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Identifying problem types involves a simple process of elimination. By asking three questions, we narrow down what specific type of problem we are dealing with. The type of problem determines the steps we take (or stop at) and the toolsets we use. As we learn to use the Universal Blueprint, remember the following four rules:

★ Answer the three questions based on who is involved and the situation you are facing at that moment. Your answers might vary from other parents’ answers in a similar situation. Your child’s abilities might be different from what they were last month or from another child’s abilities. Your individual answers decide the course you want to take at that moment with that child. This is how we apply the Universal Blueprint to individual situations.

★ Regardless of the type of problem, follow the PASRR response formula’s steps in order. The location of each toolset is specific, according to the order in which it is most effective. Decide whether and when to take each step by the type of problem it is or if the problem continues.

★ Every response can begin at Step A, but may not have to go further, depending on the type of problem or response we get. Once we know what type of problem we are dealing with, we know which toolsets to use and which step is our final “stop.”

★ At each step, we can use any toolset from previous steps. Since the Prevention Toolbox is Step A, we can use it anytime in our response.

Now let’s look at each problem type separately. We’ll review how we answer the three problem-identification questions, which PASRR steps to take, and offer two examples of each type of problem.


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3 Problem ID Questions


5 PASRR Steps

NO problems


Prevent problems from starting or worsening





• Foundation-Building Toolset (parenting styles)





• Self-Esteem Toolset





• Cooperation Toolset





• Independence Toolset

When Problems Arise 

Look at the smaller problem “parts” and identify the problem type for each part.


QUESTION #1: Is this a Child problem (C) or a Parent problem (P)? (Narrow it down.)

Child problems—involve “PESS”
Peers, Emotions, Siblings, School






Acknowledge the child’s feelings (If only Child problem, stop at this step: Child Problem Toolbox.)

Parent problems—involve “SHARP RV”
Safety, Health, Appropriateness,
Rights, Property, Rules, Values



Set limits or express concerns. (If no misbehavior, stop at this step: Keep Your Cool, Clear Communication Toolsets.)

When There Is Misbehavior

QUESTION #2: Is the misbehavior in this Parent problem Unintentional (PU) or “On purpose” (PO)?
Yes or No: Has this child consistently shown that he or she has mastered the skills to behave properly in this situation? (Narrow it down.)




PU problem = No. Child has not mastered skills due to: immaturity, personality, accident, medical condition or lack of information





Redirect the misbehavior (PU or PO Toolset)

PU = Teach skills or offer acceptable alternative

PO problem = Yes. Child has mastered skills and misbehavior is deliberate.

QUESTION #3: If the behavior is “On purpose” (PO), what is the purpose? Attention, Power, Revenge, Giving up



PO = Avoid payoff/ escalating and show child how to meet purpose  through positive behavior









For either PU or PO…



Reveal discipline





Must meet the “4 R’s”

Combination types: Identify the problem type for each part. Address the Child problem first.



Part Child problem and part Parent problem involving no misbehavior.



Part Child problem and part Parent problem involving Unintentional misbehavior.



Part Child problem and part Parent problem involving “On purpose” misbehavior.

Maintain Progress




  • Family Council Toolset—when problems/decisions affect the whole family.
  • Three C’s: Consistency, Criticism, Confidence



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NO = No Problem


Neither parent nor child is experiencing a problem. Nevertheless, there are tools we can use to prevent situations from developing into problems.


Stay at Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox, walk up the stairs, think before you listen.) Maintain a balanced approach, build self-esteem, promote cooperation, and foster independence. 

★ The Prevention Toolbox is useful anytime, whether there is a problem or not.


1. A child wants to do something that is difficult.

Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). Encourage the child’s efforts (Self-Esteem Toolset). Offer helpful tips and allow the child to try, rather than taking over and doing the task for the child (Independence Toolset). These tools increase the child’s skills and prevent discouragement.

2. A child has had difficulty in the past making transitions from one activity to another. It will soon be time to leave a fun party.

Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). Using the Cooperation Toolset, plan ahead by giving a five-minute notice to the child before leaving. If the child resists, the parent can offer choices about how to leave. If the child still resists, it is no longer a “No problem.” It is either a PU or PO problem. The parent needs to figure out which type of problem it is to know what will be the most helpful response.


When There Is a Problem, STOP and . . . THINK for 1–10 Seconds

During that time, begin asking yourself the three questions to identify what type of problem you are facing.


(Narrow it down.)

This question is not as easy to answer as we might think; it’s easy to misidentify Child problems. Without guidelines, we might simply ask ourselves, “Who does it bother?” or “Who is it a problem for?” These questions might help us recognize some Child problems, but consider situations such as children not doing their homework. Is the child upset about not doing homework? Usually, it bothers the parent more. If we look beyond the surface of this onion, we find that the reason the child isn’t doing homework. For example, the child might not understand the work, is overwhelmed, doesn’t share the value of homework, or hasn’t established good study habits. If parents conclude homework is a Parent problem, they might take over and children won’t learn how to take responsibility for solving the problem on their own. If parents exert too much control, doing homework can turn into a power struggle. Since it is easy to confuse Child and Parent problems, consider the following issues.


