Skip to main content

How do I know when to just listen with love versus problem-solve?

Submitted by Heather on Wed, 10/12/2016 - 18:14

If you have noticed an unusual string of upsets over a variety of situations, your child may just need a shoulder to cry it out on or some time to scream and thrash. If you begin with some empathy and problem-solving, a child who needs to cry won't regulate, they will still be upset.

If the conflict is about something that they seem open to problem solving with you, they are more likely to want a solution than need a cry. Again, it’s okay to get it wrong, they will correct you as  you try to figure this out.

A word of caution in this is that problem solving really should take into account the parent's limits and cautions about safety as much as the child's requests and needs. The solution should account for both on most occasions. The reason for this is simple: there’s a lot for children to learn about taking the needs of others into consideration when figuring out a problem that also meets their needs. Your modeling that when you value their needs as much as your own is a wonderful way for them to learn that their own needs are as important as other’s.

Often we can find the answers to help our child and ourselves best by taking some time to process this with a friend or partner. This is referred to as a listening partnership, and they can be very helpful.

I (Heather) am happy to create space for the parents enrolled at Caterpillar Cottage if you need someone to listen while you unload your own stress or worry about your child. Having an opportunity to vent without worry of judgment can be a huge release and allow our best thinking to emerge so that we can better problem-solve for ourselves and our parenting.

You may also be able to find another parent to partner with, the rule being that you divide time equally and that you are listening with empathy, without comment or judgement and giving each other space to release and think things through. It takes a little practice and trust, but can work wonders.  I'm happy to provide more info about that for any parent interested. More can also be found at

For more in-depth information about the listening and special time approaches, we recommend a book by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Shore that has recently been published called Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges.