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Is this a BIG or small problem?

This month's theme "Is this a big or small problem?" applies to both parents and kids.

Asking this question to oneself when facing a seemingly stressful moment can immediately get your brain out of reactive mode and into solution-focused thinking.

Let’s first focus on the importance of this skill for parents. Your child will trigger you. It is so important to remain as calm as possible to help keep your connection as well as make sure you’re making thoughtful decisions when dealing with your child. When you ask yourself, “Is him not putting on his shoes a big or small problem?” you will soon realize that most situations are small problems and deserve a small reaction that is also kind and firm. Asking yourself this question gives you a pause to get your thinking brain back on and not react from feeling triggered or out of control. From here, you can calm down by taking belly breaths which is also modeling for your child and then decide your next move whether it’s giving a limited choice of two shoe options or connecting and then correcting, “I love you and it’s time to put on your shoes.”

There are also many benefits for children to be able to reflect on the size of a problem and respond appropriately. This includes positive social interactions and relationships, an easier time with self-regulation as well as development of their growth mindset and problem solving skills. It’s important when reflecting with your child to not minimize their feelings or tell them the size of their problem without any discussion. The goal is to have them come to their own conclusion that the problem is not as big as it feels in their brain and body. This will help them gain the skills and confidence to self regulate and become a problem solver.


Teach your child how to decipher the size of a problem and how to handle it.

Create a discussion around what is a big problem vs. a small problem.

First, make sure everyone is calm and willing to participate in the discussion. It’s hard to learn something when you’re triggered and/or feeling a strong emotion.

Define what is a big vs. a small problem.

Big problems usually require help from an adult and are hard to solve on your own and small problems can be solved on your own and don’t need a big reaction. Here is a visual to help with this discussion. Use the following questions to clarify the difference between the two.

  • Is anyone hurt? (big problem)

  • Is anyone being teased? (big problem)

  • Are people being unsafe? (big problem)

  • Are you able to solve the problem on your own? (small problem)

Go over how to deal with big and small problems including strategies to calm down and possible solutions

It’s important to talk about how your reaction should match the size of the problem. This can be challenging when your brain and body are used to reacting in big ways for any situation whether big or small.

Discuss Calming Down Strategies

  • Use this calm down wheel to discuss ways to calm down so the reaction can match the size of the problem.

  • Here is a blank one if your child would like to fill in their own strategies that work for them

Discuss possible solutions to problems

  • Use this wheel of solutions or make up your own solutions with your children to help with possible solutions

  • Here is a rating scale where your child can rate the type of problem and write in what they can try to do to calm down and solve the problem.

Use visuals to help facilitate the discussion and to encourage reflection in real time

Hang this sign along with the Calm Down Wheel and Solutions Wheel in places that usually have more conflict (TV room, play area, kitchen)

Reinforce skills with games, videos, books and real life situations

  • Use Big & Small Problem Scenarios to help decipher between the two

  • Watch this video and this video to help explain Big vs. Small Problems

  • When reading a book or watching a show, ask your child if they think the character’s problem is big or small and what would be a good solution

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