The Parents Toolshop® Guidebook:
5 Easy Steps to Effectively Respond to Any Parenting Challenge!
Child Problems Toolset

Welcome to Chapter 18! 

Today’s lesson is all about how to defuse the drama while helping your child learn to problem-solve. First, here’s a refresher:

RECAP: Remember the PASRR formula you learned early on in this series? You just learned the top tools for the first step:

       Preventing problems from starting or worsening.

Now you are ready to learn the next step:

Acknowledge the child’s feelings. (Responding to Child problems.)

Child problems involve Peers, Emotions, Siblings and School.

Tanya came home from school upset. Some of the girls at school wouldn’t let her hang out with them in the middle school cafeteria because they saw her talking to some of the athletes. They actually told her, “You have to choose between us and them. You can’t be friends with us both.” 

Tanya was devastated; she started crying as she told her mom what happened. Her mom, remembering her own feelings of rejection and anger at the cliques she had to deal with as a teen. She told Tanya not to let them bother her, to be friends with whomever she wanted, and that they didn’t deserve to have her as a friend. 

Tanya became even more hysterical. She said, “You don’t understand! Either way I lose friends! I can’t ever talk to you! I hate you!” Tanya’s mom just chalked up her outburst to hormones and told her, “Every girl has gone through what you are going through. You’ll get over it.” 

This second step of the PASRR Formula is the one most parents skip and then pay the price, because problems often escalate into dramatic performances.

When facing a Parent problem, acknowledging the child’s feelings may only be a quick half-sentence. The second half of the sentence involves the next step, “Set limits or express concerns,” which you’ll learn in lesson 21.

You don’t have to agree with the child’s feelings, opinion or perspective. Just acknowledge it; that is where your child is at now. Just show you understand. If you have a Parent problem, you’ll get your turn to express your concerns in the next step of the PASRR Formula, which could be in a matter of seconds. This lesson, however, is focusing exclusively on Child problems.

When facing a Child problem, you STOP at this step of the PASRR Formula and use a more extensive process that helps children work through their feelings and guides them through the process of making decisions and/or solving their own problems.

This three-step process is called F-A-X Listening, which is the fifth five-star tool.starstarstarstarstar

When children have a problem, guide and support them without taking over, by doing the following:

Focus on feelings
Ask helpful questions
X-amine possible solutions

 This lesson will give you a brief overview of F-A-X Listening.

First, have the attitude that you are sincerely interested and willing to listen. No matter how small or big the issue, put down what you are doing and give your full attention. By listening to the small stuff, children know they can trust you with the big stuff. How you listen, is important, too. 

Focus on Feelings

Usually, parents hear what their children are saying, then tell them what to do. They assume they understood and have the answer. Or they ask fact-finding questions so they can solve the problem. This frustrates children who need to vent and implies they are incapable of solving their own problems. This makes it more likely that children will be less competent, because it denies children the chance to learn how to solve their own problems.

People, adults and children alike, have difficulty thinking logically when their emotions are high. Venting emotional energy helps them get their logical brains back on line and start figuring out what to do.

When children share their feelings or stories, summarize what they said and how you think they might be feeling. Do not give advice or ask, “How does that make you feel?” Children usually think, “Well if you’d been listening it would be obvious!” In words that are authentic to you, say something like, “You sound (feeling) because (summarize what) happened.” Here are a few more options:

  • “Sounds like you’d really like …”
  • “I can tell that you want …”
  • “I bet you wish …”
  • “Did that feel …?”
  • “I see you (describe their body language). Are you are feeling …?”

If you interrupt with advice before you’ve shown you understand, children will clam up, thinking, “How can you give me advice if you haven’t even heard me out?” If you show you are trying to understand, but are off-base, children will often clarify by sharing more. For more information on using this first step of the F-A-X process, read these articles on how to get children to open up and how you can handle emotional outbursts.

When to Move On to the Next F-A-X Step?

If children are talking about feelings, continue reflecting what you hear. This is what peels off the layers to reveal the core issue underneath. This is the real issue they need to solve.

If children start talking about facts: who, what, when, where, etc., they are showing they are ready to move to the next step, so you want to shift gears, too.