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Does the problem (or any part of it) involve: 


“PESS” = Peers, Emotions, Siblings, School

Child problems involve these areas of responsibility that belong to the child.

If any of these PESS issues are present, that part of the problem is a Child problem.


“SHARP RV” = Safety, Health, Appropriateness, Rights, Property, Rules, Values

Parent problems involve these areas of concern to parents.

If any of these SHARP RV issues are present, that part of the problem is a Parent problem.

If the problem involves issues in both areas, it is a Combination problem, which we’ll look at soon on page 70. For now, let’s take a closer look at 100% Child and Parent problems, before moving to Question #2.

“Yes” to Any PESS issue and “No” to Each SHARP RV Issue

= A Child Problem


The child (or other person) has a problem that does not directly involve or affect the parent, OR involves areas of responsibility that belong to the child: “PESS” = Peers, Emotions, Siblings, School.


Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). Offer encouragement, teach skills, and prevent sibling and peer conflicts.

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox, open the door, listen before you talk.) Offer supportive guidance, without taking over. Use the F-A-X Listening Toolset to better understand children’s thoughts and feelings about the problem. Use the Problem-Solving Toolset to mediate sibling/peer conflicts and guide children through the process of resolving problems to the degree they are able.

In Child problems, we work exclusively from the Child Problem and Prevention Toolboxes. Alternate between these two steps (toolboxes) as necessary.

If the situation is a Child problem, do not take over or solve it for the child. This deprives children of important learning experiences. When people get angry about our attempts to help, it is a clue that we might be trying to solve a problem that belongs to someone else. We can still care and be involved, by using the Child Problem Toolbox to offer support and guidance as others resolve their own problems.


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1. Two children are having a disagreement. They are not being disrespectful or physically fighting. This problem is between the children. They need to learn how to resolve such conflicts.

Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). Encourage the children, expressing faith in their ability to work out the problem. Use the Independence Toolset to teach conflict-resolution skills.

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). Use the F-A-X Listening Toolset to empathize with the children’s feelings and thoughts about the situation. Do not give advice. Instead, use the Problem-Solving Toolset in the Child Problem Toolbox to help them generate ideas for resolving the conflict. If their ideas are inappropriate, ask them to consider the effect of that approach. This is how parents can raise their concerns without criticizing ideas or taking over.

2. A child feels left out at school. It’s difficult to see children feeling hurt or being treated unfairly. It’s natural to want to rescue or protect them. If we solve the problem, children might feel incapable of solving the problem. They might also have information we don’t have, which would make our solution less effective. Children need to learn how to handle such situations on their own.

Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). Use the Self-Esteem Toolset to point out the child’s positive qualities. Use the Independence Toolset to teach skills for making friends or dealing with rejection.

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). Use the F-A-X Listening Toolset to recognize the child’s feelings of rejection. Then use the Problem-Solving Toolset to explore alternatives for how the child can resolve the problem.


“Yes” to Any One SHARP RV
Issue = Parent Problem


The parent has a problem or concern that does not bother the child.


Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). Make requests in positive words and offer choices within limits (Cooperation Toolset). Teach children the skills they need to comply with the request (Independence Toolset). Express faith in their ability to figure out a solution, based on the information and skills they’ve learned (Self-Esteem Toolset).

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). Often, just acknowledging children’s feelings reduces their defensiveness and they cooperate. Other times, we need to bring the problem to their attention. Here, we recognize the children’s feelings in the first part of our sentence and finish the sentence with tools from the next step.


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Step C1: Set limits and express concerns (Parent Problem Toolbox: Keep Your Cool and Clear Communication Toolsets, open the windows, set limits and express concerns, talk before you act.) Stop, take a deep breath (keep your cool), and respond assertively. Describe the problem, briefly and respectfully.

★ If we have already taken the first two steps (A and B) in the past and the same situation occurs, we can jump right to Step C1 and offer a quick one-word reminder. This is a time when skipping steps is appropriate, because the parent already took the other steps first, in the past.

★ If no problem behavior is involved (P), stop at this step. Alternate between the steps, choosing the appropriate tools to work through differences of opinions, values, or needs until you reach an agreement.

★ Just because a situation is a Parent problem does not mean the parent is always responsible for resolving the problem. Consider the example of a child not doing a chore. Children don’t care if their chore isn’t done. Yes, they may care that they won’t get to play if it’s not done, but this is how they feel about one possible effect of the problem, not the problem itself. This is a Parent problem, because it violates a family rule, value, or the parent’s right. The parent is responsible for bringing the problem to the child’s attention, but the child is responsible for doing the chore.


