Thinking It Through: A Parent Guide for Problem-Solving Through Transitions

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Thinking It Through: A Parent Guide for Problem-Solving Through Transitions K. Michael Hibbard, Ph.D. and Patricia Cyganovich, Ed.D.

Introduction The School & Home Transition Exchange has been helping you and your children prepare for the social and emotional upheavals that often accompany life transitions. While transitions are not necessarily bad — think about the transitions from grade to grade and school to school, graduation and moving on to the next phase of life, marriage, having a child — they are a frequent occurrence, and for some, navigating the change, which is inherent in a transition, can be very difficult. Bruce Feiler (2020) explains that “life is IN the transitions” in his book by the same name, and that we spend half our lives in this unsettled state. Published earlier by the ProActive Caring Project, Thinking It Through: A Parent Guide to a Mindful Approach for Solving Problems introduced readers to the Cycle of Problem-Solving, a mindful process for solving problems. The Cycle of Problem-Solving gives structure, language, skills and evaluative tools to a way of thinking a problem through to a solution. While we often think of problems and the need to solve them as a negative experience, problem-solving can be very positive and meaningful. Consider problems as challenges, decisions, opportunities and the means for seeking mental and physical health.


Goals of the Parent Guide In this second guide in the series,Thinking It Through: A Parent Guide for Problem-Solving Through Transitions, the goal is to develop the capacity of both parents and children to apply the thinking skills of problem-solving to the problems that are part of the many transitions — both large and small — that are part of life. Children will: • Learn the language and thinking process of problem-solving • Use mindful problem-solving thinking to address the frustration and anxiety of facing transitions • Apply problem-solving to the common transition problem of finding a job • Be able to see and explain themselves as problem-solvers with unique skills that set them apart from other students Parents will: • Incorporate the problem-solving process in mindful behaviors to diminish the frustration, stress and anxiety often accompanying transitions • Help students independently use the Cycle and the System of ProblemSolving • Help children learn about themselves as individuals with problem-solving skills


What are the Problems of Transitions? Whenever we take steps to find a better way to do something, or invent a new product or approach, we are solving a problem. Synonyms for “solve a problem” include: • • • • •

Accomplish a goal Meet a challenge Overcome an obstacle Find a better way Deal with a difficulty

Transitions stimulate questions, which are the problems to solve: • • • • • •

What am I going to do this summer? How can I improve my grades next year? How can I make new friends? How can I find a job? What shall I do after high school? How can I find someone to help me?

It is not uncommon that transitions create situations that cause frustration and even anger. Combining mindfulness and a systematic process of problem-solving can help a frustrated individual work through the problem. When people who have gained skills for creating a personal sense of calm become mindful that frustration is building and have an approach that can be utilized to handle any problem, frustration and even fear that is often inherent in a transition can be diminished.


The Cycle of Problem-Solving

All frustrations are not gone, but they do become more manageable. And most importantly, the individual facing the transition has a “process to use” to take control of the situation rather than being controlled by it. The Cycle of Problem-Solving provides that process. It will guide you and your child through the problem of the transition, creating a sense of calm, accomplishment and confidence. Think of the Cycle of Problem-Solving as the go-to toolbox or “cheat sheet” to use whenever a problem arises. It can become your mantra!


The Cycle of Problem-Solving

The Six-Phase Process to Solve the Problem Phase 1: Problem Finding and Analyzing Audience — The child describes the problem in their own words. Often the problem is something the child wants or needs. Phase 2: Research — The child talks about what caused the problem and their feelings about it. Adults help children describe the behaviors that happened in the incident. Older children might research the problem to have more information to use when solving it. Phase 3: Generating Ideas for Solution — The child considers as many ideas as possible to solve the problem. This is called brainstorming. Adults help children “think of just one more idea,” and all ideas are recorded. Phase 4: Selecting a Solution and Designing an Implementation Plan — The child picks one recorded idea to try, and with the help of the adult plans how to use that idea. Phase 5: Communicating with the Audience and Implementing the Plan — The child carries out the plan. Phase 6: Self-Reflecting and Setting Goals — After the child has tried the plan which is the solution to the problem, the child talks about how well the plan worked and how it might be used in the future. 5

