All families have disagreements and arguments. It is normal for families to find themselves arguing more often and experiencing bigger emotions during times of stress and unexpected changes. When people feel stressed-out, worried, or frustrated it is harder to be patient and listen to others. This section can help you and your family to successfully communicate and solve problems about upsetting topics.

Keep in mind that a main goal of communication and problem-solving is to make sure that everybody feels like they have been listened to and that their opinions matter. When kids or adults believe no one cares what they say, they are more likely to get angry and storm off, causing the discussion to come to an end. Allowing everyone to talk, listening to each other, and working together makes it more likely your family will be able to come up with solutions that everyone accepts, even if nobody gets exactly what they wanted.

There are three main steps to problem-solving:

  • First, define the problem by sticking to the facts. When people get upset, they tend to make assumptions and take other people’s actions personally. Whether or not these assumptions are correct, accusing people of purposely being rude tends to make them angry. To avoid making accusations that lead to others being defensive, focus on the facts and don’t speculate about other’s motivations. Try using “I statements” to explain how you feel without blaming others for something they may not realize they are doing.
  • Once you have agreed on the problem, the second step is to work together to come up with possible solutions. Most importantly, make sure everybody gets to offer their ideas and that no idea gets rejected. No one, not even parents, have all the solutions, so it is important for kids to have the chance to offer ideas. Once you have a few ideas, consider the strengths and weaknesses of each idea. As always, this works best if everyone is patient and listens to each other. It can help to repeat what you heard the other person say so that everyone feels understood.
  • The third and final step is to choose a solution that seems most likely to be successful and best fits everyone’s needs. Communication and problem-solving is an ongoing process. So, part of choosing a solution is planning to meet again later to review progress, make revisions, and reward success.

The following simplified steps can help everyone communicate about problems more successfully.

  • Define the problem
    • Describe the problem that is concerning you.
    • Express how the situation makes you feel.
  • Generate solutions
    • Propose a solution and invite other suggestions.
    • Weigh the pros and cons of the proposed solutions.
  • Make a plan
    • Choose a solution that is the best fit for everybody.
    • Set a time to review, revise, and reward success.

You can download a detailed explanation of these communication and problem-solving steps as well as a worksheet to practice using them.