1. The children are playing loudly and it’s distracting you from your work. The noise violates the parent’s right to work in a peaceful setting. The children are not misbehaving, just playing loudly. Therefore, it is strictly a Parent problem.

Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). The Cooperation Toolset suggests telling children what to do, instead of what not to do. Parents can offer choices within limits, “You can play quietly inside or play loudly outside—you decide.” Another option is to combine the next two steps into one sentence:

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). “I can tell you are having lots of fun . . .” (Listening Toolset)

Step C1: Set limits or express concerns (Clear Communication Toolset). “. . . but I can’t concentrate on my work when there is so much noise.” If it happens again, you can say one word, “Quiet!” (Any further disruptions suggest problem behavior, which is a PU or PO problem. Since you’ve already taken these first few steps, go right to Step C2, using the PU or PO Toolset.)

2. Your son’s soccer practice was rescheduled to the same time as your daughter’s gymnastics lesson. Trying to drive both children violates the parent’s right to manageable schedule. Being in two places at once is simply impossible. The parent and children have a conflict of needs. The child has not misbehaved in any way, so this is strictly a Parent problem. Our response could have three sentences that quickly move through the steps.

Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). “I’ve seen a lot of improvement in your coordination since you started gymnastics . . .” (Self-Esteem Toolset)

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). “. . . and can tell how much you enjoy going.

Step C1: Set limits or express concerns (Clear Communication Toolset). “Your brother’s soccer practice was moved to the same day and time as your gymnastics lessons. I can’t be in two places at once, so we need to look at some ways you both can do what is important to you.” At this point, the parent and children can brainstorm possible solutions. The first sentence (Steps A and B) prevents the child from jumping to conclusions, such as “You’re going to make me quit gymnastics.” If there is no risk of this, the parent could say the last sentence (Step C1) first and, at some point, say the other statements. Remember, at any step, you can use the toolsets from previous steps.


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If the Parent Problem Involves Misbehavior, Ask QUESTION #2: Is the Misbehavior Unintentional or “On Purpose”?

(Narrow it down.)


To tell the difference between PU and PO behavior, consider the following questions:

  1. Is this behavior the result of the child’s immaturity or developmental stage?
  2. Is this behavior part of the child’s personality (it doesn’t come naturally)?
  3. Is this an accident or is a medical condition influencing the child’s self-control? (Illness, mental retardation, ADHD, autism, food allergies, etc.)
  4. Does the child lack information to know better?

★   5. Has the child not consistently shown that he or she has mastered the skills to behave properly in
this situation? (This one often covers the first four issues, which might explain why the child hasn’t mastered the skill.)

“Yes” to any one question




PU problem (Parent problem, Unintentional misbehavior).

“No” to all questions




PO problem (Parent problem, “On purpose” misbehavior).

★   When in doubt, assume the behavior is PU. The child’s reaction to your response will confirm whether their behavior is unintentional (PU) or on purpose (PO). Give information or teach skills. If the child masters the skill and still repeats the misbehavior, you know it’s PO behavior.


Remember the difference between PU and PO with these simple analogies. PU reminds us of something stinky, like a dirty diaper. Situations, such as toilet training accidents, are frustrating but a normal part of development. They are problems that may involve safety or health (Parent issues), but the problem behavior is Unintentional.

A Personal Story. I took Amber and her friend, Emmy, both two, to an indoor playground with some friends and their children. It was hard to keep an eye on both of them every second. Amber was still in diapers, so I didn’t remember to tell Emmy to go to the bathroom, as her mother did. A man walked up and asked me if that little girl was mine, as he pointed to Emmy. Emmy was squatting on the floor, with her pants pulled down to her ankles and a pile beneath her! I was tempted to say I’d never seen this child before, but said, “Yes, she’s with me today. Thank you.” I took Emmy to the bathroom and cleaned her up while another mother cleaned up the mess. (I’ve got great friends, don’t I?) I felt so bad for Emmy. She didn’t know to ask to go to the bathroom and I had not reminded her. I had a problem (P), but her behavior was Unintentional.

PO problems involve misbehavior (a Parent problem) that seems to be On purpose. When it seems a child is misbehaving on purpose, we usually feel “PO’d”—you know, p – – – ed off! (You did fill those blanks with p-e-e-v-e-d off, right? I want this to stay G-rated!)

A Parent’s Story. My son, age four, is fully potty trained and can hold it when he needs to. But if he is mad at me, he does something to get my attention, gives me a defiant look, and then pees on the floor, furniture, bed, or whatever is close! (Clearly, this Parent problem involves behavior that is “On purpose,” to get revenge—and the mother feels quite PO’d!)


