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Problem Solving Risk:

Communication and relationships tend to be at the same level in a family. The risk level for each is usually about the same. Now think about how your family goes about problem solving. It likely matches the levels of relationships and communication. For example, when relationships are interdependent and communication is congruent, problem solving usually is flexible. This means it depends on who has the problem and who is in the best place to solve it. Each family member depends on each other member to handle things appropriately.

Here is how communication works at a somewhat higher risk level. Suppose relationships were supportive and communication were searching. How would your family solve problems? You likely would help each other search for solutions. This is exploring.

Here is the difficulty with problem solving by exploring. Your child says, "I do not know how to do my homework. It's a problem." You respond, "I don't know what the problem might be. Let's talk about it. What are some possible reasons why you don't know how?" As you see, if exploring is the norm for problems from trivial to serious, life can get rather tedious. Also, it is not clear who is or should be responsible for the problem.

The risk becomes more clear as the level deteriorates. In higher risk families, problem solving is mechanical. "No," may be the mechanical response to any request. It may be that getting angry or upset is the mechanical reaction to any problem. "We will do whatever your father says," is another possibility. Some families use worrying and fretting about everything as the usual approach. The point is every problem is dealt with in the same way, by the same people. There is no thought of finding a solution fitting the person having the problem and what works best for the welfare of the family. This is, in part, why families have the same recurring difficulties and children continue problematic behavior despite efforts to help them change. The idea that new behavior and approaches might lead to better outcomes is simply a foreign notion. For them, it is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and thus not desirable. As someone once said, "Fools rush in where fools have been before."

At the least functional level, there is no problem solving. This can be hard to see, though. This is why. If nothing is done, events keep moving and things happen. Problems may get worse; but sometimes things work out despite the fact that nothing was done. It is a law of averages kind of thing.

When they do work out, the temptation is to give someone credit for solving the problem. If they get worse, one may assume that the effort to solve the problem just did not work out. If you look closely, though, you will find that no one is doing anything to solve problems. As the saying goes, shit happens; and sometimes you get it on you and sometimes you just luck out.

This is what finally happened with TJ, except luck was not with him. Of course, he finally got his life together. Leroy and his mother probably think this means they had done fine, all things considered.

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Please send comments or questions to Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. GAC@GaryCrow.net