Creative Problem Solving vs The Suckers Choice

by Mary Ann on June 1, 2012

family going for walk picture

The "walkers"

My daughter just had her fourth baby and suffered some pretty significant post partum depression. So to combat the effects of that problem she decided to exercise by taking a sustained kids in the morning.

She has four children so how do you think that went?

Let me share a walk I took with them last week. Jack and Mary took off running! This will be a fast walk I thought.

Soon they reached our neighbors home with a ramp. It was up the ramp and down the ramp at a full run. Then it was up the ramp and down the ramp rolling over and over again. Good thing we are friends with this neighbor.

Next was the cement retaining wall. It had to be climbed on and then carefully followed by little feet. If anyone fell off they felt they had to go back to the beginning and start again.

Next was the yard with all the kids. Stop and chat. Let’s see what they are doing. Let’s join in!

kids walk picture

Kid's Walk - slow and interesting

And dogs! Every dog had to be spoken to and if it was a happy dog, petted. EVERY dog! I never realized how many dogs we have in my neighborhood!

And then there were the treasures. Every walk is all about the treasures that have to be picked up examined and then stowed in the stroller to be carried home; stones, sticks, leaves, torn paper cups, etc.

findings during kids walk picture

A kids walk is about discovery and going SLOW!

About half way around the block Mary’s little legs began to wear out. Remember they have covered the first half at a full run (disregarding all the stops). So it was into the stroller. The key to knowing when she wanted in the stroller was the phrase, WAIT, WAIT, WAIT!

Then we would press on for about 2 minutes (I do not exaggerate here) and then she would need to get out to see something or to run. The key phrase to know when she needed to get out was a clear STOP, STOP, STOP!

Did you get the timing on this little exercise that lasted for the second half of our walk? Into the stroller for 2 minutes or less. Out of the stroller for two minutes or less. Sigh!

Can you see how frustrating this walk would be to my daughter who really needed some sustained exercise?

She had a couple of obvious choices –

• Don’t take a walk
• Be frustrated and get angry with the kids.

When faced with two choices that are equally bad it’s called the Sucker’s Choice. Don’t pick one of them. There is always a third alternative and you can find it with a little creative problem solving.

A Creative Problem Solving Activity

How can we avoid making the Suckers choice and come up with creative solutions to real and frustrating situations?

• Work on me first. You are likely to benefit by improving your own approach and you are the only person you can really work on anyway.

• Make sure your heart is in the right place and stay focused on the matter at hand.

• Do NOT make the suckers choice. Believe that there is always at least a third choice.

• Determine what it is that you really want to have happen. Ask “What do I really want here.”

• Ask the question “What do I really want for the other person?”

• Then ask this question “What do I really want for the relationship?”

• Finally, ask a very telling question “How would I behave if I really wanted these results?”

• Search for the elusive AND. Present yourself with tougher questions which turn the either/or choice into a search for the elusive AND. Clarify what you want and clarify what you don’t want. Present your brain with a more complex problem by asking the questions posed above.

“When we present our brain with a demanding question, our body sends precious blood to the parts of our brain that help us think, and away from the parts of our body that make us want to fight.” (from Crucial Conversations by Kerry Paterson, Joseph Grenny, ron Mcmillan, Al Switzler) The Sucker’s Choice presents our brain with problems that are easily solved with restricted blood flow. They don’t require creative thought. The Sucker’s Choice keeps us stuck in ineffective strategies.

Now back to the story. How did Jodie solve the situation she was facing?

First she looked at her motives. She did need and want to exercise so she could return to good health and she did not want to be frustrated.

She realized that she did not want to jeopardize the relationship she has with her children by being angry with them for natural, childish behaviors.

She knew that if she really wanted health and to not be angry with her kids then she would need to find a way to help them understand her need for a walk while still allowing them space and time to take a walk the way a child would take a walk. (Her kids are ages 2 mo to 6)

Creative Problem Solving List and Process

So she asked the pivotal questions posed above and set her brain to work to come up with at least a third alternative. She made a list.

  • Get a baby sitter
  • Trade exercise days with another mom who also wanted to exercise with a sustained walk
  • Walk when her husband got home and could watch the children
  • Get up before the children and walk. (They are up at 5:30 sometimes!)

None of these options appealed to her because they were not realistic for her family situation for many reasons.

She kept thinking and here is what she finally came up with – Mom’s Walk and Kid’s Walk.

She told her children all about the two. If it was a Mom’s walk then everyone stayed in the stroller and mom would walk fast. If it was a kid’s walk then everyone could get in and out of the stroller and they would go slow.

This is how it plays out at her home. Every morning is Mom’s walk. And if they walk in the afternoon, which they do at least twice a week, it is kids walk.

Her children have been happy with the arrangement. She is not frustrated and her heath and outlook have improved significantly. Relationships have been strengthened. They experience joy.

moms walk picture

Mom's walk and kid's walk - a solution which creates joy

As you work on recognizing the Suckers Choice and working at creative solutions to your parenting problems don’t expect perfection: aim for progress. When you come up with a solution that succeeds celebrate your success. Take pleasure in knowing that you and your family are improving.

Share your experiences with solving your parenting situations creatively while avoiding the Suckers Choice. I would love to hear about them.

A good kid's walk can lead to a restful afternoon

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Heidi August 27, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I only started reading from your site tonight, but after reading this article realized that I made improvement today and I did avoid the “suckers choice” at least on one occasion. I have six kiddos 12 to 5 months. After caring for the baby I walked into the kitchen to a familiar sight: spilled snacks on the floor, today it was pretzels and carrots. The pretzels were on the floor next to the cupboard they came from and the carrots were in front of the fridge. There were no children in sight. Normally, or what has become my normal, I would just leave it and say nothing until it was time to cleanup for meal time, or I was there and kids were there and I was feeling frustration and our conversation would go something like: who spilled all of this? Followed by several: I didn’t! Responses, then me getting even more frustrated and maybe even yelling. Not something I would be proud of later. Instead today In a random fit of creativity I decided to call to my trio of young girls (who are generally the mess makers) and tell them to quick come upstairs, in a very excited voice. Then I proceeded with my excitement and told them I thought there was a bunny in the house, because it must of discovered we had carrots! This got a giggle, and I added that the bunny must of been hungry for pretzels as well. More giggles followed. Then an admition that they were in fact the bunnies. So I asked them kindly if they could clean up the mess. All three got right to work with no complaints. While they were doing that I noticed a half eaten banana was also on the counter and so I gasped and said that we must of had a monkey in the kitchen too! The culprit piped up right away that she was the monkey and took care of the problem without being asked. Talk about an eye opener- once upon a time I was creative like this on a regular basis. I am glad to be reading your articles so I can find my way back.


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