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“Yes” to Any One Question = PU (Parent Problem,
 Unintentional Misbehavior)


The parent has a problem (P) that involves “unintentional” misbehavior (U). In PU problems, the reason we say “yes” to one of the SHARP RV issues (Question #1) is usually because the child doesn’t know any better or hasn’t developed appropriate behavior skills (Question #2). For example, “I’m worried about my child climbing the jungle gym (safety issue) because she hasn’t had much experience and isn’t very coordinated (child has not shown mastery of the skills).” We learn more about the five issues in identifying PU behavior (developmental stages, etc.) in Chapter 11, “PU Toolset.”

★ Even if you’ve “told them a million times,” it does not mean children know better. “Knowing better” means children fully understand the information. Until children master a skill, PU behavior can still occur.

★ “Unintentional” is not an excuse. Medical conditions, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or learning disabilities, can influence a child’s self-control and behavior. These conditions, however, should not become a crutch or excuse for a child’s behavior, “He has ADHD, so don’t expect him to _____.” Identifying these behaviors as PU diagnoses the cause of the behavior and what skills we need to teach.

★ PU behavior can turn into PO behavior if  we react to it or respond unhelpfully. The classic example is a child who repeats a cuss word, without knowing what it means. The first time this happens, it is PU behavior. If the parent gives a shocked, extreme reaction or laughs, the child might repeat the behavior later, to get a similar reaction. Then, the behavior is PO, to serve a purpose.


Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). This step is vital, because these tools can prevent or respond to unintentional misbehavior. These tools can increase a child’s confidence, engage cooperation, and teach appropriate behavior skills. Until these skills and behaviors become habits, parents often need to take additional steps.

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). Notice the child’s feelings, thoughts, or perspective about the situation. (Sometimes this can be the first half of your first sentence, for example “You seem (feeling) . . .”)

Step C1: Set limits or express concerns (Clear Communication Toolset). Be clear and respectful. (This can be the second half of the sentence, “. . . but (the negative behavior) can (give information.”)


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Step C2: Redirect misbehavior (PU Toolset). (Choose the PU bedroom, redirect problem behavior before you react.) These tools help us correctly identify PU problems and redirect the behavior until children master the necessary skills. For example, a possible second sentence can be, “If you want (or feel) _____, you can (describe appropriate behavior) instead.”

★ If the behavior continues or action is necessary, use the PU Toolset before moving to the Discipline Toolset. (Step C3, Reveal discipline, move to the attic, take action without a reaction.) The PU Toolset teaches children skills and the Discipline Toolset helps children learn from their mistakes. Together, they can eliminate similar PU behavior in the future. Our last sentence could be, “Until I see you can (describe positive behavior), I’ll know you need to (reveal discipline).”


1. A high-spirited child. Children are born with certain personality traits. Sometimes, skills that might come easily to many children (such as the ability to adjust to change or handle noise and activity) are more difficult for other children to learn—it just doesn’t come naturally to them. Their behavior is often inappropriate (P), but unintentional (U). These children need to build on the positive strengths of their personality, while learning skills to balance these difficulties.


Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). Look at your beliefs using the skills in the Foundation-Building Toolset. Recognize that there is nothing wrong with spirited children and that their difficult behavior is not an intentional attempt to irritate others.


Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). Recognize the child’s feelings (frustration, hunger, etc.). 


Set limits or express concerns (Clear Communication Toolset).State rules and realistic expectations in simple, positive words.


Redirect PU misbehavior (PU Toolset). Model and teach appropriate behavior. Until children master the skills, use distraction or environmental engineering. (These tools are in Chapter 11, “PU Toolset.”)


Reveal discipline (Discipline Toolset). When necessary, discipline can help children make amends, learn self-control or other important lessons from the effects of their behavior choices.

2. A teenager who is individuating. A parent might think that the way the teen is individuating involves a SHARP RV issue (P), such as driving too fast or wanting to stay out past curfew. It is normal, however, for teens to want more freedom (U). “Individuation” is the process every teen goes through on the way to adulthood. It is the process of becoming an individual: deciding who I am, who I want to be, and what I believe about the world and myself. Teenage individuation is as normal and age-appropriate as an infant learning to walk or a toddler wanting to touch everything. Individuation is different from rebellion, which is a reaction to control. Every teen individuates, but not every teen rebels. If teens do not have positive, appropriate ways to express their individuality and have some control in their lives, they may choose more negative, defiant ways to prove their parents can’t control them (PO). This is one example of how PU behavior can turn into PO behavior, depending on the parent’s reaction. (The Independence and PU Toolsets explain individuation in more detail.)

StepA:   Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). Educate yourself about adolescent development, so your beliefs and expectations are realistic and you don’t take their behavior personally. Make requests using positive words that offer choices within reasonable limits (Cooperation Toolset).
StepB:                                                     Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). The F-A-X Listening Toolset opens the door to communication (and keeps it open). Empathize with the teen’s perspective, frustrations, and desire to be an independent individual. Deal with the feelings as soon as possible. If parents only address their concerns (moving directly to Step C1), teens will think the parents are trying to control them, which increases their resentment and invites rebellion.


