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By imagining solutions together, you can help children to approach problems in positive ways.

Grant in fantasy what you can’t give in reality. If children badly want something that they can’t have, encourage them to imagine what they want – and talk about it. You might say, ‘What would you do if we could stop the car right now?’ or ‘I bet you wish Mummy was here right now. What would you want to do with her?’ (And then, stand in for Mummy and do it, if the request is reasonable and possible.)

Ask children what they want to happen or would like to change. If your child complains about something specific, you might ask your child to suggest some improvements. For example, if your child says, ‘I hate music class because Mr Block is so mean’, you might first ask, ‘What’s the meanest thing Mr Block did?’ Then follow up and ask, ‘What do you wish your teacher had done instead?’

Use dialogue to find solutions. By first letting your child vent negative feelings, and then asking your child to imagine a different scenario, you are encouraging your child not only to discuss the problem, but to become part of the solution.

Grant the wish in fantasy
Instead of criticising the behaviour or feeling, which automatically gets you into a power struggle, you are granting the wish through imagination. Instead of saying, ‘Stop wanting that. It makes no sense’ or ‘I can’t do that for you now’, you are encouraging your child to imagine what he wants and then to describe it.
– John Gottman, PhD, author of Raising an emotionally intelligent child
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  • Last updated or reviewed 26-05-2010
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