Ask Helpful Questions 

The number-one most important skill all parents need to learn is
how to ask helpful questions.

Helpful questions invite more feelings or information. People can’t simply answer yes or no. They are not fact-finding questions that “grill” children. Helpful questions “put the ball in the child’s court” and help children think for themselves. “What” and “how” questions develop thinking and judgment skills. “Why” questions usually make people feel defensive, so only use them to express a sincere desire to understand the child.

Here are some examples of helpful questions:
▸     “You look (feeling). What happened?”
▸     “Could you give me an example of … ?”
▸     “What do you mean when you say … ?”
▸     “What do you think caused that to happen?”
▸     “What did you think at the time?”
▸     “What did you learn from that?”

When to Move On to the Next F-A-X Step?

At this point, it will be clear if the child just needed to just blow off steam or better understand what was happening. If that’s all they needed, they will show you their needs were met and they are done. If they need to find a solution, don’t offer advice. Instead, guide them through the problem-solving process by taking the final step:

X-amine Possible Solutions 

When children need a solution, the quick and easy approach is to offer advice. However, this deprives children of an important opportunity to learn how to make decisions and solve problems independently and responsibly. These are critical life skills they need to develop. Instead, follow this five-step process:

  1. Ask “What can you do?” This question says to them, non-verbally, “You are capable of handling this,” “I trust your judgment.” (If you don’t, then you really need to use F-A-X Listening to develop your child’s judgment!)
  2. Brainstorm: Listen to the child’s ideas. Keep asking, “Any other ideas?” Write them down (or have the child write them) without commenting on or judging the ideas.
  3. Evaluate: Now look at the ideas. For each, ask “what would happen if you did that?” This is where the child can weed out inappropriate or unhelpful solutions. It also teaches the child to think about the consequences of his or her actions and options.
    If you see a potential problem with an idea that your child doesn’t think of ask, “…and then what would happen?” If you need to give a hint, you can. For example, “Yes, hitting that kid on the school bus might make him stop bugging you. Then what would happen when the bus driver sees you do that?”
  4. Decide: Ask the child to choose a solution. “So, what do you think is your best option?” Or “Which option do you want to try first?”
  5. Plan the response. Ask, “What will you do? When will you do it?” “How will you say that?” Role play, if necessary, so children know what to say or do the next time.
  6. Follow-up. “When can you let me know how things went?”

By guiding children through this process, they learn valuable skills that will help them their whole lives when they have a decision to make or problem to solve. If you can’t remember all five steps, just remember B-E-D (see the bold/underlined letters above) and you will have the core steps you need to stay on track.

Finally, remember these important points:

  • The quality of the child’s solution is not as important as the process by which the child reached it. Your goal is not to come up with the best solution in the fastest time. The only way children will learn to solve their own problems is with practice. Your goal is to make the time to guide your child through the process of finding his or her own solution so the child will learn how to do this independently and responsibly.
  • Some people are internal problem solvers. Respect their desire not to talk and encourage them to write down their feelings and ideas.

You can use the F-A-X listening/problem-solving process with one child or to mediate conflicts between children and their peers or siblings. To learn the problem-solving process in the most detail possible and hear suggestions for trouble-shooting at each step, get the “Solving Sibling Strife” Teleseminar. Check out my articles on “Halting Homework Hassles” or “Parent-Teacher Conferencesto learn how to apply the process to school problems.


  1. When your child expresses a feeling, opinion, belief, or perspective — no matter how small and no matter how alarming — STOP, LOOK and LISTEN with full attention. Bite your tongue if you are tempted to give advice. Summarize what the child said and, if appropriate, ask your child what he/she wants to do about it. In the forum, share what your child said, how you responded, and how the child reacted to your response. Did they calm down? That’s usually the result.
  2. The next time your child has a problem to solve, use the Problem-Solving Worksheet. It will walk you through the entire F-A-X Listening process. You’ll need Adobe Acrobat to open and read this document.
  3. Feel free to share how it’s going in the comment section below as you practice F-A-X Listening skills.

Here is a list of the recommended resources in this lesson:

Get the Lunch & Learn audio Home Study Package to have more in-depth information about F-A-X Listening and how to teach children to independently solve their own problems responsibly.