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StepC1: Set limits or express concerns (Clear Communication Toolset). Voice concerns about any SHARP RV issues. Use parent/child problem solving to help teens see the long-term effects of their behavior choices. 
StepC2:  Redirect PU misbehavior (PU Toolset). Generate ideas for more acceptable ways to assert their independence. These steps often result in solutions and agreements that help teens feel more independent, without violating any SHARP RV issues.
StepC3:                                              Reveal discipline (Discipline Toolset). Make agreements that reveal the effect of the teen (or parent) breaking the agreement. When teens have options for appropriate behavior, they can make better behavior choices in the future-and know what to expect if they don’t.

“No” to Any One Question = PO (Parent Problem, “On Purpose” Misbehavior)


The Parent has a problem and the child has consistently shown he or she has mastered the skills to behave properly but seems to be misbehaving On purpose.


Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). This step is vital, because these tools can prevent or respond to intentional misbehavior. The Self-Esteem Toolset can prevent attention-seeking behavior and the Cooperation Toolset is the best toolset for preventing power struggles. The Independence Toolset helps children learn skills, so they don’t get so discouraged they give up. (Remember, the Prevention Toolbox is useful anytime, even when responding to problems.)

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). This step reveals the real issue beneath the misbehavior. Try to understand the child’s feelings, wishes, and viewpoint. (This does not mean we agree with the child.) F-A-X Listening can prevent revenge cycles or respond to revengeful behavior by building trust.

Step C1: Set limits or express concerns (Clear Communication Toolset). These tools help parents avoid gut reactions, which usually escalate the situation or give PO misbehavior a payoff.
(You’ll learn what to do instead, when we get to the PO Toolset.) Our goal is not to control children, but to maintain our self-control, which increases the effectiveness of our response.

Step C2: Redirect PU misbehavior (PO Toolset, PO bedroom, redirect problem behavior before you react.) Use the PO Toolset to identify the purpose of the behavior (Question #3), avoid escalating the problem or giving a payoff, and show children how to meet the purpose with positive behavior. (You’ll

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learn the specifics of identify the purpose of PO behavior in Chapter 12.) If the problem behavior continues or action is necessary, move to the next step.

★   In a PO problem, use the PO Toolset (Step C2) before moving to the Discipline Toolset (Step C3: move to the attic, reveal discipline, take action without a reaction.) Skipping this step can turn the discipline into punishment and escalate the problem. Once PO cycles are broken, discipline can help children learn from their mistakes, take responsibility for their actions, and make amends for the effects of their decisions—which leads to self-discipline.

★   Some parents ask, “Why do I need to take all these steps when yelling or threats get children moving?” There are two answers to this question. 

    1. When most parents are “PO’d,” they nag, remind, or threaten two to three times before following through with action. If we are going to say two to three sentences, we want to make each part of each comment to be as effective as possible and account for the real reasons the problem developed. This is how our responses can prevent future PO behavior.
    2. Quick fixes might get children to comply, but often have negative long-term effects. Competent responses often solve the problem in a similarly short time, but have positive long-term effects.


1.  A child makes up “lame” excuses at bedtime to delay the inevitable “goodnight.” Who cares that the child goes to bed or sleep? The Parent. Since the excuses are “lame,” it implies the child doesn’t have a real problem and is making excuses On purpose.

Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). Plan ahead and have pleasant, consistent bedtime routines. Offer choices within limits—the limit is how much time you are willing to spend at bedtime and the choice is how the child chooses to spend that time. More choices are, “You don’t have to go right to sleep. You can (list quiet activities), but need to stay in bed and be quiet.” Avoid threats or catering to the lame excuses, since this gives the behavior a payoff. Parents can also teach children skills (Independence Toolset), such as how to relax when they aren’t tired and how to put themselves to sleep.

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). Show that you understand the child isn’t tired or doesn’t want to go to sleep. (This might be the first half sentence.)

Step C1: Set limits or express concerns (Clear Communication Toolset). Express your concerns about the child’s health and assert your right to have some quiet time. (This could be the second half of the sentence.) If the child balks or expresses negative emotions, it is now a C/P problem. Go back to the Child Problem Toolbox to acknowledge the child’s feelings, then move back to the Parent Toolbox to restate your expectations. 

Step C2: Redirect PO misbehavior (PO Toolset). If the child refuses to stay in bed, the lack of cooperation is intentional, because the previous three steps have covered the possibility that it is PU. Use the PO Toolset to identify whether the purpose of the child’s behavior is power or attention. If it’s power, shift the focus of the choices, maybe to how or when to go to bed. If children try to keep the parent involved by procrastinating, remind them of the positive activities the parent already did during the bedtime routine. Ignore further requests.

