becomes a quick, natural step in our response.

A Graduate’s Story. Knowing how to identify problem types and when to use each toolset are the most important skills I learned in The Parent’s Toolshop. As an emergency room nurse, I have


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found that deciding how to choose a parenting response is similar to the basic ABCs of emergency assessments: airway, breathing, and circulation. Each emergency room staff member memorizes these ABCs until they are ingrained and second-nature. Then, if a person with a spectacular injury comes in and the staff becomes embroiled in the crisis, they won’t overlook these key areas of the patient’s treatment. If someone walks into the emergency room and tells me he has a broken finger, I can quickly assume he’s breathing and has a clear airway. I’m not skipping or overlooking these steps, I’m just moving through them quickly, hardly noticing the steps I take mentally. With practice, I’ve found that using the Universal Blueprint also takes only a split second. I might go through the steps fast, but I’d never want to skip them altogether. I’ve avoided making many problems worse because I stopped to think before I responded.



People are not used to viewing parenting, relationships, and communication logically. Human behavior can seem unpredictable and overwhelming, but there are somewhat predictable patterns to it. Once we see the patterns in one relationship (parenting) we start seeing similar patterns in all our relationships.

Many people also find it difficult to respond to problems logically. Instead, they do the first thing that comes to mind to get a quick fix. Gut reactions are usually ineffective. If they do give a quick fix, they often have negative long-term effects. For example, when children have a problem and parents offer a quick solution, the children don’t learn how to solve the problem independently. In the long-run, parents spend more time solving their children’s problems than it would have taken to teach the children problem-solving skills. Plus, the children still don’t know how to solve their own problems so they make poor decisions.

To respond to problems as effectively as possible, we need to balance emotions with logic and common sense. Planned responses increase our consistency and our chances of handling situations helpfully.

Because we are looking at the “bigger picture” in this chapter, your learning style will influence how easily you will learn and remember the Universal Blueprint the first time it’s presented.

  • Whole-to-part learners need to see the bigger picture and how all the pieces fit together before they learn the different parts. They usually understand the Universal Blueprint the first time it’s presented, but need to refer to the Universal Blueprint (the bigger picture) now and then. (Look at the last page of this book for a quick reference).
  • Part-to-whole learners need to learn a process step by step. They are overwhelmed with the big picture if they haven’t learned the separate parts that go into it. These learners might not remember the entire Universal Blueprint the first time it’s explained because it is a formula with missing pieces. Remember, when you first read this chapter, you only need to understand how to identify types of problems and the basic steps of the universal response formula. Since we use these two skills throughout our tour, every chapter brings an increasingly better understanding of how all the pieces fit together.

A Graduate’s Comment. When I first looked at the Universal Blueprint it seemed complicated, but as I used it, I quickly realized it was simple common sense. Before long, a light bulb went off in my head and I realized just how profound the Universal Blueprint really was. Now, I use the Universal Blueprint in all my relationships, to help me resolve any problems that arise.


Problems Are Like Onions

Problems, like onions, have many layers. Negative behaviors and emotional outbursts are often the symptoms of deeper issues. If we only respond to the negative behavior, we might get a temporary quick fix. However, the deeper issue causing the problem is still there and usually erupts again,


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sometimes through different behavior. This surface approach to problems is like using bandages to treat a disease. We can treat the symptoms (problem behavior), but also need to diagnose and cure the disease (the real issue). When we have a problem and follow the universal response formula, in order, we will always address the child’s feelings or perspective first. This step “peels onions,” revealing the real issue behind the behavior. When we resolve the real issue, the symptoms (misbehavior) often disappear.

Change often occurs from the inside-out. If we don’t see an immediate change, there might be change occurring inside that isn’t observable, yet. For example, one common parenting goal is to help children develop self-discipline. If the parent or child is in the habit of using power struggles to deal with problems, the prevention tools might not work immediately. When we follow the Universal Blueprint, we might have to reach the discipline step only once or twice. Since discipline helps children learn from mistakes, the next time we might only need to give a simple reminder, acknowledge the child’s feelings, or offer choices within limits to prevent or stop the problem behavior. Step by step, with each response, we eliminate specific problem behaviors. Soon, the child is self-disciplined in these situations. 

The universal response formula not only addresses problem behavior, but also the issues and emotions that cause misbehavior. Consistently following the Universal Blueprint Formula’s steps can eliminate misbehavior and reduce the need for stronger responses. 


In this section, we learn how to identify each of the six types of problems and apply the universal response formula to each. The sample situations reinforce the general steps and offer a few examples of useful tools. We do not learn exactly what to say and do at each step with each example, nor are all the possible responses listed. Our purpose is to learn how the Universal Blueprint works, in general.

