Raising a Thinking Child:  Help Your Young Child to Resolve Everyday Conflicts and Get Along With Others:  The "I Can Problem Solve" Program

by Myrna B. Shure

Book Review by Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

"Bacon" was his name not by choice. The 8-year-old Florida boy's classmates teased him mercilessly, calling him Bacon because he was fat. He often kicked his tormentors, with disastrous results. Then the boy participated in an "I Can Problem Solve" program and learned to think for himself. He unarmed the bullies with his words.

One day, when a bully called him Bacon, he replied, "Yeah, and I sizzle. I sizzle." No one ever called him Bacon again. Four years later, he has lots of friends.

Myrna Shure, who developed the "I Can Problem Solve" program, shares that story because it shows the power of her problem-solving approach. She believes that involving children in the process of
thinking about a problem helps them find their own solutions. If a teacher or parent had suggested Bacon say "sizzle," it wouldn't have solved the problem, she says.

Dr. Shure is the author of a new book, Raising a Thinking Preteen: The "I Can Problem Solve" Program For 8- To 12-Year-Olds (Henry Holt; $23). It's the follow-up to her first book, Raising a Thinking Child, which focused on younger children and won a 1996 Parent's Choice Award. Ms. Shure, a developmental psychologist and professor of psychology at MCP Hahnemann University in Philadelphia, visits Kettering on Tuesday to sign and discuss her book.

Parents often fall into the trap of using other methods of communication in handling situations with their children, Dr. Shure says. Let's say a child is teasing his brother. A parent might say: 
"Instead of teasing your brother why don't you be nice to him? It isn't nice to tease. (Suggesting approach).

"When you tease your brother, you make him mad. I feel angry when you talk to your brother like that. You hurt his feelings. Your brother doesn't like to be teased. (Explaining approach).

"How many times have I told you not to tease your brother? Now, go to your room." (Power approach).

The problem with each of these methods, Dr. Shure says, is they are one-way monologues. "They're doing all the talking and thinking for the child. The child is a passive recipient and may be tuning it out."

Problem-solving goes a step further than other communication methods and turns statements into questions, so it involves the child in the process of thinking about what he's doing and why, Dr. Shure says. It becomes a two-way dialogue. It turns the child into an active participant.

"It's empowering the kids instead of overpowering them. It's sending the message, "I know you're a good problem solver. I know you can make good decisions. I care how you feel, and I want you to care how you feel.' Children who don't care what happens to them can't possibly care what happens to others."

In a problem-solving approach, a parent might say, "Can you think of a different way to talk to your brother or to tell your brother how you feel? How do you think your brother feels when you talk to him like that? How do you feel about his feeling that way?"

That question, she says, shouldn't be confused with: "How would you feel if he did that you?" It's a rhetorical question that is not genuine information-seeking. "That is a different tone you're trying
to communicate," she says. "It's accusatory." 

Dr. Shure paves the way for problem-solving conversations by suggesting word games that kids can play at the dinner table. Parents provide fictitious scenarios that kids work through in a relaxed
setting. Then, when the real situation heats up, they've learned problem-solving techniques.

For example, a parent can introduce the "What Can You Do While You Wait?" game. The parent gives this scenario: "Terry wanted his mother to help him with his violin lesson, but his mom was busy reading a book to his younger sister. Now you tell me five things Terry could do while he waits." A child may not be able to come up with five things, but the parent can help.

Later on, when the child interrupts her parent talking on the phone, the parent can say, "Can I talk to you and on the phone at the same time? What can you do while you wait?" The child then thinks back to all the options she listed during the game.

It's so important to reach kids in the 8- to 12-year-old range, Dr. Shure says, because that's when they're still willing to talk with their parents. That's the age where they're deciphering who they are,
what they want to be, what values they want to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

"Kids who can't think about problems important to them when they're younger, like making friends, can't think about more serious problems later on," Dr. Shure says.

"You're giving kids the skills they'll take with them for life. If we change the way we talk to kids, it will change the way they talk to us, to their friends, and most importantly, it will change the way
they talk to themselves."

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