Step C3: Reveal discipline (Discipline Toolset). If necessary, reveal the natural effect of not getting enough sleep; children will be tired the next day. Also let children know that if they choose to delay bedtime tonight, they are choosing to go to bed that much earlier the next night. When following through the next night, remind them that they will have another chance tomorrow night, to show they can go to bed at the regular time and in a cooperative way. Remember, if we discipline without breaking the negative behavior cycle, our discipline will be less effective and might make the situation escalate into revenge, more intense power struggles, or attention-seeking behavior.


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2. A child eats food while playing on the family computer, knowing this violates a family rule.

The last half of the sentence confirms that this is a PO problem. 

Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). Use the Cooperation Toolset to offer choices within limits or state rules in positive words, such as “You can play on the computer or take a break to eat. You decide.” 

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). In the first part of your next sentence, recognize that your child wants to keep playing on the computer. Move to the next step to finish the sentence. 

Step C1: Set limits or express concerns (Clear Communication Toolset). Explain the negative effect of eating near the computer; it can ruin the electronic components. Then make your expectations clear. Post a sign as a reminder for everyone who uses the computer. If the child still eats at the computer after understanding the rules, move to the next step. 

Step C2: Redirect PO misbehavior (PO Toolset, “On purpose” misbehavior). These tools help you identify the purpose of the child’s misbehavior as power. Threats or punishments invite testing, sneaking, or rebellion. Offer choices within limits in a firm, but friendly, tone of voice. “People who want to use the computer need to keep food away from it.” Make sure any power struggles are diffused before moving to the next step. 

Step C3: Reveal discipline (Discipline Toolset). If they choose to break the rule, they are choosing to give up their computer privileges. If this is revealed ahead of time and the parent follows through, it is clear that the child chose this outcome.


Combination  Problems  =  C/P  (Part  Child  Problem, Part  Parent  Problem)


Problems can get complicated when more than one type of problem occurs at the same time. When this happens, look at the smaller issues and identify the problem type for each part of the bigger problem. Often, both people have a problem. It could be more than one problem or different perspectives of the same problem. Part of the problem involves/affects the child (C problem) and part of the problem bothers the parent (one of the three types of Parent problems).

The type of parent problem decides the final diagnosis: 

  C/P         Part Child problem and part Parent problem with no misbehavior, just a difference of opinion or needs.
  C/PU         Part Child problem and part Parent problem with Unintentional misbehavior.
  C/PO         Part Child problem and part Parent problem with “On purpose” misbehavior.


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Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). These tools provide encouragement, teach skills, and promote teamwork. We can use these tools any time in our response.

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). Work exclusively from this and the Prevention Toolbox when addressing the Child problem.

★   In a C/P problem, always address the Child problem first, unless the Parent problem poses real or immediate danger. When parents voice their concerns first, children often conclude that the parents don’t understand or care about the children’s feelings or opinions. They usually shut down or defend themselves. When we acknowledge children’s feelings first, they are more likely to listen when we express our concerns. When we use the Child Problem Toolbox, we might find that our children already understand our concerns, or we may only have to use one or two sentences to express our values or concerns. Applying the tools in this order helps keep the lines of communication open. Remember the quick reminder, “listen before you talk!”

The house reminder is also a good way to remember this rule. The best way to come into a house is through the front door. This reminds us that the door, the Child Problem Toolbox, is the first step of every response. When parents state their part of the problem first, it’s like they are climbing into the house through the window. If parents use discipline as a first response, the parents have climbed a ladder into the attic! The door, not the windows or attic, is the best way to enter a house.

Step C1: Set limits or express concerns (Clear Communication Toolset). Use these tools to address only the parent’s “SHARP RV” concerns, respectfully and assertively. If it is a C/P with no problem behavior, alternate between the F-A-X Listening and Communication Toolsets (Steps B and C1) to reach a mutual agreement.

Step C2: Redirect misbehavior (PU or PO Toolset). If misbehavior is involved, choose the toolset for that type of behavior. Teach skills (if PU) or break misbehavior cycles (if PO), to redirect the behavior.

Step C3: Reveal discipline (Discipline Toolset). If necessary, build discipline into the agreements you make. By revealing discipline in this way, children understand they must keep agreements and they are responsible for part of the solution.

★   Select tools from the Child or Parent Problem Toolbox according to how much of the problem is the child’s and how much is the parent’s.

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1.  A child wants to quit music lessons. Children need to be involved in making decisions about their extracurricular activities; they are Child problems. If this problem didn’t involve quitting a commitment (a Parent problem that violates rules and values), it might be a 100% Child problem. Thus, the smaller part of the problem (not to be confused with its importance) is the Parent part.

