ACT. Part 5 of 5 of the I.D.E.A. Parent Strategy

byJoshua Metz, LCSW

I.D.E.A. (which stands for Investigate, Describe, Empathize and Act), is a parenting strategy that I’ve developed to help parents deal with challenging behavior, episodes of distress, or situations that impact the daily flow of life. With I.D.E.A., parents can be more thoughtful in their approach to their children, be less reactive and more reflective in what they do, and turn what could be just another tantrum or fight into an opportunity to teach your child how to take in a situation, figure out what is going on, look at it from different perspectives, and come to a more informed decision.

Part 1 summarizes the I.D.E.A. strategy. Part 2 discusses the first step – INVESTIGATE.Part 3 provides more details about the DESCRIBE step of the I.D.E.A. Strategy. In Part 4we get in tune with EMPATHY and its use within the I.D.E.A. strategy. And now we arrive at the final letter and step in the process: Act.

The yelling has stopped, at least for now. The two kids, who moments ago were engaged as mortal enemies in a tug of war over the last action figure, are sitting with you on the floor amidst their elaborate super hero scene.

You, the parent, are in a good place. You’re calm (after taking breaths and pausing) and you’ve taken the time to investigate (and some time for a few more breaths to get centered).

You’ve described what you’re seeing that helps to eliminate doubt or confusion, so that everyone is on the same page.

The children feel understood because you’ve empathized and validated their feelings, thus connecting with them on an emotional level.

And now you are ready to make an informed decision about what, if anything, you can or should do to get things back on track. You’re ready to act. Maybe now all that’s needed is a hug. Or maybe the children have described how help from you can best be used (you decide who gets the soldier, or that a trip to the toy store with shelves full of action figures is warranted). Or maybe you need to make a parental declaration that you and the children both need to stop and take a break for a while, so it’s time for a change of scenery and have a snack. The paths that can be taken are numerous, but hopefully the road taken will be less rocky and free of pitfalls.

Whatever the act is that you choose, it’s done from a position of strength derived from mutual understanding and emotional connection. By following the previous four steps, you’ve arrived at the point where you can make an informed, specific, and attuned suggestion for how to end the squabble and keep things moving forward.

Note that I use word, “suggestion,” as opposed to “solving” the problem or “telling” the kids what to do. You offer a suggestion, because a suggestion means that there is still room for the children to be involved. After all, you opened this door when you allowed the children to add to your description of what is happening, and when they clarified your empathetic response. So don’t shut the door too quickly. See what they have to offer to the solution. Enrolling their help in acting to resolve the problem keeps them plugged in and practicing the important skills of negotiation, shared problem solving, and perspective taking. And aren’t those good things to practice!

Here’s a few other things to remember when you’re ready to take action to resolve the episode of distress (whether it’s an argument, disagreement, or a bout of I Don’t Want to!).

  1. Don’t move too quickly to insert your solution as the action. See what the children have to offer. Is there room for compromise? And yes, that means you the parent too!
  2. Whenever possible, try to enlist the child(ren) in the action. Don’t leave them hanging. Idle hands may lead to more devilish behavior! But more importantly, cutting the kids out of the solution phase deprives them (and you) from an important step in conflict resolution – a step that when practiced and perfected pays off in spades down the road. It’s the notion that when there is a conflict or disagreement, you take action to resolve it in such a way that all parties involved understand the problem is over and it’s time to move on. Not everyone may be tickled pink at the solution or their piece of the resolution cake, but they are in agreement that it’s over. And the best way to get over it is to have a hand in the resolution.
  3. 100% follow through is a must. You’ve already invested so much time and energy (mental and physical) to investigate what going on, describing the situation to get everyone on board, and empathizing with the players so everyone feels understood. Don’t throw it all away by saying one thing and doing another (e.g. the toy is removed for a stated period of time, only to be returned when pleading wears you down, or a promise to join the children is quickly sidelined by a text/call/ping from some electronic goblin). When you are consistent with the stated action you and/or the children are going to take, you’re teaching an invaluable lesson: What I say matters, and when I say it I mean it. Period.

This article concludes this five-part series on the I.D.E.A. strategy. Hopefully it is something that you parents and caregivers can use when dealing with episodes of distress, arguments, and disagreements that disrupt the flow of daily life. It can go a long way in helping to change these negative moments and interactions into opportunities for your children to practice important cognitive, emotional and social skills. And perhaps more importantly, it may give you the parent a strategy that allows you to remain more calm, attuned and available to do some awesome parenting. Enjoy!