There are two types of problems between parents and children. The first is when the child owns the problem and the parent helps resolve it by using "mirror listening." In this case the parent actively listens and reflects back to the child the meaning in his or her words. The parent is on guard not to judge, analyze or resolve the child's problem. In the second case the parent owns the problem and tries to resolve it with "I" statements. "I" statements accurately describe what the parent is experiencing and does not lecture or put-down the child.

Now let us look at what to do when the "relationship" between the parent and child owns the problem. This is a case where the child is doing something that is disturbing to the parent while at the same time the child is committed to continue with what he or she is doing.

For example, Chanie is playing ball in the living room. Mom is concerned that something might get broken so she wants her to stop.

Mom: I am very nervous that if you continue playing ball in the living room something will get broken. And that will be very upsetting to me.

Chanie: But there is nothing else for me to do. It's raining outside and I am bored. You never let me do what I want.

In the above scenario both mother and daughter have a problem. Mother wants Chanie to stop playing ball and Chanie wants to play ball so she won't be bored. In this case the relationship is said to own the problem and thus neither "mirror listening" or "I" messages alone can solve the problem.

Given the volatility of the situation it would be easy for mother to raise her voice and demand, plead or argue with her daughter. This would most certainly lead to a confrontation that would continue to escalate until either mother or Chanie decided to withdraw and save their hostility and frustration for another occasion.

In the Talmud's Ethics of the Fathers (1:12) it is written, "Hillel said: Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace..."

Commentators on this Mishnah explain that "loving peace," is the attitude a person should have towards one's friends (family members) and "pursuing peace," means one must make a great effort to secure peace even when it is very humiliating and or difficult.

One option which allows us to avoid confrontation as well as fulfill Hillel's teaching to "love peace and pursue peace" is to negotiate for a "win-win" solution, i.e., a solution that satisfies both claimant's needs and concerns.

In negotiating a solution acceptable to everyone it is essential to use both "mirror listening" and "I" messages in order to avoid blame, accusations and increased polarization of positions. Negotiation of win-win solutions are often not easy and require the utilization of all of one's communication skills and resources.

In our above example Mom wants the ball out of the living room and Chanie wants something interesting to do and does not want to be just "swept aside." A negotiated "win-win" solution might sound something like this. I have indicated the types of messages being sent within brackets:

Mom: I am very nervous that if you continue playing ball in the living room something will get broken. And that will be very upsetting to me. [Mom owning a problem, I message.]

Chanie: But there is nothing else for me to do. It’s raining outside and I am bored. You never let me do what I want. [Chanie owning a problem, you message.]

Mom: It sounds to me like you're looking for something interesting to do and that sometimes your frustrated that you can't always do what you want. [Mirror listening. Mom also corrects Chanie's cognitive distortion by changing the, "never" of her message to "sometimes."]

Chanie: Yeh, I want something interesting to do and playing ball in the living room is interesting. [I message.]

Mom: How about if instead of playing ball you read a book. [Mom suggest a win-win solution.]

Chanie: I've read all the books we have. [I message.]

Mom: How about if you call your friend Sarah and the two of you can go to the library and take-out something interesting to read. [Mom looks for another win-win solution.]

Chanie: That sounds like fun. I'll put the ball away right now. [Accepts Mom's win-win solution and voluntarily puts away the ball].

The benefits of a negotiated "win-win" solution over one imposed by the parents (which is sometimes necessary) are many:

  • The child is motivated to willingly honor the decision because he or she participated in the process.

  • The process of coming to a win-win solution allows for creativity and flexibility and thus leads to unique solutions for unique problems. This is very different from cook-book like solutions frequently found in some popular magazines and books about parenting.

  • Encourages children to think and accept responsibility for problems and their solutions.

  • When it works it eliminates the need for the parent to rely on "power and authority" to impose a solution. Power often creates mistrust, animosity and distance between children and parents.

  • Reduces the chances of blame and increased conflict.

  • Requires less enforcement by parent.

  • Two heads are better than one.

  • Has a positive affect on the parent child relationship. Creates a feeling of co-operation and respect.

There are six steps that help clarify the process of coming to a win-win solution. They may be helpful at times to keep in the back of your mind as you are struggling to come up with a satisfying solution or to actively utilize when a solution seems very difficult to find:

  1. Defining the problem.

  2. Generating possible solutions.

  3. Evaluating the solutions.

  4. Deciding which solution is best.

  5. Determining how to implement the decision.

  6. Assessing how well the solution solved the problem.

Two difficulties inherent with an attempted win-win solution is that it is very time consuming and sometimes an agreeable solution may not be found even after much time and energy has been invested. If it doesn't work there are always other options to try. However, also in the case that no agreeable solution can be found, the child is left with a clear message that a sincere attempt was made to include him or her in the process of finding a solution—even if in the end one has to be imposed. The effort required to find a win-win solution makes the child feel respected, heard and considered. This in turn nourishes a positive and healthy parent/child relationship as well as helping the child maintain and develop a positive self-image.