Step A: Prevent problems (Prevention Toolbox). Before children make the commitment to take music lessons, parents can confirm that children are agreeing to finish the series.

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). Listen to the child’s reasons for wanting to quit. Perhaps the child is reacting to another problem, such as feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, or embarrassed. F-A-X Listening helps children feel comfortable revealing these underlying issues.

Step C1: Set limits or express concerns (Clear Communication Toolset). Use these tools only to address the value or rule of fulfilling commitments. In this situation, parents would probably need to go no further than Step C1: Clear Communication Toolset and use parent/child problem solving to resolve the problem.

Step B: Go back to the Child Problem Toolbox to help children generate ideas for fulfilling the current commitment and consider the effects of quitting. By asking helpful questions, children can realize the consequences on their own, without parental lectures. Since the major part of the problem is a Child problem, the final decision must be the child’s, as long as he or she considers commitments already made.

2.  A young girl bites another girl when she doesn’t get what she wants. The biter’s part of the problem (C) is her frustration about not getting what she wants. Biting, which involves safety and health issues, is the parent’s part of the problem. Since the girl is young, she probably doesn’t  have the skills to express herself appropriately (PU). With dangerous behavior, the parent needs to act immediately, but still follow the PASRR steps for the verbal statements made during the action.

Step B: Acknowledge feelings (Child Problem Toolbox). While physically separating the children, the parent acknowledges the biter’s angry feelings. “I can see you are really angry.”

Step C1: Set limits or express concerns (Clear Communication Toolset). State limits firmly, yet respectfully. “Biting hurts!”

Then: Go back to the Child Problem Toolbox and tend to the victim. Recognize her feelings. “Biting hurts your arm and your feelings, huh?” Offer a hug, stroke, or pat on the back.

Step C2: Redirect misbehavior (PU or PO Toolset). Focus again on the biter. If she doesn’t already know acceptable anger management skills (PU), teach them. If the child knows not to bite and has consistently shown that she can control her anger, use the PO Toolset instead. Show the child how to get attention, power, or justice through positive behavior. Only give the biter enough attention to stop the biting, but not so much that it rewards the behavior.

Then: Shift back to the Child Problem Toolbox and tend to the victim. Use problem solving to discuss options for what she can do in the future if someone tries to bite her. (The bully/victim section of the Problem-Solving Toolset offers suggestions.)

Step C3: Reveal discipline (Discipline Toolset). Let the biter know that if she wants to play with other children, she must show she can treat other children respectfully. The child has shown she’s not ready to do this, so she needs to take a break from playing until she has calmed down. Before the child returns to play, use the Prevention Toolbox to get agreements and review the child’s options in future conflicts. Use the Discipline Toolset to reveal what will happen if biting occurs again. The child will give up play privileges for a longer, but still reasonable, period of time. The child can practice the skills the parent just taught while the lesson is fresh in her mind.

★   Whenever possible, resolve the issues closer to the “core of the onion” first. (Unless it would be dangerous to do so.) Complicated problems have several problems occurring at once, with some closer to the core of the onion than others. Identify each part of the bigger problem. If you know what

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the “real issue” is, address it first. If not, follow the PASRR response formula. At “Step B: Child Problem Toolbox,” the F-A-X Listening Toolset can help reveal the deeper issues.

A Parenting Class Discussion. A parent shared a rather complicated scenario in class. When her eight-year-old son came home from school, she reminded him that he had his first religious education class that night and would need to get his homework done before leaving. He threw his books down, saying “I want to play with Ryan! I’m not going to do this stupid homework and I’m not going to that stupid religion class.” The mother reacted to the son’s behavior and things deteriorated quickly. She knew she didn’t handle it well, but wasn’t sure what she could have done instead. The class helped her see that there were several problems happening at once. I drew the following onion diagram and we helped her come up with a general plan that might have resolved each part of the bigger problem.

Presenting Problem: Son threw down books, refused to do homework and complained he couldn’t play. Type of Problem: C/PO, the child complained, which means he has a problem. Throwing books is intentional misbehavior, a PO problem. Important Question: Why is he so upset? The answer determines the response.
Problem: Child thinks he can’t play. Type of Problem: PU, because he doesn’t know for sure that he can’t play, he is assuming this. Response: The parent first lets him know he can play, if he comes up with a plan to get his homework done before he needs to leave.
Problem: Child is overwhelmed by homework. Type of Problem: C,because homework is his responsibility and he has a problem with the amount. Response: The parent acknowledges his frustration and uses problem solving to guide him.
Real Issue: Child doesn’t want to go to religion class. (The mother thought  this was the core issue, more than the child feeling over-whelmed.) Type of Problem: C/P, because the child doesn’t like something the parent values. Response: The parent listens to the child’s reasons for disliking it, briefly states her values, and uses problem solving to arrive at a win/win solution.