The System of Problem-Solving Successful problem-solving also requires the use of executive functioning skills such as paying attention, organizing and planning, starting tasks and staying focused on them, managing emotions, and keeping track of what has been accomplished. People vary in the development of these executive functioning skills. Those with highly developed executive functioning skills may have the capacity to quickly and independently adapt this problem-solving strategy to support their thinking. Those with less developed executive functioning skills — and especially students guided by parents through this thinking process — will find that this organized, structured approach to problem-solving provides the direction that yields success. With success, students are encouraged and then empowered to continue to work toward independently solving problems which in turn builds executive functioning skills. The System of Problem-Solving engages three other gears, all of which are essential to problem solving.

The System of Problem-Solving

The top gear represents the basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, and more. The gear on the bottom left represents social skills, such as working in a group, being kind, and listening. The gear on the bottom right represents personal skills and dispositions such as managing time, organizing, planning, and persisting. Sometimes a “problem” with a social or personal skill is, itself, a “problem to solve.” “How can I be a more productive member of the team?” or “How can I manage my time better?” are “goals to improve.” Using the Cycle and System as the framework, let’s think through a common transition challenge for many young people ... applying for a job. 6

Let’s Get a Job! Especially in this post-pandemic economy, securing a job is more than listing information about oneself. Employers want to know how an individual thinks and what skills they possess to attack the difficulties that may come in the position. Help children use the Cycle of Problem-Solving to consider job options, make decisions, learn about themselves and gain confidence with the ability to solve the problem of finding a job.

Guiding Questions for Finding a Job Phase 1: Finding a job How do I find a job that fits my skills that I would love? Phase 2: Research What are my skills? What do I love to do that might be used in a job? What kind of job do I want: Time of day, day of the week, working alone or with others, meeting customers, outdoor or indoor work? What do I NOT WANT to be part of the job?

Phase 3: Ideas for Jobs What jobs might I want? How do I get help making a list of jobs I might want? Phase 4: Selecting a Job What are two or three jobs for which I should try? How will I prepare for the process of applying for these jobs? Who will help me? Phase 5: Process of Applying for the Job How will I apply for each job (interview, application, letter)? How will I explain that I am a problem solver? Phase 6: Reflect on Problem-Solving Processes and Planning Improvements Which were my “best fit” choices? How do those who helped me feel about my choices? What are my strengths in the job market? Areas of improvement?

These are questions to help your child think through the transition of the job search process in a systematic, mindful way. Notice that the search process follows the six phases of the Cycle, and that returning to a previous phase (more research, for example) is not only OK, but is a sign of independence. With a job idea in mind, what will make your student stand out in the crowd in a competitive job market? Listing accomplishments in a resume tells the story of what a person has done. It does not tell the story of how a person thinks. 7

Lets get a Job! You are much more than your resume

Tell your story about how you think as a problem solver. What was the situation? Phase 1: How did I define the problem to solve? Who wanted a solution? Phase 2: What research did I do? Phase 3: What ideas for a solution did I consider? Phase 4: What idea did I pick and why did I choose it? Phase 5: How did I use my idea? Phase 6: How did my idea work?

Employers want to know how a potential employee thinks, how they get along with people, how reliable and hardworking they are, and what their attitude is about working. Rather than listing jobs or tasks, your child is learning to showcase these skills by telling their story of solving a problem, accomplishing a goal, or dealing with a difficulty by following the six phases of problem-solving. Help your child tell their problem-solving through experiences: Painting a bedroom for a sibling, volunteering to cook for a church group, working with Dad at home. The story will help your child show the employer how they think through problems and will provide examples of their skills. 8

