Seek to Understand, Not to Solve

June 19, 2013 at 8:20 am (Positive Discipline)


A smile-worthy pin that many of us moms can relate to. But it reminds me of an important principle by which I parent: I try not to tell my kids what to do about their struggles.

Sometimes this is hard. It’s easy for me to see solutions to my children’s problems and I just want to hand them over and make things easy for my kids.

What you need to do is…
I know, just do this…
Here’s how to do it…

First you need to…
Oh, no problem. Just…
Here’s what you should do…


But more than they need answers, children need to be understood. When we take the time to actively listen to kids, validate their feelings, and accept those feelings as normal, a solution often naturally presents itself to the child. The brain has processed the emotional component of the problem and can now move on to the logical. When we aim to understand rather than immediately fix, we are helping a child develop those valuable neural connections necessary for problem solving.

That’s a tough problem…
You sound frustrated…
Oh, how annoying…
You tried to do something and it didn’t work…
You’re sad about this…
It’s normal to feel angry like that…
What ideas did you come up with?
What will you try next?

My goal is not to tell my kids what to do in every situation, but to allow them to discover their own solutions while I encourage them through any failures. My role as a parent is not to exist as an executor of my kids’ lives but to be in a position of support and connection while they live them on their own.

I don’t want to use my neural connections for solving my children’s problems; I’d rather help them build their own.


  1. Jane said,


    Since we’ll be seeing you soon, I wanted to share that we are paying attention to the ideas in this post with Gavin. It is hard at times when he gets frustrated. We’ve been letting him struggle more and validating his FEELINGS but letting him solve problems on his own when appropriate. Or offering only minimal assistance as he solves the problem.

    I wanted to share this for consistency while we are together.


    Jane Sampson

  2. Katherine Silvan said,

    Thank you for these words, Kelly, so helpful and sensical.
    Any help dealing with lost objects?

    My 5 yr. old comes to me with great frequency to say he can’t find his favorite ____. I try to respond by asking if he’s looked in all the usual places and have showed him how to carefully look for something (maybe not enough!) What ends up happening is he doesn’t look carefully, can’t find it, starts nagging in a demanding way, then becomes agitated insisting that I help him; his mood/ behavior continues to escalate.

    I then give up/get frustrated and help him (five seconds later when I find what he’s looking for I’m the best mom in the world.) This does not feel like not the way I want to parent.

    I won’t generalize the whole gender, but the men in my life have a built in block when it comes to locating things they need. 😉 I very much want to help break this pattern with my son! Any suggestions?

    Many thanks!
    Katherine Silvan

  3. How I Know For a Fact That Children Are Not Morons | unnecessarywisdom said,

    […] Seek to Understand, Not to Solve ( […]

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