Use the Maintenance Toolbox (Step D) for Family Decisions and Problems or to Follow-up.


There is no problem and we want to maintain progress. We also might need to make decisions or solve problems that involve or affect the entire family.


Step D: Maintenance Toolbox. (Check the roof regularly, maintain progress, follow-up.) When we are in the No problem zone,

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we can use the Family Council Toolset to build teamwork, discuss issues, teach healthy communication skills, and build the self-esteem of all family members. When decisions or problems affect the entire family, we can use the Family Council Toolset to involve family members in the problem-solving process. When family members agree on solutions, they are more likely to follow through with them. We can also use the Three C’s (Consistency, Criticism, Confidence) to maintain our personal progress.


★   One type of behavior can be more than one type of problem, depending on how we answer the decision-making questions. We decide which tools to choose at each step of our response by the type of problem it is at that time with that person. A good example is temper tantrums. People of any age can have “tantrums.” Teens and adults might yell, stomp, or slam doors. Young children might throw themselves on the floor, kicking and screaming. The type of tantrum decides our response.

Frustration tantrums (C) usually occur after a build-up of emotions. We first want to offer comfort and recognize the difficulty of the situation (Child Problem Toolbox). Then, we can offer encouragement and teach skills, without taking over the problem (Prevention Toolbox).

Over-stimulation tantrums (PU) usually occur when young children are hungry, tired, or over-whelmed. They don’t know how to handle these physical changes and “fall apart.” Prevent problems by establishing regular routines and teach children how to listen to their bodies (Step A). Parents need to repeat these lessons often and be patient, until children mature and master these skills. During over-stimulation tantrums, Acknowledge the child’s feelings (Step B). Give children information to help them better understand what’s happening (Step C1: Set limits or express concerns). Redirect the child by offering acceptable options that meet the child’s immediate need (Step C2). Until children’s skills improve, we can either remove the source of stimulation (which might be the parent) or gently but firmly remove children from the source (Step C3).

Attention tantrums (C/PO) usually occur when children use extreme behavior (PO) to get their parents to notice them (C). If attention tantrums have paid off in the past, children will escalate their behavior, until the parent must notice them. We can avoid some attention tantrums by spending regular quality time with children and involving them in activities that help them feel important and noticed (Step A: Prevent the problem). When responding to attention tantrums, we recognize the child’s desire to spend time with us (Step B: Acknowledge the feelings). We keep our cool and state our needs (Step C1: Set limits). Teach children positive ways to ask for attention and offer activities they can do, until we can give them our full attention (Step C2: Redirect misbehavior). If these responses don’t stop the behavior, any further attention will only reward it. Selectively ignore the negative behavior long enough to make it clear that we do not pay attention to this type of behavior. If necessary, briefly remove the source of attention, which might be the parent (Step C3: Reveal discipline). After a brief period, suggest an activity that will result in positive attention (Step C2).

Power tantrums (C/PO) occur when children use resistance (PO) to get what they want (C). We can Prevent many power tantrums by offering children choices about what they can have or do (Step A).When children resist, Acknowledge what they want (Step B), keep cool, and offer choices within the bottom line limits (Step C1: Set limits). If the tantrum continues, arguing will escalate the tantrum and giving in will give it a payoff. Instead, restate their choices, then disengage (Step C2: Redirect misbehavior).

If tantrums involve destructive behavior (P), we firmly but gently guide children to a place they can safely calm down (Step C3). As we do this, we acknowledge the child’s feelings (Step B) and use controlled, calm communication (Step C1) to de-escalate the situation. Then we provide appropriate anger energy outlets (Steps C1 and C3).

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  If you misjudge the problem or it shifts from one type to another, adjust your skills accordingly

A Personal Story. When I was a teen, I went on a camping trip with my church group. On the way home, our bus broke down and we were stranded for over two hours without a phone. It was important for me to get home on time because my mother needed help preparing for a dinner party. As I raced home, I planned my apology and how I could clean up and fulfill my duties.

When I walked in the door, I hardly opened my mouth when my mother explained how worried and pressured she was because I was late. I started to explain what happened, but she was too over-whelmed to listen. Tired, dirty, and frustrated, I burst into tears and ran to my room.

I’ll never forget what she did next. She stopped what she was doing in the kitchen (she was already terribly behind and didn’t really have the time), calmed down and came to my room. She apologized for not letting me explain what happened. I told her about the events that were totally out of my control, how I knew she was counting on me, and my plan for getting things done. She let me clean up and we worked together, finishing everything on time.

Before I arrived, my mother thought this was a PO problem and prepared her response accordingly. When I started crying, she immediately shifted gears and dealt with my part of the problem. She realized, by the time I was done with my explanation, that it was really a C/PU problem (unintentional misbehavior). My comments addressed her concerns, so we moved on to a solution, instead of arguing.