Let’s Get a Job! Here’s the story of how one young man solved the transition problem of finding a job. Tell your problem-solving story to find a job Phase 1: State my goal Get a job so I can earn money to buy a good computer. Phase 2: My research about me I like talking to people. I am not good in the early morning. I am good at drawing and enjoy art. I am good at details — I am a perfectionist. I don’t drive. I like to be outside. Phase 3: Ideas for a job Deli for lunch crowd Local art store Painter — my neighbor paints houses — I like to paint. Dog walking YWCA Camp Phase 4: Selecting and applying for a job Painting houses: Ouside work, no need to drive, I like my neighbor I will have to change my sleeping patterns — painting work starts at 8 a.m. Phase 5: My plan to get the job Schedule an appointment with my neighbor. Show my neighbor photos of the painting I did with my Dad in our house. Tell my story of how I solved the problem of painting my little sister’s room with her help — and we were both happy with the results. Prepare to speak about myself and why I would be a good employee. Tell my neighbor the steps I took to apply for this job. Phase 6: How did I do and what could I do better? (This is done after my job interview with my neighbor, the painter.) How did my choices for a job fit my skills? What can I do to have a better chance of getting a job? What did I learn from each job application/interview? Which job did I get and why?


Let’s get a Job! Remember that the student is following the six phases to gather information about the skills needed in a job, selecting one to try for, learning about personal skills and how they fit the job and organizing thinking about the decision to apply for the job as a painter so it can be explained to the employer. The goal is to show the skills and the thinking as a problem-solver. Here are some more questions for your student to consider:

The Story Continues • What roadblocks did I encounter and how did I get around them? • If my plan did not work out, what did I do to find a better solution? • What did I learn about being organized and getting the job done on time? • What did I learn about working with other people? • How did I set a goal to improve and did I actually improve? Notice that these questions focus on what might have gone wrong as well as what went right. It’s important for children to understand that failure and setbacks are part of all transitions and that there is much to learn from what does not go our way. Addressing the frustrations that come with the problems of a transition is an ongoing process. The ability to talk about what was learned from a failure and to make improvements from that learning is a life skill for your child.


Let’s get a Job!

Share your story as a problem solver • Write your story using the guiding questions to explain how you used the Cycle of Problem-Solving phases to find a job. • In an interview or application letter, be prepared to tell your story using the phases as an outline so others see you as a problemsolver. • Explain how your skills as a problem-solver will prepare you for the job for which you are applying.

Following the phases of the Cycle of Problem-Solving, children discover much about themselves, learn how they think about solving the problem of looking for a job, and discover how to face setbacks. You can help your child document thinking on Post-It notes, in a list as shown above or by recording answers to the guiding questions being considered. As a final step, your child may be able to write their problem-solving story or explain it in a conversation or interview. Remember your child is trying to explain the thinking and planning used in the job search to manage the confusion, and sometimes overwhelming feeling of frustration common in this transition. This is what sets your child apart from other job applicants. More importantly, your child is learning and practicing the skill of problemsolving that can be applied to any transition or situation they may encounter.


Avoid Rushing to a Solution

A common behavior is to react to a situation by rushing to the ONE solution that comes to mind A more MINDFUL, PRODUCTIVE process is to take a breath and follow the six-phase process to SOLVE the PROBLEM. Use the Cycle and System of Problem-Solving as a thoughtful, proactive approach that can be applied to any life transition. It is meant to give your child (and you) an easily remembered guide for addressing problems, including getting a job! And we are here to help. Contact information: K. Michael Hibbard, Ph.D. Patricia Cyganovich, Ed.D. Copyright, all rights reserved, 2021 12

This booklet is published by the ProActive Caring Project. The ProActive Caring Project was created by the Center on Aging and Disability Policy at Mount Saint Mary College. It aims to teach effective coping mechanisms for short- and long-term stressful situations. The project is funded by the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (NYS DDPC) in order to provide family caregivers of individuals with intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities in New York State with expanded training and support. Visit the ProActive Caring Digital Resource Center: Follow ProActive Caring on social media:




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