In The Parent’s Toolshop, there are no standard responses to particular behaviors. The appropriate response depends on the type of problem or the reason the child is behaving that way. For example, children might not do chores for several reasons—they don’t think the chore is important, don’t know how to do the chore, feel overwhelmed, want help, or are exercising their power by refusing to do the chore. Each of these reasons could be the “core of the onion.” To respond most effectively, we must identify and resolve the correct cause of the behavior we are facing (the type of problem) in that particular situation.

Although parents might seem to face an infinite number of possible problems, each individual problem will fit into one of six categories. Throughout our Parent’s Toolshop tour, we use the following symbols to represent these six general problem types.


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Type of problem 
No problem
There is no problem or a problem could develop.
Child problem
The child has a problem that doesn’t involve/affect the parent.
Parent problem
The parent has a problem that does not involve misbehavior.
Parent problem, Unintentional misbehavior
The parent has a problem with misbehavior that results from the child’s lack of maturity, skills, or knowledge.
Parent problem, “On purpose” misbehavior
The parent has a problem with misbehavior that seems intentional, to serve a purpose.




part Child problem and part Parent problem
The problem involves/affects both child and parent. C/P problems do not involve misbehavior. If misbehavior is involved, add the appropriate symbol to the end.

The Parent problem involves Unintentional misbehavior.

The Parent problem involves On purpose misbehavior.


★    We can use the Universal Blueprint and problem identification process in any relationship.

Simply replace parent with I and child with other person:

NO = Things are going well and I want to build a better relationship.
C = The other person has a problem.
P = I have a problem.
PU = I have a problem with the other person’s behavior, but the other person doesn’t realize how the behavior affects me or it’s just the way he or she is.
PO = I have a problem with the other person’s behavior, and the person seems to be acting this way on purpose. I wonder why?
C/P = We have a problem.



There are five ways to remember the steps of the universal response formula:

  1. The letter/number of the step. For example, “Step B.”
  2. What you do; the PASRR formula. For example, “Acknowledge feelings.”
  3. The tools you use. For example, “Child Problem Toolbox.”
  4. A visual reminder of the house diagram. For example, “Open the door.”
  5. A quick reminder. For example, “Listen, before you talk.”

The two-page table on pages 78 and 79 lists the different reminders for each step. Choose the one that is easiest for you to remember. In this chapter, we’ll list all of them to help you learn them. Throughout the remainder of the book, we will mostly use method #2, which we will call the “PASRR formula” (pronounced “passer”).


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PASRR Response Formula

(pronounced “passer”)

Prevent the problem from starting or worsening.

What you say

Acknowledge the other person’s feelings or perspective.
Set limits or express concerns.

What you do

Redirect misbehavior (PU or PO).
Reveal discipline or take action.

Now follow through!

★    At any step, we can use tools from previous steps. 

Sometimes we move through the steps with each attempt to resolve a problem. Other times, we take the steps quickly, with each sentence (or half sentence).

When we flow through the steps using two to four sentences in all, it sounds something like the following example. The partial sentences in this example are just one choice of many that we might make when filling in the blanks of this formula. We might also use fewer or simpler words. Using the PASRR formula may take only two or three sentences in all—and each part of the statement serves a specific purpose. Use your better judgment to decide if you need a quicker, firmer response or can give each step time to work.

Step A: Prevent the problem with the Prevention Toolbox. Walk up the stairs. Think before you listen.

“You can (one acceptable option) or (another acceptable option). You decide.”

Step B: Acknowledge the other person’s feelings or perspective with the Child Problem Toolbox. Open the door. Listen before you talk.

“It (looks/sounds/seems) like you are feeling/wanting _____.”

Step C: Parent Problem Toolbox. Address your part of the problem. Enter the house.

C1: Set limits or express concerns with the Keep Your Cool and Clear Communication Toolsets. Open the windows. Talk before you act.

(Negative behavior) can (state the negative effect/rule/value).”

C2: Redirect misbehavior with the PU or PO Toolset. Choose a bedroom. Redirect, before you react.

“If you want to (what the child wants), you can (acceptable alternative) instead.”


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C3: Reveal discipline or take action with the Discipline Toolset. Move to the attic. Take action, without a reaction.

“If you choose to (negative behavior), I’ll know you’ve decided to (reveal discipline).”

Step D: Maintain progress with the Maintenance Toolbox. Check the roof regularly. Follow-up.

“Since this affects the whole family, let’s bring it up at our next family council and see if we can decide how to handle this situation in the future.”

At this point, you don’t have to remember exactly what to say or do at each step, only what each step is. With each chapter, we reinforce and practice the Universal Blueprint’s steps. Soon, you will flow through the process and hardly think about the steps.

To help you memorize the steps of identifying problem types and using the PASRR formula, review the two-page table on pages 78 and 79. Start at the bottom of the first page and read each row from left to right, crossing from the first page to the next page. It may be helpful to refer to these pages while you are reading this chapter.