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The Problem with Solutions


Nearly a decade ago when Nolan was seven and Lilia was five, they were innocently playing Minecraft. It was a rare occasion where they were not bickering or causing mischief. Apparently, a new Minecraft chicken appeared and they decided to name it. Again, in rare form, they both readily agreed on the new name.

Here’s the problem. The name was completely inappropriate. It was Chick-A- _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (the two missing four-letter words here rhyme with "chick;" use your imagination). They didn’t do it on purpose. Even so, the chicken was going to need a new name.

Here’s the solution. I tried to figure out who created the name so I could appeal to the person responsible. That caused a brief disagreement because both of them claimed to be the namer. I decided to direct my attention to Lilia saying, “Why did you come up with that name?...Could you name him something else please?”

Here’s the new problem. They didn’t want to change the name.

Here’s the new solution. I threatened a consequence. “If you’re going to name him that, I’m going to take away your Kindle” which they were both intently playing.

This worked. I got a scared, “NOO!”

Here’s the newer problem. They didn’t like my suggestions for a new name and, in fact, started creating new names for the chicken which were equally (if not more) inappropriate.

Here’s the newer solution. Through my laughter, I said, “You can’t call him that.” I then went back to Solution 1 as though it would now be successful even though it wasn’t just seconds before. “Do not call him that. If you do, I will take away your Kindle without giving you a warning. Do you understand me?”

Here’s the newest problem. All of their solutions to a new name kept including the inappropriate portion of the words they used to name the chicken. The bigger problem was I wasn’t clearly explaining this was the real problem. Instead, I was trying to skirt around the real problem by offering alternative names and threatening the use of the inappropriate name.

Here’s the newest solution. Nolan asked, “Mom, can you name him?...But can you name him a funny name?”

Lilia echoed Nolan’s request, “A funny, funny, funny name!”

“Like what,” I asked. “Something that rhymes?”

I’m happy to say after all of this back and forth, we were able to come up with a name we could all agree to.


Chickens and Eggs

Though your children probably did not want to name a video game chicken an inappropriate name, I am sure you have had incidents where there were several rounds of problems and solutions before you got to a mutual agreement–and I’m not just talking about your personal life.

In education, here are just a handful of examples of common problems:

  • Who do you put in a classroom when a teacher is out if there is a substitute teacher shortage?

  • Science will tell you secondary kids are wired to sleep in and elementary children are wired to wake up early. Yet, schools often start later for elementary children and earlier for secondary kids. How do you change this structure when parents’ schedules are linked to the school day, as are sports, kids’ after-school jobs, etc?

  • How do you get a senior to school when their parents are trying to get them there and the senior refuses to go?

  • What do you do when you have more children who need pull-out services (like speech, OT, PT, counseling, or academic interventions) but there are more services needed by the student than there are times to pull out the child?

  • What do you do when you have more students who need services than you have providers to service them?

  • What if the program you’re using for elementary science has lessons for every day of the school year but you only have time to teach science every other day?

As you read through this list, you might have some of your own ideas regarding how to address these common problems. That’s great! I’m all for offering solutions–no one wants to interact with someone who only exercises the power of the veto without being willing to put alternate solutions on the table. At the same time, the person offering solutions may not know the full scope of the limitations. Which is more challenging? The initial problem or the possible solutions?

Going back to the common problems in education above, and solutions that came to your mind as you read, are you 100 percent sure that your solutions won’t cause more problems? That’s a real possibility. In fact, it’s quite common with difficult situations that the “solution” creates more/different/new problems. In times like these, I usually have four thoughts.

  1. If this were easy to solve, I would have already solved it.

  2. Is the problem something that I can fix anyway?

  3. Am I sure I'm focusing on the real problem rather than a symptom of the problem?

  4. Is the solution better or worse than the problem I’m trying to solve?

A Missing Piece

I recently watched a video by Luka Hocevar, coach and founder of Vigor Ground. In the video, Hocevar says he no longer uses the term “problem” and instead replaces it with the word, “puzzle” because, “guess what? The brain wants to solve puzzles.” Our brains see problems with a negative lens. Conversely, our brains see puzzles as challenges in need of solutions. I found this perspective to be thought-provoking and worth trying.

In other words, perhaps one of the biggest challenges with problems and solutions isn’t the problem or the solution, but how we think about them. I, for one, will be puzzling over this for a while.


P.S. Sometimes the puzzles we face are ones of addiction. How to stop? How to support those we love? With this in mind, my Catch of the Week is who provides helpful information for people who are dealing with substance use issues — and their family members, friends, and co-workers, too. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges faced by those who misuse alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs, or other substances, so Start Your Recovery aims to break through the clutter to help people at any stage of recovery.

Start Your Recovery is an online resource that offers people who are dealing with substance use issues a single source of reputable, objective information about signs, symptoms, conditions, treatment options, and resources — presented in a user-friendly format and in language that’s easy to understand.

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